Talk by Angus McCabe, Senior Research Fellow at Third Sector Research Centre (University of Birmingham).
The Office for National Statistics is the UK's largest independent producer of official statistics and the recognised national statistical institute of the UK.
Their website has a huge wealth of information that is relevant to a career in Social Research, and they have a careers section where you can explore further options available to you.
Many workplace skills are relevant to a variety of roles and sectors, but we have picked out a few that are specific to the work involved in social research.
- Research Methods
- Qualitative Research
- Project Management
- Questionnaire Design
- Data Collection, Analysis & Interpretation
- Market Research
- Modelling Data
The National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM) offers bursaries for up to £500 each.
These enable staff in the UK social science community engaged in research, teaching research methods or supervising research to update their research skills. Contract researchers working in HEIs are also eligible for the bursaries.
More information can be found here.
Social Research is a really large part of what we use to inform our decision making, whether that is understanding who is at risk from a certain incident and why, or informing our prevention strategies.
Dave Church (Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service)
There is a huge variety of roles available within the social research field, as it is relevant to many areas. Essentially, social researchers are employed everywhere to investigate and study the efficacy of policy, so there are almost endless pathways within the social research sector.
For more information, please click on the drop down tabs below.
Research Agencies are a huge employer of those working in the social research sector. They can be based in specialist areas or more broad social factors, and can offer both qualitative and quantitative based services. Some are specifically targeted towards one type of client, but others work for private sector and public sector clients and voluntary organisations.
There is scope to get involved in whatever research you are interested in, or to work for a diverse company that does many different types of research if you prefer to work on many different projects.
Government is another large employer of social researchers. All the main central departments employ social researchers to some degree, and you can find more information about social research within the Civil Service here.
The Civil Service Fast Stream also has a Social Research specialism pathway, which involves spending three years circulating around one-year placements in various departments of the Service. To find out how to apply and for more information, see their website here.
Local Government departments also employ many social researchers, and are possibly the largest employer of graduates.
In particular, the social services, housing, education and chief executive departments make use of social research services, and employ Information and Evaluation Officers to research and produce reports on potential proposals and services.
Research is vital to council functions as they need to gather evidence and apply analysis to their work in order to effectively provide social services.
You can work in specialist fields or across many areas as a generalist, and you can find job listings on individual local council websites.
Working in local government is a great opportunity to contribute to the wellbeing and development of local communities, so is an excellent option for you if you want to feel like you are making an impact on social issues.
The Public Sector services also employ social researchers to assess and support their services and proposals. For an example of this, see our interview with Dave Church who works as a researcher for Devon Fire Service.
Similarly to working for local government, if you want to feel like you’re making a difference and benefitting people then working in the public sector is an excellent way to fulfil this.
Many charities either work with research agencies or employ their own researchers to assess the benefits of their work.
Contracts can be permanent, but many are on a temporary basis for single studies/evaluations due to the lack of funding in this sector.
As well as charities, trade unions and lobby groups may also employ their own social researchers.
Check individual websites of charities you are interested in, or do a job search on a charity job site such as Charity Jobs.
Academia is another route you can take to work in research. In order to become an academic, you will need to complete a PhD and have a good record of gaining research funding in order to appeal to universities.
Academics can also be employed through large research centres and think tanks, either on a permanent or contractual basis.
If you are interested in academia, you can find more information on PhDs and academic work on the university webpages here.
Training & qualifications
There a quite a few options for training in research methods available to you. We have listed some options below for you to consider, but you should also do your own research if there is something specific you would like to study.
The Market Research Society (MRS) have an Advanced Certificate you can study for, which is industry recognised and used by Ipsos Mori as standard training.
You can also find graduate traineeships at large research agencies such as Ipsos Mori, TNS-BMRB and GfK, which will grant you excellent experience and may send you on courses in addition to the work.
ARVAC have an online course titled ‘Community Research: Getting Started’ which is a guide to conducting community research and would likely be especially useful in roles in local government or the public sector. You can find it here.
Ipsos Mori also run a scheme for graduates, which involves working on live projects, using traditional research methods and newer digital methods. During the programme you train to receive the Market Research Society (MRS) Advanced Certificate (as discussed above).
The Programme requires a 2:1, 300 UCAS points, English fluency and unrestricted right to work in the UK. It is based in Harrow, Manchester or London.
The UK Government also run a social research graduate scheme and summer school as part of the Civil Service Fast Stream. The aims of the placement are to identify, analyse and interpret the social trends and research that help influence major governmental decisions. It involves working at the heart of government to make sure ministers and policy makers have the data they need to understand social issues, and to help evaluate the policy responses to this data.
The programme is 3-5 years long, UK-wide, and will pay between £25k-£28k per annum. The application process involves online testing, a video interview, assessment centre, and a final selection process.
You can find more information here, and also look into the summer placements here. You may also wish to look at our Public Sector Portfolio, which has a great deal of additional information about the Fast Stream as a whole.
The modules you study while you’re an undergraduate student are of central importance to your future career in social research.
Almost all graduate schemes and entry level jobs in the sector expect you to have a substantial social research methods and data analysis aspect to your degree.
