Oonagh Robison is a Senior Research Officer at the Scottish Government, having previously work in both the commercial and academic sectors.
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
An opera singer and/or forensic pathologist.
When did you first turn towards a social research career?
My undergraduate degree was Sociology and Anthropology at Glasgow University, and one of the modules was an introduction to research methods. I did an ethnography of a pub, and realised that I could make a career out of trying to understand why people did what they did. By coincidence, I’d worked as a telephone interviewer for IFF Research in London before going to uni, and I realised that this experience was a really helpful introduction in the practicalities of research.
What was your first professional job? And first project there?
After finishing uni, I started as a research executive at MRUK research. I can’t remember exactly what my first project was, but an early one that sticks in the memory was doing focus groups to find out people’s opinions on eating offal.
Where did your career go next? What motivated that/those moves?
I then moved to STV(formerly Scottish TV) as a researcher for their online division - moving to a media company and gaining the experience of being an in-house researcher seemed like an exciting move. After a couple of years I decided I wanted to pursue an academic research career, and I was incredibly lucky to get a 1+3 PhD studentship at the MRC Social and Public Health Research Unit at Glasgow University, which I joined in 2012.
When I came to the end of my funding (but not, unfortunately, to the end of my PhD) I started work as a public health research specialist at Glasgow Centre for Population Health where I remained until 2018. I then joined the Scottish Government as a senior researcher in the Office of the Chief Economic Advisor, where (with a break after having my son, Arthur) I’ve been ever since.
What has been your best professional moment?
Presenting my PhD work and the wider work of the Unit at Columbia University in New York in 2015 was a particular highlight. I received funding as part of Glasgow Uni’s early career mobility scheme.
Doing focus groups in North East Scotland as a very inexperienced moderator, and really struggling with the accent. They have a very particular dialect up there and it really threw me.
Do you have a social research hero/heroine?
When I started at the MRC it was headed up by Professor Dame Sally Macintyre. I was (and still am) in total awe of her. She’s such an important figure in health inequalities and social research, and I’m so happy my time there crossed over with hers.
Do you have a favourite quote?
‘I may not have ended up where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be’ - Douglas Adams
What would you say to encourage a young person today considering a social research career?
It’s a really varied and rewarding career path, and the skills you develop can be applied in so many settings. It also allows you to work on a real range of projects, often in the same role – you can go from time working quietly by yourself on a piece of data analysis, to facilitating a focus group through an interpreter in the same week. It’s rarely boring!