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Research Officer: Inspire Me

By UCL Careers, on 15 January 2015

As part of our #UCLInspireMe series, Joni Browne, Research Officer at the Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR) part of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO)  talks to us about how she got this role and shares some tips for UCL students who want to get into the Research sector.

How did you get into your role?Joni Browne

After five years of frenzied trial and error in other roles, I worked out that I needed a job which was varied, required a mix of interpersonal, academic and analytical skills, and had a structured career path. Research was particularly appealing because it has the power to influence and shape an organisation’s policies and strategies. I got my foot in the door by applying for a graduate role at a market research agency called IFF Research where I quickly gained exposure to different research methodologies across a variety of sectors. I then moved into health-related researcher/analyst roles in the NHS, Ipsos MORI and Capita. Last year I took up my current position as a Research Officer at the Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR), where I spend most of my time evaluating volunteering programmes for voluntary organisations.

What are the best things about working in your role?

If variety is the spice of life, then research is Spiceworld. I’m involved in qualitative and quantitative research, so tasks I might carry out include designing questionnaires, conducting interviews, analysing data and presenting findings. There are periods where I might be out doing fieldwork, talking to volunteers or staff at voluntary organisations, and then other times I might be by myself agonising over some data, what they mean and how to best explain them in a report. No two projects are ever the same, and each comes with its own challenges so it’s always stimulating and I’m always learning.

I’m fortunate enough to work with extremely bright, thoughtful, supportive people that I like and learn from. We can debate serious matters such as research ethics one moment, and have in-depth discussions about ‘MasterChef’ or croissants the next – all with equal fervour. If I’m working on a stressful or difficult project, having good colleagues around takes the edge off it.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

Job security can be an issue depending on how the research role is funded and whether it’s agency-side or client-side/in-house. Fixed-term rather than permanent contracts are the norm for some roles given that many organisations (especially in the voluntary sector) are seeing their research budgets squeezed. The hours of work can sometimes be unsociable if you have to travel for fieldwork. Finally, it’s worth noting that if you want to make millions, retire at 40 and sip piña coladas on your own private beach, research isn’t the area to get into. I don’t think the pay ever truly reflects the effort and range of skills required to do the job well.

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

Social research and market research are highly competitive, but do not be deterred. I’d recommend the following:

  1. Try to get onto a graduate scheme. While some bigger organisations are better known and look good on your CV, a smaller organisation might give you more responsibility more quickly
  2. You might want to specialise in either qualitative or quantitative research but consider gaining skills in both to maximise your attractiveness to employers
  3. Try to take degree modules which have a research methods component for training in research techniques and an understanding of the theories behind them
  4. Strong IT skills (especially Microsoft Office) are essential, and if you can use software such as SPSS, even better
  5. Getting voluntary work experience as a researcher is one way to gain practical experience and get a taste of whether you might like to pursue it as a career
  6. It’s worth identifying organisations you would like to do research for, checking out their website and sending them your CV on spec. Other channels you might use to find graduate schemes and research jobs include CharityJob, Jobs.ac.uk, Guardian Jobs, and Milkround.

If you’re interested in a career in the Market Research sector, visit Careers Tagged.