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Social Science & Public Policy

Professor Denise Lievesley

Denise Lievesley

Job title

Professor of Social Statistics


Social Science & Public Policy

Date started at King’s


Challenges and achievements

When and what was responsible for you becoming interested in your academic discipline?

I studied a very odd collection of A’ Levels – every Maths subject (Maths, Further Maths,  Pure and Applied Maths) because I was good at it (then!) but also English, Art and Art History because I loved them.  Selecting a subject to study as an undergraduate was difficult because I did not want to focus only on mathematics, but I did not have the combination of subjects to allow me to take science or arts degrees.  I chanced upon statistics and following an interview at UCL was offered an unconditional place because the Head of Dept thought English would help me to communicate data and art to find patterns in data.  I loved it and have never regretted that decision.

What are your research interests, and what drew you to this area? 

I began my life as a sampling statistician: designing, implementing and evaluating samples for government surveys.  Later I branched out into work on non-sampling errors, in other words understanding how to measure and improve the quality of data collected in surveys.  More recently my interests have extended to the organisation of official statistical systems with a focus on the relationship between trusted and trustworthy statistics.  I have always been interested in research ethics.  I am not sure that I made a conscious decision to move in this direction.  I enjoy applying what I have learnt to real problems and I have followed opportunities as they arose.

Tell us about a couple of your achievements that have been particularly rewarding. 

Very early in my career I was seconded to the Royal Commission on Homelessness as their statistician tasked with helping them map the numbers and circumstances of people on the streets and in hostels, which was exciting for a 22 year old (though quite daunting), and I learnt fast how to combine my understanding of theory with a heavy dose of practicality.  A few years after this I explored and developed the system of postcode sampling which is still used to this day for government surveys.  More recently (1999) I set up a new Institute for Statistics  for UNESCO which is flourishing, and I am happy to say I am still in contact with many of the young staff I recruited.

Do you have professional role models? Who are they and what do you find inspiring about them and their accomplishments?

I am ashamed to say probably not – in part because there were very few female statisticians at the time I was building my career.  I do admire many of my peers, particularly those who have much greater capacities than I do to understand and develop statistical theory.  I have more personal role models- especially people who are unselfish, and who do not care about who gets the credit for achievements.

What if any support has most benefited you in your career?

My father who believed in me and encouraged me to work hard and not to be put off by setbacks.  His work ethic was remarkable.

What do you feel is the most enjoyable/rewarding aspect of your job at King’s? 

I am very proud of the quality of my colleagues and of the students.  I achieve most satisfaction if I can support and help them to fulfil their potential.

How do you balance the various demands of a career in academia: research, teaching/learning, administration?

My position is largely administrative.  I do try to keep my professional contacts and expertise but it is hard with a demanding job which eats into my time.

How do you balance an academic career with life outside the workplace?

I don't. I am very bad at this and tell junior colleagues to do as I say not as I do!  I am a keen gardener so if I do get time off work I enjoy the change of pace which gardening involves – nothing can be rushed!

What have you learnt from your experiences that you would like to share with others?

I don't. I am very bad at this and tell junior colleagues to do as I say not as I do!  I am a keen gardener so if I do get time off work I enjoy the change of pace which gardening involves – nothing can be rushed!


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