Naomi Day is an Independent Qualitative Social Researcher. Here she talks about her career to date spanning commercial and social research agencies and as an independent researcher.

As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was growing up, I initially wanted to become a criminal solicitor. I spent two weeks on work experience with a solicitor’s firm which was a real eye opener about how the criminal justice system worked. I learnt quickly that I enjoyed the observation of the legal process more than the actual realities of the job. I also had an interest in art and design throughout school. In the end, social research was a good combination of analysis and creativity.

When did you first turn towards a social research career?
I studied Sociology at the University of Birmingham and loved learning about my lecturer’s empirical research in the field. I realised I had a passion for research after completing my dissertation on the experiences of Black African Caribbean students of secondary education.

What was your first professional job? And first project there?
In 2005 I joined NatCen as a research assistant. My first project was exploring young people’s experiences of alcohol and substance misuse services. This involved interviewing vulnerable young people and accessing support services as gatekeepers to recruiting participants. It was a fantastic introduction to qualitative research and in-depth interviewing in the professional world.

Where did your career go next? What motivated that/those moves?
My next move was to a media and brand insight agency (Sparkler) as I decided I wanted to explore the more commercial side of research. It was a great opportunity to use creative methodologies such as video and ethnographic approaches. I got to work for a range of clients, including the BBC, Disney, ITV and Sky. I then moved back into the world of social research at TNS BMRB as I quickly realised my interest was still in policy research. I worked mainly on central government evaluations and research, particularly in the fields of education, children and young people and welfare to work. I’ve more recently relocated back to Leeds and now work as an independent researcher working in collaboration with other researchers and research agencies or directly conducting research on my own for clients.

What has been your best professional moment?
Producing video story case studies of local organisations and projects that helped tackle the underlying causes of health inequalities. I got to spend time with inspiring participants who kindly allowed us to observe and film their experiences of how these projects had an impact on their lives.

...and worst?
It’s generally the transport and logistical problems involved in conducting fieldwork. I think the worst was travelling to Brighton for fieldwork when no one turned up to my interviews because it was one of the hottest days of the year. Sometimes the beach is more appealing!

Do you have a social research hero/heroine?
I’ve worked with lots of accomplished researchers across my career and it would be difficult to single out a specific hero/heroine, but I think the work of Florence Nightingale as a pioneer in collecting data is very inspiring.

Do you have a favourite quote?
“Research is formalised curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” (Zora Neale Hurston)

What would you say to encourage a young person today considering a social research career?
It’s a fantastic and diverse career for anyone with an analytical mind who wants to understand the underlying factors shaping social relationships and issues.

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