Georgina Culliford is a Senior Research Executive at Qa Research and a member of the SRA North committee.
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
I recently found a diary entry aged 7 which sketched out my future career as a tea shop owner writing children’s books on the side… However since GCSE Sociology I became fascinated by social issues which definitely shaped my ideas about future careers.
When did you first turn towards a social research career?
During my Sociology undergraduate at the University of Sheffield, I found it strange how I loved the research methods modules that everyone on my course seemed to loathe. When undertaking a summer internship with the Sheffield Methods Institute, I learned more about professional social research, and was hooked. I moved to Leeds to study an MA in Social Research and start my career.
What was your first professional job? And first project there?
I started as a Research Executive at Qa Research in York a couple of years ago, straight from my masters. In an agency, I’ve experienced a wide range of topics from tourism to utilities to healthcare. The first project I worked on was for Yorkshire Water Developer Services, visiting building sites and interviewing construction managers – a far cry from the academic research I was used to and a huge learning curve!
Where did your career go next? What motivated that/those moves?
I’m still at Qa and am now a Senior Research Executive, having gradually increased responsibility and managed more of my own projects. The levels of support and trust from the company have really helped me find my stride as a researcher. I’ve started to get more involved with the wider sector and have recently joined the SRA North committee which I love.
What has been your best professional moment?
Still being at an early career stage, I hope there are many more to come, but one recent project stands out. I recently managed a deliberative event for a local NHS, a half day with 70 participants spread over 9 table discussions all taking place at once, interspersed with presentations. There were a LOT of moving parts and the organisation, event logistics, plus running my own table discussion was pretty demanding. But the feeling afterwards was incredible.
I turned up to moderate a focus group of diabetics only to find a massive jar of sweets in front of every participant! A generous but unwittingly inappropriate gift from the venue which I quickly disposed of in a very flustered manner…
Do you have a social research hero/heroine?
Not really, but The Spirit Level by Wilkinson and Pickett absolutely blew my mind when I first started studying sociology, and really got me thinking about how social factors impact lives.
Do you have a favourite quote?
It’s not really a quote but I heard on a podcast ‘assumptions are the things you don’t realise you’re making’. It resonated so much with me both as a researcher and in daily life.
It’s a timeless debate in social research whether researchers can, or should, remove their assumptions, the way they see the world, from their research. I don’t have an answer to that, but this quote helps me to, at the very least, check and challenge what I actually see and hear compared to any assumptions I’ve inadvertently made.
In qualitative work, giving people the space to share their experiences from their own perspective, without projecting any assumptions onto them, is such an important skill. It’s one I think I’ll always be working on.
What would you say to encourage a young person today considering a social research career?
Talk to people in the sector! There are so many different ways to be a social researcher that you might not have heard of. As a student, I thought my options were academia or civil service; while these are huge parts of the industry, there’s so much more to it!
A couple of excruciating student networking events, brief LinkedIn conversations and an internship later, I had a much clearer picture of the sector and what I wanted to do. I was absolutely terrified to approach anybody but everyone was lovely (social researchers, unsurprisingly, tend to quite like people) and I cannot emphasise enough how helpful these conversations were.