Careers in social research

So you want to work in social research?  General advice: get some form of research methods training or qualification; decide which sector you are interested in; and scan the SRA Job Board, the online job pages of The Guardian, the Times Higher, and the ESRC; and it is also worth checking the more general job sites (google ‘job websites’ for a list). There is some useful guidance to becoming a researcher on the AGCAS website.

Funding for training

The National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM) offers training bursaries of up to £500.  UK-based social researchers who are undertaking research, teaching research methods or supervising research are all eligible to apply, as well as contract researchers working in higher education institutes.

There are no deadlines for applications – you can apply at any time. For more information visit the NCRM’s website.

Research agencies

Many of the larger research agencies have specialist social research departments and some offer graduate traineeships as well as roles for more experienced social researchers.  Examples include Ipsos MORI, TNS-BMRB and GfK.  For general advice on working in research agencies, have a look at the Market Research Society careers page.

There are many small businesses specialising in social and market research.  In general these are less likely to advertise formally for new staff.  Networking opportunities such as research events or training courses are a good way to connect.  You can find some smaller organisations listed in our members Directory.

Charities, independent organisations, trade unions, pressure and lobby groups, and others

Many charities and independent organizations, trade unions, pressure and lobby and similar groups employ permanant research staff. They may also employ researchers on a short-term basis to carry out a single study or evaluation. These groups tend to advertise for researchers on the SRA website and other sites; and circulating a CV to larger charities may be worthwhile.  The NCVO (National Council for Voluntary Organisations) and the Third Sector Research Centre provide a useful starting point.

The best-known and largest independent research institute is NatCen Social Research which employs upwards of 100 research staff in London and Edinburgh.

Academic research

There are two types of social research settings in academia: large research centres, and adjuncts to teaching departments.

Research centres usually employ both permanent research staff (on career grades linked to those of academic lecturers) as well as those on two- or three-year research contracts. The centre may have endowment or charitable funding, or ESRC-designated status.  Their research clients may range from central and local government to charities, and they may also undertake consultancy work as well as their own research programmes.  Examples include the Institute for Social and Economic Research at Essex University, and the Social Policy Research Unit at York University.

Adjuncts to a higher education teaching department are mainly recruited on fixed term contracts, for the duration of a particular project.

Central government

All the main government departments employ social researchers to some degree. A useful starting point is the Government Social Research website, and their social research careers pages.  These resources provide career information, vacancies, news, training, events and the latest methodological developments for all government social researchers.

External candidates are recruited to two main grades: Research Officers (ROs) and Senior Research Officers (SROs).

Basic requirements for ROs are a good first degree and some postgraduate experience such as a masters. At interview you’re likely to be asked about your knowledge and understanding of social research, and the main issues of the department you’re applying to.  Having some research experience is always an advantage.

SROs need at least 3 to 4 years professional research experience, usually in an area of relevance to that particular department.

The Office for National Statistics employs a large number of social researchers.

Local government

Most local government departments, but in particular social services, housing, education and chief executive departments make use of social research.  (Research staff may be known as Information Officers or Evaluation Officers.)  The Local Government Association has helpful guidance about this on their website.