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Social research: graduate area of work

Social researchers design, manage and undertake research projects that aim to investigate social issues such as employment, unemployment, gender, health, education and social policy.

Local authorities, central government, higher education establishments, health authorities, commercial market research organisations and independent research institutes are the main employers of social researchers. Key responsibilities of the job include:

  • preparing tenders for research contracts
  • receiving instructions and project briefs from clients
  • outlining objectives
  • directing/undertaking pilot studies and fieldwork
  • collecting, analysing and interpreting qualitative and/or quantitative data
  • writing reports
  • identifying and advising about possible strategies
  • controlling budgets
  • managing staff

Presenting project results orally and/or in writing in a way that is easily understood is an important part of the work. The job can be stressful at times - particularly when working to tight deadlines and some evening and weekend work may be necessary. Some local, national and occasionally international travel may be required.

What's required

A good honours degree in any subject is acceptable for entry into the profession, although employers often require relevant qualifications in social research, business studies, mathematics or statistics. A postgraduate qualification and/or specialist knowledge may also be necessary for some positions.

Relevant practical experience, particularly research experience, is advantageous. It is essential to possess excellent organisational, presentation and communication skills. Some of the work utilises numerical and computational analytical techniques, so familiarity with statistical methodology is also beneficial.

Where to find out more

There is strong competition for vacancies, especially for initial positions. Jobs are advertised in national newspapers (particularly The Guardian and The Independent), The Times Higher Education Supplement, New Statesman and Society and the Social Research Associations' Newsletter. Speculative applications are advisable - The Directory of Social Research Organisations in the UK lists relevant employers.

The social sciences section of Current Research in Britain (published annually) provides information about higher education/independent research projects. Most jobs are based in London and other major towns and cities. The Social Research Association, The National Centre of Social Research and The Social Science Information Gateway are all important organisations in the sector.

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