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Prof Carol Rivas
18 Woburn Square
Tel: 02076126923
Prof Carol Rivas profile picture
  • Professor of Health and Social Care
  • IOE - Social Research Institute
  • UCL Institute of Education

I started my research career as an ethologist - I am the world expert on a rare wading bird – before becoming a secondary data analyst and health economist at Guy's and then St Mary’s Hospital (Imperial). There I developed my interest in what were then called ‘real world’ studies, and in cognitive processes, with work on drugs of abuse and on depression and suicide. In parallel I undertook an MSc in Cognitive Neuropsychology at Birkbeck (part time, Distinction), specialising in aphasia and autism with a dissertation on Theory of Mind; this MSc also began my interests in psycholinguistics and in artificial intelligence. I subsequently expanded these methodological interests through conversation analysis and multimodal analysis at the interface with institutional settings, and text mining (information extraction) work.

This background has given me a strong foundation for my sustained methodological interest in the innovative use of approaches such as AI, conversation analysis, behavioural economics, choice models and concept mapping to develop and evaluate complex interventions, implementation and sustainability issues.

In 2003 I joined Queen Mary University of London, working on a Cochrane review of advocacy interventions in domestic violence. This suggested to me the idea, taken up through my PhD in Medical Sociology, of qualitatively exploring the way abused women negotiated their daily lives in the context of their ethnicities. This choice of approach demonstrates the importance I attach to choosing the right method for the research question. Subsequently, I led the NIHR Research Design Service London qualitative methodology stream (covering UCL, KCL, QMUL and Imperial) between 2012-14, and public engagement and involvement work at QMUL from 2006, whilst maintaining my mixed methods portfolio and working on complex interventions development and evaluation for chronic conditions. As such I have been involved in several e- and m-health projects, including a study I led that developed rules-based text mining for the thematic analysis of survey freetext data, as well as cohort, machine learning and qualitative studies. I have contributed to debates on the challenges and usefulness of Big Data in informing complex intervention design. In all cases I aim for my research to have instrumental outputs that lead to changes in policy and practice. Most recently I have been developing work with and for vulnerable and marginalised people including those with hidden conditions and disabilities and migrants, and championing human rights issues. This has been part-fuelled by personal circumstance.

I have edited a special issue on the marginalisation of disability in policy for 'Evidence and Policy' and am the Department Inclusion Lead (Joint role) and on the IoE core Athena SWAN team.

I have recently completed an acclaimed major study (CICADA) on the intersections of ethnicity, disability or chronic conditions and the pandemic, which has provided a unique dataset currently informing government policy and professional and third sector practice.

I sit on the NIHR HS&DR Commissioned and Researcher Led Stage 1 and 2 Funding panel, I am a member of UCL Academic Board. I am on the editorial board of BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine

Research Summary

My research aims to develop practical and theoretical understandings of vulnerability and social interaction to use with linked research outputs to support instrumental changes in policy and practice. My focus is on so-called hidden disabilities (e.g. multiple sclerosis, hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, diabetes, abuse, depression, developmental disorders, cancer), and on the intersection with race, ethnicity and migrant status. This reflects my own diverse background.

Settings include the NHS, education and the community, with active collaborations in Chile, Poland, Japan, South Africa and New Zealand.  My HEAL-D study won the 2019 Quality in Care (Diabetes) UK award. My CICADA project has received universal acclaim across relevant stakeholders.  Research funding list is incomplete - see research activities for full list of CI/Co-CI funding (excluding Imperial work, funded mainly by Home Office in a different funding era!).

I have expertise in a range of multidisciplinary research methods, from participatory and ethnographic, to AI and multivariate analysis, and an interest in innovation and thinking outside the box, with my external engagement work exemplifying this:

  • a Bloomsbury Theatre theatre performance for the public - dramatisations based on my CICADA project data
  • a national resource for artist-academic collaborations (Collaborative Poetics)
  • exhibition with an artist with multiple sclerosis (with QMUL)
  • PRESENT project launch with messy painting sessions for knowledge exchange and a banquet-planning team competition to teach principles of health informatics 
  • innovative development of nominal groups techniques and health economics approaches in PRESENT for lay engagement with complex technical work
  • monthly curry evenings to engage local Bangladeshi community and pharmacists (STOP study)
  • community lunches of African and Caribbean food (HEAL-D project)
  • sewing wall hangings (Co-creating art and health project)
  • STEM and Wellcome Trust ambassador, taking science to streets and schools
  • more conventional external consultations and stakeholder events, bringing together patients, NHS managers, clinicians, community groups, the third sector and researchers.

Teaching Summary
I lead on the module Evidence for Policy and Practice, for the MSc in Research for Public Policy and PracticeI have a PGCAP (Distinction), Advance HE Fellowship and am a UKCGE recognised supervisor. I am a Lead HEI Quality Assessor for the Office for Students.

PhD students


Al Duncan (KCL, NIHR): PreventingType 2 Diabetes in HIV, 2016

Claire Haresnape (QMUL):  Challenges of a clinical trial of a fertility homeopathic product, 2016

Jane Pritchard (Soton): Perceptions of younger people with dementia, 2017

Amanda Moore (KCL, funded): Diabetes and ethnicity. 2022

Chris Dyke (UCL, ESRC): How decision-makers evaluate risk from perpetrators of domestic abuse. 2022


Zinie Zhang: Chinese students & parents and mobile media.  

Fernanda Ahumada Medina (CONICYT/ANID fellowship): UK culture and immigrants' perceptions of childhood/parenting practices

Laura Paulauskaite (ESRC): COS for Relationships and Sex Education with children with intellectual disability.

Pradeep Rao:  information on real-world accessibility using innovative methods for mobility challenges.

Anthony Isiwele: Nigerian and Ugandan CAMHS experience. 

Arlyn Aceron: Social and behavioural change strategies and vaccination.

Mariam Swehli; Women in prison.

Academic Background
2012   Doctor of Philosophy Queen Mary College, University of London
2002 MSc Master of Science Birkbeck College
1981   Bachelor of Science Honours Queen Mary and Westfield College
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