Careers outside of academia for humanities and social science researchers: government and parliament

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 first in a short series of blog posts exploring some of the other opportunities available. This post will focus on opportunities in UK government and parliament.

Working in a research role in government provides an opportunity to work on things that really matter. These roles can be challenging as the pace of work is often very fast, which sometimes means that you are unable to measure the impact of one intervention before it changes again! You may also get asked by colleagues for evidence that doesn’t really exist and/or on areas they may not be a specialist in, so communication is often a key skill requirement, alongside your strong research abilities.

Researchers in this sector are valued for their excellent research skills, which often takes precedence over their specialist subject knowledge (unless the latter is relevant to a specific role). These skills could include: understanding the ‘robustness’ of research, qualitative or quantitative analytical skills, handling large data sets (with data science a growing area in this sector), and experience of different research methods. It’s therefore important to highlight your research skills when making your application – don’t assume the recruiter will know what research experience you have just because you have a Masters or PhD!

Working in the Civil Service

Social scientists and humanities researchers are employed in a range of roles across government departments and agencies. In some cases, researchers are employed within particular departments (such as education or housing), for example in ‘Analyst’ roles. Alternatively, they may work in central research services that provide experienced researchers to work on projects with other departments across the civil service. Examples of these central services include:

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Creating social change with ParliaMentors

Afsana_blog_imageAfsana Salik, 3rd Year International Relations student

ParliaMentors is a political leadership programme I’ve been on this year while studying at Queen Mary. I’m in a team of 5 Queen Mary students, all of us from different cultural and religious backgrounds. we’re supported to run our own social action project and we also get mentored by an MP. It has been an amazing experience for me.

It’s such a wonderful initiative that gives students from various cultures and faiths the chance to participate and make a change in society. The great thing about it is that it gives opportunities to students like me the experience of parliamentary life through mentoring by MPs. I’ve been mentored by Labour MP Stephen Timms for the last year. He is a very active and committed MP and so passionate about what he does. ParliaMentors also trains us to make social change in our communities. I’ve loved the training that I’ve been given throughout the programme. Each of these training sessions is based around skills like teamwork, leadership and public speaking, and they have been so useful and beneficial. And the training didn’t just support my participation in the programme – it also helped me in other areas, helping me to look at my community from a different angle.

My group and I have decided to deliver a social action project on mental health. We started by doing broad research into mental health in our local borough of Tower Hamlets, and after some thought, we have decided to focus on our campus. We are bringing together the students’ union, counselling service and students to bring changes in our counselling system, in order to make it more accessible. We believe our work will benefit the future students of our university and hopefully others in Tower Hamlets who also uses similar services.

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