The easiest way to fulfil this at Exeter is through the Q-Step programme. If you complete a certain number of data analysis modules then you will get a Proficiency in Applied Data Analysis as part of your degree title. More information on the specific requirements can be found here. It is strongly encouraged that you consider this programme, as it is a clear display of your interest in and skills in data analysis and research.
When choosing your dissertation topic in any subject, it is also ESSENTIAL that you undertake practical research as part of your work, rather than doing a theoretical based piece of work. This shows that you have used research methods in practice, and is an easy way to get some credits related to social research into your transcript.
Below are some of the modules you can take within each subject that relate to research methods and social issues.
- ARA2134 Ethnography of the Middle East
Postgraduate courses are almost always relevant and useful to a career in social research, and some roles may require them as standard. They show commitment to learning about social research techniques, and also an ability to utilise methods in order to produce work. There are specific taught courses in social research methods, but it can also be useful to have a research based postgraduate qualification (e.g. an MRes).
Do your research and talk to your academic tutor about which course might be right for you, but if you’re not sure then a Masters qualification in Social Research/Methods will be extremely useful.
At University of Exeter, we run the MSc Policy Analytics that focuses on policy and data analysis, but there are also courses at other universities to consider.
You can search for “Social Research” on the Find a Masters website.
You can also take a look at this University of Exeter resource about PhD study, if you are considering pursuing further education after your Masters in order to specialise in a specific field.
There are plenty of internship opportunities within the Social Research sector, and they can be hugely helpful to you when applying for full term contracts down the line.
Many of the research agencies have internship schemes, and details can be found in the drop down menu below.
If you are interested in working in research within the Third Sector, then there are plenty of internships available but the vast majority of these will be unpaid due to the limited funds available within the sector.
You can perform a search for current internship opportunities within charities on the Charity Job website.
NatCen employ Freelance Telephone Survey Interviewers on a part-time basis, which will help you to gain valuable communications skills and gain an understanding of the practical methods used to generate data within social research agencies. They may also have other internships throughout the year, so take a look at their internship pages here.
IPPR internships involve working on research projects or with external affairs in the agency, and all interns are paid London Living Wage or equivalent, so this is an excellent option if you also need to have an income while you intern. You can find more information about their internships here.
Ipsos Mori run a Social Research Institute Public Affairs Internship, available to a recent graduate which involves working on a project to gain experience within social research. You will gain valuable skills in project management, quantitative research techniques, and an expose to a range of policy areas. This internship pays the London Living Wage and lasts for 3 months. More information can be found on the Ipsos Mori website here.
Extra-curricular activities are hugely important to any job search, and can really make you stand out in comparison to other graduates.
There are many opportunities to gain extra experience during your time at university, but below are some examples of things you could consider.
We have split this into Student's Guild opportunities and Volunteering, and have highlighted some of the options that are most relevant to social research. This is by no means an exaustive list, so if you have something specific in mind you can do your own research on the Guild website or online.
Joining societies and getting involved with the Student’s Guild activities is a fantastic opportunity to gain experience for your CV and show your dedication to your chosen field or career path.
Within the field of Social Research, this can give you a stand-out understanding of social factors relating to your project subjects. Which can really help you to have excellent examples and demonstrate good knowledge of the topic at interview.
Below is a list of some Societies or student groups that you might consider joining in order to give your skill set a boost and make yourself stand out from the crowd.
- Politics Society – especially relevant to those who want to pursue a research career within local/central government.
- Amnesty International – social issues awareness, shows interest in issues
- Be the Change – social issues awareness.
- Global Brigades – around the world trips to volunteer with global health and sustainable development organizations and NGOs.
- Howard League for Penal Reform – trigger conversation surrounding the topic of criminality and the need for reform of the current system.
- Model United Nations Society – a debating society that operates as a model of the real UN – focused on national policy, political knowledge.
- Students Action for Refugees (STAR) Society – volunteering and social awareness.
- UNICEF on Campus – raises awareness for UNICEF – world’s leading organisation for children and their rights.
- British Red Cross – promotion, humanitarian education, fundraising, volunteering, Red Cross Crisis Appeals.
- YMCA – raise awareness of plight of disadvantaged young people in Exeter, fundraising to help them in practical ways, training and volunteering opportunities.
Volunteering is another opportunity to show your dedication to understanding social issues and gain valuable skills and experience.
Many of the projects run by the Exeter Student Volunteering (ESV) part of the Guild are relevant to social research and the public sector, and there are also many other opportunities around campus, so you will certainly be able to find something you’re interested in. Take a look at the Guild website if you would like to get involved with a specific voluntary group.
ESV Project Restore works with rehabilitating survivors of human trafficking and has volunteer researchers, so this could be especially relevant to the sector.
You may also be able to find specifically research-focused volunteering at charities and groups around Exeter, so also do some of your own research to find something tailored to your interests or skills.
Dave Church, Social Research in the Fire Service
Watch our interview with Dave Church, a Social Researcher in Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service.
We ask him about:
- How social research contributes to their work;
- The future of social research in the Public Sector;
- Key tips and advice to students hoping to pursue a career in social research.
My Career Zone
Below, you can find feeds of the current jobs, events and mentors available through The Career Zone that are relevant to the Social Research sector.
Click on any of the links to be taken to the specific page.