If you’re a researcher in the social sciences you’re probably aware already that it’s possible to work as a social researcher in central or local government, with a think tank or with a major charity or campaigning organisation. However, you might not be aware that similar opportunities exist with a range of other organisations including: faith groups; industry trade associations, market research companies and media organisations.
If you want to see what’s out there the following websites are potentially very useful:
- The Social Research Association’s site includes: a guide to careers in social research outside academia; a list of current vacancies and a directory of organisations which carry out social research.
- W4MP lists jobs with political parties, pressure groups and think tanks.
- The Government Social Research site provides an overview of opportunities in central government.
- Jobs Go Public advertises opportunities with local authorities and social housing providers.
- Charity Job is a good source for jobs in the ‘third sector’.
When looking at adverts on these sites, it’s important to check what exactly the employer means by ‘research’. Some posts will provide an opportunity to contribute to knowledge by carrying out original research but others will simply involve collating information from published sources and using this to produce briefing materials. It’s important also to bear in mind that think tanks and pressure groups will often have a particular political or moral agenda that they wish to advance and so they will be looking for research outputs that are compatible with this.
In central and local government and with the larger think tanks and charities there’s usually a clear career structure for social researchers. Promotion often means moving away from ‘hands-on’ research towards project management, seeking out new business and managing relationships with internal and external customers. In smaller organisations prospects for progression may be limited if you want to continue in the research function, but there may be possibilities for advancement by moving into other roles. In these kinds of organisations research work might in any case be combined with other functions such as event management or PR and media relations and this in itself will help you to broaden your skills.
Overall, salary progression tends not to be as good as in academia, but in most cases there is a better work/life balance. Also, a research career outside academia can offer you the chance sometimes to have an immediate impact on public policy and the possibility of gaining a higher public profile for your work.
Finally, if you choose the right kind of job, continue to develop your knowledge and research skills and maintain a wide range of contacts it may well be possible to return to an academic research career if that’s what you decide you want to do.