This is the second post in this series which I hope will take off a bit more in the coming weeks focusing on particular graduates and their jobs.
Next week’s post will be about an English Literature graduate who is a Marketing Associate in London.
This week we are looking at another classmate of mine who is a Research Officer at University of Surrey. What does working in “research” MEAN?
I don’t want to keep posting these in two parts so keep scrolling for gems including: Is it worth doing a Master’s degree? When roles aren’t always obvious, advice for those wanting to get into research roles and where could a role like this take you?
Over to James:
“University wise, I was an Undergraduate in Criminology and Psychology at the University of Southampton and a Master’s student in Psychology at Kingston University.
My work experience is a bit diverse, but I started off in retail prior to my degrees (excellent for people skills!), and then moved into supervising youth offenders, which inspired me to do my first degree. When I went onto my Masters course, I became a lot more research oriented, completing a research internship on a commuter student engagement project. I’m now currently working on another engagement research project at Surrey University, focusing on how students can make better use of academic feedback.”
I find this area really interesting as it comes up a lot in the work I do in Education and Student Experience. Assessment and Feedback is something that institutions across the UK are trying to get right. It’s a work in progress and I’m currently spending time trawling through lots of data about the same thing. Oh how I love Excel sheets!
So how did you degree help James get into this area?
“The 3 most important things my degrees gave me were primarily quantitative/qualitative research skills (essential for anyone looking to get into research!), academic writing/referencing skills (again, extremely important for research) and time management skills. Working to tight deadlines certainly helps you prioritise jobs!”
Why do a Masters degree?
“If you’re considering doing a Masters, you really need to make sure it’s in a topic that not only fascinates you, but that you’re ready to work in, potentially for the rest of your life. As the higher degree level you attain generally means you will have more research experience, employers will usually favour a Masters over an Undergraduate degree.
I did mine primarily for that reason, but also because it gave me an accreditation by the British Psychological Society (BPS). Membership of a professional body will also boost your employability, so that would definitely be another reason to consider a Masters.”
It’s not always obvious that these roles are available however…
“I heard about my role through targeted searching. I knew I wanted to get into research, so I consistently searched the job websites of my nearest Universities to see what turned up. I was fortunate to find my current role at Surrey!
The recruitment process was fairly straightforward. I had to submit my CV (and previously published work, but this was not essential) to the University. I was then invited to a face to face interview a few weeks later, which consisted of being asked about my quantitative/qualitative research skills and questions concerning the research aims and ideology of the intended project. I was then offered the job a few days later.
My working day varies, depending on the needs of the project. However, I generally attend a meeting with my supervisors to get them up to speed on the previous day/week’s activities, take care of emails and then attend the days tasks. This can range from sorting through references in a systematic literature review, running focus groups, transcribing focus groups and writing up the results for publication. I’m mostly left to my own devices, so a good work ethic and sense of time is essential.”
I often have to recruit students for various roles and they always seems to ask what a “typical day/week” looks like however a lot of roles available for graduates can definitely make them feel strange as usually they could be used to a timetable. Without this a sense of time management is key. It’s about keeping plates spinning and making sure you’re not going to be sat with nothing to do.
“The most enjoyable part of my role so far is definitely student interaction. As we’re trying to make a real difference for them, it’s nice to find out through interviews that they actually like our project and are often just as enthusiastic as we are! As I’m sure most University students will know, the worst part about my role is staring at a computer screen for long amounts of time. That can be really punishing during summer!”
It’s important if you’re office based to make sure you take proper breaks though!!
I was intrigued to know how challenging they find it at Surrey to get students to participate in their research
“It can be quite tricky, in general getting participants for any type of research is extremely difficult. Fortunately on this project, we were offering student’s £10 each for participating, so we picked up people fairly easily. Feedback is also a pretty important topic for most student’s, so they were pretty enthusiastic about giving us their viewpoint.
The most valuable lesson I’ve learnt so far is that no detail, no matter how small, is irrelevant. Research is almost unanimously a team based job, so listening and reacting to others is the mos important thing you can do.”
So who inspires James? And what’s the best piece of advice he has had?
So what advice does he have for graduate job hunting?
To make yourself stand out, keep an eye out for research based internships, either with your University or a charity. Having a piece of published research, whether it be large scale, or for an internal development project, will raise your profile to a potential employer by quite a substantial amount.
Looking to the future
Some of the key messages I got from James’ contribution are ones that I have heard from other recent graduates and some I have experienced myself. I love conducting focus groups and doing surveys with the students but haven’t had a chance to have any of it publicised as it is very hard to get the students to contribute to things so a lot of the research I end up with isn’t representative. I am glad to see someone else is having a positive impact on student experience at Universities.