Sophie Ellison is Senior Research Officer in the Strategy Unit at the Scottish Government and Chair of SRA Scotland.
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
Around the age of nine (and for a good few years afterwards) I wanted to be the next Kate Adie, motivated by the prospect of travelling the world and experiencing up close the reality of lives lived in situations vastly removed from my own. Before this, I think I wanted to be a rubbish collector because I liked the big trucks!
When did you first turn towards a social research career?
I’ve always been naturally curious about the nature and diversity of lived experiences and societal interactions across the world – my interests were further fuelled by studying Social Anthropology. Upon graduating, I set out to find a work environment that would enable me to influence or contribute to positive social change. Observing deployment of research in practice through posts at the (then) Scottish Executive and Scottish Parliament made me realise that applied Social Research was actually a career and that it may be the one for me!
What was your first professional job? And first project there?
My first job in Social Research was in 2008, as a Research Consultant at a Scotland-based consultancy, Blake Stevenson. My first project there involved hoofing across Scotland, interviewing over 150 health professionals about their experiences of, and their confidence and competence in, working with adolescent patients, as part of a national training needs analysis.
Where did your career go next? What motivated that/those moves?
Six years, three job titles, and over 30 varied and fascinating projects later, I left Blake Stevenson as a Senior Consultant this year to get closer to the policy making process and took up a post as a Senior Research Officer with the Scottish Government.
What has been your best professional moment?
One specific project that stands out was undertaking a scoping study which helped secure funding for an innovative two year national pilot that explored how oral arts and reminiscence can improve the experiences, connectedness and care of older people in residential homes. I was then lucky enough to be involved in undertaking a formative evaluation of the pilot to inform its wider roll out – having a meaningful role in the inception, delivery and development of a project I believed to be of real value was really exciting and rewarding.
Possibly the time I used peer-research methods to evaluate a service targeted at disengaged learners and one young chap tried (in the end, unsuccessfully!) to delete all of the day’s recordings!
More generally, there were a number of occasions as a Consultant where I worked on evaluations commissioned a bit too late in the day to be of significant value and where a lack of baseline data impeded impact assessment – sadly, disappointing for all involved.
Do you have a favourite quote?
“A wise person proportions his/her belief to the evidence” (David Hume)
What would you say to encourage a young person today considering a social research career?
If you’re fascinated by people and society and you never get bored of asking questions, then this could be for you!
While life as an applied social researcher may not make you rich financially, it will likely be a career rich in experiences and you’ll never be short of a story or two around the dinner table!
There is a growing hankering for insight across such a wide range of sectors and organisations now; this combined with new technologies and innovative approaches to disseminating and communicating research findings means there are ever-increasing opportunities to play a role in driving forward evidence-based change.