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Institute of Education

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Q&A with Olga Cara

Dr Olga Cara is a Lecturer in the Sociology of Education.

What is the focus of your research?

I am a quantitative and mixed methods sociologist with social anthropology elements. I am interested in the relationship between ethnicity, language, and education as well as identity production in educational contexts. I also research family learning and home-school partnerships with a specific focus on migrants and ethnic minorities.

I currently lead a research project looking into young people with English as an additional language in further education and training, funded by the Bell Foundation. I have also recently been a quantitative lead on the Family Skills project looking into family literacy programmes.

What benefits do you hope your discoveries or insights will bring?

With my research I would like to help facilitate critical thinking in people and to demonstrate the complexities of our social world, in my case ethnicity and sense of belonging, that should make us suspicious towards any easy clear-cut explanations and solutions.

What are the most important things you've learned from your students?

  1. Stay open and flexible.
  2. Plan and then revise your plans.
  3. Life is full of surprises and nothing is set in stone.

The Social Research MRes is a relatively new programme – as the programme leader, what do you hope students will gain?

My hope is that on graduation, our students will have enhanced critical thinking skills and, in particular, advanced skills for research design and evaluation across a full range of social research purposes and problems.

The Social Research MRes is aimed at students interested in studying the social world around them. It's a rather unique interdisciplinary research programme and the two pathways (distance learning and blended) allow a more flexible combination of our busy lives with studies. 

The MRes curriculum provides detailed engagement with topics such as knowledge production, research ethics, and the role of theory in research. It also provides a range of researcher specialisations, including various forms of qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods research. The programme is very participatory and students work in a learning community supporting each other and developing their understandings of social research as well as research plans and strategies. 

What attracted you to take up your position at the UCL Institute of Educaton (IOE)?

I joined the Institute when I was looking for a Research Assistant position in the field of sociology. I was due to start my MRes in social anthropology, part time at UCL, and was looking for something close by, and in the field of quantitative sociology - the IOE ticked all the boxes. I continued to do my PhD in sociology at UCL and I felt complete when my alma mater (UCL) merged with my place of work (IOE).

I feel proud to work in a world-leading center for research and teaching in education and social science, but I would lie if I said I knew what exactly IOE was when I joined 15 years ago coming from Latvia as a young Master's student.

What do you most enjoy about your position and why?

I appreciate the long, often quite theoretical and abstract discussions with my colleagues and students about things and events that are very complex and not many people outside academia would be happy spending a lot of time discussing without even nearing a conclusion or practical solution. Academia is my safe personal space to be who I am.