BSc Sociology, University of Surrey, 2007
Senior Research Executive,
GfK NOP Social Research, since January 2009
What has been your path from graduation to your current post?
My first introduction to the world of social/market research was whilst at university. My course was a four year degree, with the third year spent on professional placement in the industry wherein I worked as a Research Assistant in the social research team at the British Market Research Bureau. I really enjoyed my time there and found I was able to put many of the skills and knowledge learned during my course in to practice.
Soon after university I found (what was meant to be) a temporary, part time job working for a local charity. I must have done something right as this turned into an 18 month, full-time job! I learnt a lot of transferable project management skills, but I got to a point where I didn’t feel I was reaching my full potential or really getting the chance to apply the things I had learned during my degree. That’s when I started to think more in terms of a career than just a job – and social/market research soon came to mind.
I applied for lots of jobs in the wider industry of market research, but the social research team at GfK National Opinion Polling really caught my attention because of the context of their work and reputation, and because of what the graduate scheme offered in terms of further training and early career development. During my time here I have completed two MRS industry recognised qualifications (the Advanced Certificate and the Diploma in Market and Social Research) and attended many other training sessions.
What are your main responsibilities in your current role?
GfK NOP is a full-service agency so we’re involved in all stages of the research lifecycle from the design of a research project, to questionnaire design right through to analysing and presenting the data. Effectively, no two days are the same!
I work in the quantitative social research team – our clients are made up of local and central government departments, public sector organisations, academic organisations and charities. I’ve had the opportunity to work on some really interesting projects for some key government departments and organisations including the Department of Work and Pensions, the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Department of Health, the Food Standards Agency and various NHS services.
My responsibilities as a research executive include:
- Preparing proposals and costings to clients
- Working with clients to design questionnaires
- Day-to-day project management and client liaisons
- Briefing other internal departments for fieldwork, data entry, data coding and data processing
- Data analysis
- Preparation of client outputs – whether these be written or PowerPoint reports or presentation slides
Working for a large organisation like GfK NOP has also offered me the chance to get involved in lots of interesting activities beyond the day-to-day responsibilities. In my first year I chaired the junior forum – a group for members of the graduate scheme to get together and discuss issues relevant to them and report these back to the CEO. I’m involved in the company’s charity committee which organises events throughout the year to raise money for charities. In the last couple of years I’ve put my own training and qualifications to greater use by acting as a tutor for new graduates undertaking the MRS Advanced Certificate qualification.
What are the most rewarding and most challenging aspects of this role?
Learning to balance differing timescales across a number of projects can be a challenge at first, but I have found that time management and other skills developed on the job help to ensure that priorities can be set and deadlines can be met.
After all the hard work managing a project it is really satisfying to get to the analysis stage where you really get a chance to explore the data, see what it all means and report this in a way that is relevant to the client’s needs. It’s nice to have some room for creativity in my role. And I find it really rewarding to see the outcome of hard work in the form of actionable results for clients.
How has your social science degree helped you at work?
I think my sociology degree has been invaluable in helping me get where I am today for a number of reasons.
I wouldn’t have known about the world of social research (or at least it would have taken me longer to find it) if it hadn’t been for my degree and professional placement which first introduced me to it as a potential career.
Moreover I really think that the relevance of my degree, the skills and knowledge I acquired during it (especially the research methods and statistics modules), and the additional skills and experience gained on my professional placement year helped me to stand out as a suitable candidate for the role.
Although the graduate training scheme at GfK NOP gives you a grounding in market research skills and knowledge I think I was definitely in a strong position compared to other graduates with non-social science degrees, as a lot of the concepts were things I had already come across in my degree.
What do you think social science graduates can offer to employers that other graduates might not?
In my opinion, what a sociology or other social sciences degree can offer in particular is a very different and specialised way of looking at things. It teaches you to look beyond the surface and really analyse interactions and behaviours. This inquisitive approach is definitely put to use in a social/market research role, and is vital in enabling you to really look at and understand the data. More and more our clients are looking for deeper insight in the findings we provide, so it’s key to be able to approach a research project in this way and ask the “right” questions at all stages, to be able to provide the client with meaningful and actionable data.
Any advice for sixth-form students considering studying social science at degree level?
If you haven’t considered studying sociology, do! It’s such an interesting subject that we can all relate to in some way as it’s all about understanding the world in which we live in. If sociology doesn’t sound quite what you’re looking for then look at other social sciences too. Besides being interesting I think they can offer a lot of transferable skills and knowledge to take forward too. I’ve had good feedback throughout my career on my written style in reports and liaisons with clients and I’m certain that this came from the many hours of preparation for my sociology exams – with the many conflicting sociological theorists to write about we were often told there was no right or wrong answer, but whichever one we were giving needed to be delivered in a clear, concise and convincing way.
Another benefit of a social science degree is the wide variety of career opportunities it can lead you into. I have many friends who have studied social sciences (sociology, psychology or combined courses such as sociology and media) and the careers that these have led them into are vast, including social research, media research, HR, PR, teaching, policing, social work, charity and community based work.