Routes into Research: An SRA North event 

How do you create a career in social research? What does a career in social research look like? Where do you even start? These mighty questions are what SRA North aimed to answer with their recent event, Routes into Research. Georgina Culliford (SRA North Chair; Qa Research) introduces the event and how to find out more.

The SRA North is a regional branch of the SRA that aims to create local networking opportunities in the North of England as well as highlight the fantastic research and opportunities that are available in the North. An in-person event took place in Leeds in November 2023, and was attended by over 30 aspiring researchers from local universities as well as those employed in research or research-adjacent roles.

The event hosted five fantastic speakers who were generous enough to share their wisdom and career journeys:

  • Amelia Clayton, The Young Foundation
  • Olivia Brown, HMRC
  • Simon Maydew, Verian
  • Skye Curtis, MEL Research
  • Peter Traynor, Youth Futures Foundation

Why are events like this important?

Social research as a career doesn’t have the biggest profile, and lots of potential social researchers don’t know it even exists and, if they do, what it involves, if they’d be good at it or how to start. It’s important to go in with your eyes open, knowing roughly what to expect from a research career and what options are available – something most of our speakers admitted they didn’t know themselves! 

What were the themes from the speakers’ talks?

Find your passion for research – A huge theme throughout the event was the passion and joy for research and evaluation that came from the speakers. They didn’t shy away from the fact that there are challenges in research careers (as with any career path!), but finding a passion in research was the driving factor behind it all for them and is what makes a great research career. It could be a passion for specific methods or business development, it could be for the topics that you specialise in or nurturing new researchers, but something should make you want to get out there and get stuck in. Social researchers are often driven by wanting to improve the world through strong evidence, and this was a clear undercurrent throughout all the talks. 

Don’t be afraid to try things out – Our speakers started out not really knowing whether they liked research, what sort of career they would like and what role they would flourish in. It’s all about trying things out, thinking about what you enjoy, taking risks and moving on when it feels right. There are so many different research roles out there, and it’s important to try a few before you find your groove. Perhaps you miss primary research in a client-side role so move to an agency? Perhaps you find the pace of agency unsuited to you and prefer academia? Perhaps you want to have more of an impact so you move to government? There are so many roles to try on, and you can continue this ethos throughout your entire career.

Talk to other researchers – Social researchers aren’t scary, in fact by nature of the job many of us love to talk and are naturally interested in other people. Reach out to social researchers on LinkedIn, ask about their careers and possible opportunities. They will be happy to respond!

What were the key takeaways from our speakers? 

Amelia Clayton, The Young Foundation – Be open to new opportunities. Amelia found social research through the government Kickstart scheme and started as a peer researcher. Being open to this unconventional route has found her a career she loves.

Olivia Brown, HMRC – Embrace trying new things and new roles. Olivia has moved around a few teams in government social research, and was surprised to find her passion in HMRC because of the varied work there. She has tried out research commissioning as well as in-house research to find what she loved.

Simon Maydew, Verian – Know your purpose and the impact you want to make in life and career. Simon’s social research career has spanned decades and he shared thoughtful reflections on why social research is a fulfilling career.

Skye Curtis, MEL Research – Never stop learning. Skye has moved between policy, research and evaluation in her career and talked about how she is always  learning new methods and professional skills with each new role.

Peter Traynor, Youth Futures Foundation – Embrace your own meandering development. Peter reflected on the twists and turns of his own career, which has spanned academia, charity and freelance work. He shared advice on how to look after your wellbeing during a research career and how to keep developing yourself even when things don’t necessarily go to plan.

How was the event received?

It was refreshing to see the spectrum of attendees in terms of age, research interests, educational background, UK and international background. The event was not a ‘university careers’ event. Instead it gave a broader perspective of the options and opportunities in research. Most importantly, the speakers made it clear that there is no ‘right’ route into research and the road to a research career can be a meandering one. Attendees asked questions about how to move from a PhD into commercial roles, or options for getting back into research at a later career stage, as well as how to get a graduate role.

From the feedback during networking, attendees valued the chance to demystify different research roles and find out what they look like day-to-day, as well as learn what aspects our speakers really enjoyed about their roles (and maybe what they didn’t enjoy so much!). It was a great chance to make useful connections and network in a way that felt friendly and accessible. 

In future events, we’re going to take a closer look at some of the specific skills that aspiring social researchers should develop and how they can go about honing them – which was another point of feedback. 

Where can you find out more?

Watch the full event here.

If you’re interested in learning more about the SRA North, join our LinkedIn group or contact [email protected] 

We welcome suggestions for future events, new committee members or feedback on our activities. 

Visit the SRA careers page for more information on social research careers.

Author Bio: 

Georgina Culliford is a Research Manager at Qa Research, a social research agency based in York. She is a qualitative specialist with a particular passion and interest in researching health, social care and poverty. 

Georgina has been chair of the SRA North committee since 2022 and involved with SRA North since 2019. She is passionate about putting a spotlight on regional researchers and creating connection and community among researchers in the North. 


We would like to thank the SRA North committee for making this event possible, the videographer Catalyst Agency, the venue Wizu Workspace and the five speakers: 

Amelia Clayton, The Young Foundation
Olivia Brown, HMRC
Simon Maydew, Verian
Skye Curtis, MEL Research
Peter Traynor, Youth Futures Foundation