Careers outside of academia for humanities and social science researchers: charities and NGOs

Are you a social sciences or humanities postgraduate interested in pursuing a research career, but not sure if academia is the right path right for you? Read on to find out more about other opportunities for using your research skills…

A large number of humanities and social science Masters and PhD students go on to work in research capacities outside academia. This is the third in a short series of blog posts exploring some of the other opportunities available. This post will focus on opportunities in charities and NGOs.

Charities and NGOs need employees with strong research skills that can be applied in various ways to help the organisation achieve its mission – from building an evidence base for advocacy work, to monitoring and evaluating the activities of the organisation to see where improvements can be made.

It’s worth being aware that many of the research-focused roles in this sector won’t necessarily have ‘researcher’ or ‘analyst’ in the job title. So you may have to think creatively and read a few different job descriptions to get an idea of roles where you can apply your research skills. Key words to look out for could include: ‘monitoring’, ‘evaluation’, ‘impact’ and ‘policy’. Communication skills are often a key requirement for these roles, so include examples of your effective communication and interpersonal skills in your application.

Monitoring and evaluating impact

Monitoring and evaluating the impact of their activities is a growing area of interest in charitable organisations, who are increasingly striving to deliver and demonstrate value for money and check that the outcomes they achieve are aligned to their mission. Good research skills play an important role in getting this right – from designing projects that have measurable outcomes, developing effective surveys and tools for gathering feedback, and building systems to gather data – to analysing the results and making recommendations for future change and improvement.

Communication skills are often another key requirement for these roles, to help your colleagues understand what can (and can’t!) be measured, make persuasive recommendations for improvements, and to bring the research to life so others can understand how it meets the needs of the organisation.

Advocacy work

NGOs and charities often produce their own research to inform advocacy and campaigning work, and to try and influence policy government. This often involves gathering and analysing evidence to inform and underpin key policy messages, or to understand the issues and concerns of the community the organisation supports and find workable solutions to problems.

This form of social research is usually more politically or socially engaged than academic research. Whilst still based on rigorous research, it will generally result in the publication of briefer reports or key headline messages, and be designed to offer a more in-depth analysis than most journalism whilst being more accessible than an academic paper. Often research is also used inform and develop internal strategies or to gauge the most appropriate response to a given issue.

Again, communication skills are often an important requirement. Researchers working in this area often need to quickly assimilate large quantities into a concise summary, convey complex ideas to non-specialist audiences and understand how to pitch messages to effectively engage policy makers and other stakeholders.

Good places to start looking for roles in this sector include Guardian Jobs, Charity Job, and Third Sector Jobs.


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