My Unconventional Journey into Social Research


Rhianna works as a Research Consultant at The Lines Between. Here she writes about her experience at the beginning of her social research career and the importance of making professional connections, being proactive and a nurturing and supportive work environment. She also reflects on the first project that she led, a case study of a youth-led project that tackles sectarianism in Scotland.  

From there to here


My journey into the world of social research has been fairly unconventional. I know this because I’m now approaching my first year as an employee within the sector, and I have had plenty of opportunities to meet other researchers in that time. When I give my response to the “and how did you get into social research?” question at courses or events, I get either a quizzical look or an interested smile in return. These researchers are usually highly academically qualified in social research or social policy. Even if we are of a similar age, they may have a masters or are even working their way through a PhD.

Not long into my final year at university, where I was studying French and international business, I stumbled across a volunteer opportunity for the Young Women’s Movement. The post described assisting an independent research agency, The Lines Between, to carry out focus groups and interviews with young women from across Scotland which would form the basis of a report that intended to affect social change. I had hit the jackpot. I was feeling uninspired by my post-uni prospects and the thought of sharing people’s stories to create something impactful appealed to me.  

It was through this project that I met Lorraine Simpson, Managing Director of The Lines Between. We kept in touch after I left university: I would update her about the projects that I was volunteering on and reach out for guidance when I needed it. My interest in social research persisted. I was working in a café in Berlin, having lots of fun and volunteering in my spare time, but getting nowhere finding work in research. Funnily enough, fluency in German was a prerequisite for work that involves conversations with people; at that stage, I was still learning the language. 

It was then that I received a job offer from The Lines Between, back in Edinburgh. Lorraine later told me that keeping in touch with her, without expectation, had encouraged her to reach out to me and offer me employment.  

Professional growth 


I was ready to learn and get stuck in, and now I had my chance. I’m glad about this because the learning curve was steep. As an independent research agency, the turnaround on projects is fast and the work is incredibly varied. This is what makes this job so interesting. In the beginning, I conducted focus groups for the Young Women’s Movement again, for the annual research I’d been involved with previously. I also organised large data sets for a charity that supports people with dementia and was involved in analysing responses to a Scottish Government consultation about the new Environment Strategy. 

I was lucky enough to attend SRA courses on qualitative research, which enabled me to embed the work I do in theory and practice. Courses in graphic design and visualising data and infographics followed after. Despite my journey being unconventional, I feel that at this early stage in my career I have been given opportunities and responsibilities that have enabled me to progress hugely. The support I received from colleagues in those first months was so important in building my confidence.  I believe support is instrumental in creating confident and competent social researchers. It’s about getting thrown in at the deep end, but knowing that if you reach your hand out for help, it’s there.


Standing up to Sectarianism


At the beginning of this year, I was ready to take the lead on a project. We were approached by a Senior Development Officer for Youth Scotland, who wanted a case study that demonstrated the work of the Stand Up to Sectarianism project, giving the young project participants a chance to discuss what sectarianism means to them and what they learned through the youth-led project. 
This research was the perfect chance for me to test all the skills I’d learned over previous months. I interviewed two youth workers from different parts of Glasgow: they talked candidly about what it was like to grow up and see bigotry in action. They described the language they used to use at football games and the expectations on them from family. They said that being part of the project had helped them understand how ingrained sectarian behaviour can be. 

I then had the chance to talk to a group of young men from Edinburgh who travelled to Northern Ireland to explore sectarianism. The young men are from an area that is one of the 20% most deprived areas in Scotland. They described how the project had helped them see the divisions in their own communities and how they had decided to do something about this by organising community events.
I was in awe of these young people and their desire to change the status quo. I hope I did their stories justice in creating the case study that followed. At The Lines Between, we value making research understood, meaningful and inclusive for participants, stakeholders and wider audiences.  What we create needs to be visually engaging. I took photos of the people involved and created an infographic to show the wider impact of the project.

Since then, I have had the chance to manage more research projects and create more case studies. I still feel that with every conversation and email exchange, I am learning.
Learn more about The Lines Between here:

BIO: Rhianna works as a Research Consultant at The Lines Between. Depending on the project, you'll find her organising research, carrying out fieldwork, managing data or producing beautiful designs to present information in engaging formats. She has completed advanced training in various areas including; qualitative research methods, graphic design and photography.  Before joining The Lines Between Rhianna undertook research for charities in Scotland including The Welcoming and The Young Women’s Movement. She likes to travel and has lived and worked in Germany, France and Senegal. 

Author: Rhianna Mallia: