A work-based route into social research

Journeys into the social research profession are likely to consist of a largely academic route, i.e. completing an undergraduate degree, then a postgraduate degree such as a master’s and/or a PhD, and then applying for a research post. Georgina Southern’s  journey into social research has been somewhat different to this and was certainly not planned. In fact - Georgina says that she didn’t even know such a profession existed until starting her undergraduate degree seven years ago. 

Sparking an interest in research

To attempt to cut a long story short - I dabbled in a few different sectors before turning to a career in social research. Since leaving school, I have undertaken qualifications and work experience in art and design, photography, hairdressing and childcare, in an attempt to find an area of work that I would be happy to pursue as a career. 

Studying childcare at college was what really opened my eyes to the fascinating subject of how a human develops in their early years and school years. I was particularly interested in cognitive development and how attitudes and behaviours are formed in humans. 
This led me to undertake an Honours degree in Education Studies, which allowed me to focus on the philosophical, theoretical and practical roles education can play in a person’s life course. It was when I started my research modules that I became aware of research as a profession, which I hadn’t ever considered before. 

My enthusiastic dissertation supervisor really illuminated the infinite possibilities of research, and the impact and change it can facilitate in the world. As much as I would have loved to continue studying at university, I felt as though I had spent a lot of time in full-time education since leaving school, so I felt it was time to enter the world of work.

The job search

On finishing my degree, I started my search for an entry level job in social research, which proved to be challenging. The vast majority of jobs that I came across asked for a postgraduate degree or experience of publishing research – both of which I lacked due to recently graduating from my undergraduate degree. 

With multiple rejected research job applications, the process became disheartening, and I began to search for other types of jobs in the education industry. Unexpectedly, I came across the perfect opportunity for my circumstances – a paid graduate internship opportunity in the Evaluation and Research Team at Skills Development Scotland. 

I couldn’t believe that there was a work based learning approach to starting a career in research, as I had seen nothing but academic routes into the profession in my job searches. Not only was this role ideal as it was aimed at recent graduates, it was also in an organisation whose focus was closely aligned with my own interests and values. Thankfully, I was successful in securing the role and it has been pivotal to commencing a career in social research. 

The internship approach

My internship was a one-year contract, which aimed to develop my skills and experience as a researcher, but also develop my employability skills through a comprehensive development programme. 

The internship development programme included training in presentation skills, communication skills and report writing for business, to name a few. I also had the opportunity to take part in research focused training with my team, delivered by the Social Research Association and the Market Research Society. 

In terms of the kinds of tasks and projects that I was able to work on during my internship, it certainly wasn’t making the tea and coffee, or photocopying, as you might associate with the term ‘intern’. I had real, hands on experience of the whole research cycle, from designing projects to analysing data and presenting research findings to senior members of staff. 

It was fantastic to be able to gain such a wide range of experience in a practical research environment in just one year. Being surrounded by a highly qualified, extremely supportive and friendly team has played a major part in building not only my knowledge of social research, but my confidence in the workplace too. 

In fact, they made me so comfortable that I didn’t want to leave at the end of the year! Thankfully, my contract got extended for six months, and following that, a permanent Research Assistant post came up within my team, which was an ideal next step for me. 

My next steps
 
My employer runs a sponsorship programme, whereby staff can apply for funding to develop their skills through a qualification that is relevant to their job role. When the sponsorship scheme came around, I knew this was an opportunity not to be missed – it provided me with an option to continue my studies while maintaining my permanent job. After applying to the programme, I was awarded funding to undertake a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) degree in Education at the University of Glasgow on a part-time basis. 
 
My team and employer have been incredibly supportive and allowed me to compress my working hours so that I can find some extra time in my working week to study. I’m now around half-way through my programme, and hope to submit my thesis in September 2021. 
 
For those of you who may not have considered an MPhil course, it is a great alternative to traditionally taught master’s courses. The degree is based on a research project which you carry out and then produce a written thesis, much like the way a PhD works. This offered me a much more flexible route to gain a Master’s degree, as full-time taught Master’s programmes wouldn’t have worked with my full-time work schedule.

 

Consider a career in social research

If you are interested in a career in social research, I would urge you to consider the different routes into the profession. There is of course the academic route, whereby you complete your undergraduate degree and postgraduate degrees to secure a university role. But I hope that this blog has shed some light on another route into the profession – the work based learning route, which provides the opportunity to gain experience and enter the workplace. 

Many research agencies, government bodies, consultancies and third sector organisations have graduate schemes in research-related areas which would be a great starting point for a research career.

Also, if my experience is anything to go by, social researchers are the nicest and most helpful people to work with! Consider speaking to someone who is a researcher to gain some further insight into their work and discover what you’re interested in.

The Social Research Association offer guidance on social research careers, and some great training courses too. Becoming a member of the SRA also has benefits in terms of reduced course rates, access to research publications and up to date guidance on social research practices.

Please take a look at some of the links below to some further information on getting into social research.

Links:

The Social Research Association:  https://the-sra.org.uk/ 
Ipsos Mori Graduate Scheme:  www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/graduates 
Scottish Graduate School of Social Science:  www.sgsss.ac.uk/ 
SQW Graduate Scheme:  www.sqw.co.uk/careers/graduate-recruitment/ 
Civil Service Social Research Graduate Scheme:  www.faststream.gov.uk/government-social-research-service/index.html 
Prospects Social Researcher Job Profile:  www.prospects.ac.uk/job-profiles/social-researcher 

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