BA Social Psychology, 2008
MRes Psychological Methods, 2009
PhD Social Psychology, 2013
(University of Sussex)
Research Officer, Scottish Government, since January 2013
What has been your path from graduation to your current post?
Apart from my post-graduate qualifications I think the most important thing I did was an internship with the Scottish Government. This introduced me to how research is conducted in government and taught me a range of useful skills, but perhaps most importantly gave me to confidence to apply to the Civil Service Graduate Fast Stream. Before the internship I didn’t really know anything about social research in government and didn’t realise how much I would enjoy it, compared to doing academic research. Doing the internship I also met some really nice people who gave me lots of useful advice when I applied for Fast Stream.
What are your main responsibilities in your current role?
I provide evidence to inform policy makers. This involves a range of different things: primary analysis of survey data, literature reviews of existing evidence, commissioning larger research projects and conducting smaller in-house projects, and communicating with academics and the wider research community. My role is in many ways being a communicator—taking complex research evidence and making it accessible to policy makers and ministers.
What are the most rewarding and most challenging aspects of this role?
The most rewarding is to be part of the policy making process, knowing that the evidence I provide will help ministers make the right decisions and will benefit society as a whole. The most challenging is to balance the need of ministers with the integrity of the research process. For example ministers may want simple answers when the research is indicating that the answers are very complex.
How has your social science degree helped you at work?
I would not be able to do this job without the skills and knowledge I gained from my degrees. This involves hands-on skills such as statistical analyses and literature review skills, but also softer skills such as clear communication, problem solving and decision making. But perhaps I would say the most important benefit from my degrees is the confidence I gained – confidence that I am able to tackle complex issues and find out information even if I don’t know the answers straight away.
What do you think social science graduates can offer to employers that other graduates might not?
Social scientists are in a great position because they have a very broad perspective. Unlike many natural science degrees, a social scientist learns about complex problems at lots of different levels, e.g. individual, societal and cultural levels. Given that everything hangs together in society, we have to have some understanding of economics, psychology, and politics. Most social science degrees also involve primary research, which gives us hands-on experience of data collection, data analysis and writing research reports. This experience is useful not only for research roles but promotes independent thinking, communications skills and organisational skills.
Any advice for sixth-form students considering studying social science at degree level?
I would say choose something you are really interested in. Do not choose a degree because your parents want you to or because it seems easy. Without a fundamental interest and passion for the subject you are likely to struggle or be bored for three years! Find out as much as possible about the degree beforehand, for example speak to current students about their experience. This will give you an idea of whether it is something for you. Social science is really fascinating, but everyone may not think so, so it’s important to know as much as possible about what the degree will involve beforehand.