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Senior Research Executive: Inspire Me

By UCL Careers, on 29 June 2015

As part of our #UCLInspireMe series, Matthew Colahan, Senior Research Executive at Ipsos MORI, talks to us about how he got this role and shares some tips for UCL students who want to get into Research.

How did you get into your role?Matt Colahan

At the beginning of 2012 I was writing up my PhD in social psychology and considering moving outside of academia.  I wanted to stay in research and use the skills I had developed so I looked for research companies who had a strong social research background.  Ipsos MORI looked ideal and so I sent the Head of Qualitative Research an email introducing myself along with a copy of my CV.  I openly acknowledged that this was a “shot in the dark”, but I asked if she would be willing to meet me and tell me more about the work that Ipsos MORI were doing.  Fortunately she agreed, and we had a fruitful discussion (like an informal interview) where we talked about my experience and the nature of the work at Ipsos MORI.  This paved the way for the formal interview process, and two weeks later I had completed two interviews and was offered a full-time permanent position.

What are the best things about working in your role?

The variety of the work – both in terms of the topics and the methodologies used.  I work in the ‘Public Affairs’ section of the Social Research Institute at Ipsos MORI and most of our work is commissioned by the Government.  Public Affairs is therefore split into teams which broadly map onto the different government departments.  I’m based in the ‘Employment, Welfare, and Skills’ team so I tend to work on large scale quantitative employer surveys for clients such as the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, HM Revenue and Customs, and The Pension Regulator.  However, I have also worked with our ‘Health’ team for the NHS, and also our ‘Education, Children and Families’ team for the Department for Education.  In addition, I have undertaken lots of qualitative work and am also now involved in economic impact evaluation projects.  The opportunity is there to develop a huge range of skills and experience whilst working on projects that interest you.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

 Never enough hours in the day!  Project timetables can be challenging and the job can be very stressful at times when you’re facing tight deadlines.  Developing project management skills is essential in order to juggle the competing demands of the different projects you’re working on – these could be from a client, your project Director, or from internal operations teams who need input from you.

What top tips would you pass on to a student interested in this type of work?

 > Working in research requires a good understanding of theory and So know you research methods theory well, but also have an appreciation of the practical side of doing research (even if you haven’t done much yet).  There are a lot of very practical (sometimes seemingly mundane) steps that need to be completed in order to collect and analyse data (e.g. if you want to speak to certain people, where will you get their contact details from?).

> Demonstrate times when you’ve displayed project management skills.  This could be from any part of your life – just a few examples where you have had to balance competing demands and systematically deal with them.

> Speak to people.  When I worked at University I always encouraged my students to approach employers directly.  It might feel daunting, and it might not necessarily lead to a job, but it could get your foot in the door, and demonstrate that you’ve carefully considered a company and really want to work there.

> Read some of the reports / publications that a research company has produced.  This is what you will be working on so show that you understand what they do.

For more information on becoming a Researcher, visit Careers Tagged


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