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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Welcome to life as a postgrad

Congratulations at being awarded a place on your Masters programme!  Well done & welcome to postgrad life at QMUL.

Have you chosen your modules yet? It may seem weird, but as you head off to those first lectures & tutorials that will ultimately lead to your postgraduate degree, we want to challenge you to also be thinking ‘…and what next?’, as the next 12 months will fly by. 

Make sure that early in the academic year, you actually schedule time to research and explore your future options; to attend careers & departmental events; to identify your skills & values; to understand the key skills required for careers that interest you; and to take the time to build a CV that demonstrates you have those skills. 

Thinking about ‘what next’ does not mean that you have to make decisions now, but it does mean that if you do not have much experience or knowledge of graduate work, you need to start exploring & building experience now. It is much easier to first make contact with an interesting organisation by writing to say: ‘I am a MA student at QMUL and really interested in exploring a career in XXXXXXX, I wondered if there would be an opportunity for me to work-shadow one of your colleagues for a few days’, rather than ‘I am a Masters graduate from QM, do you have any jobs’

If you have limited work experience, don’t spend time worrying if any new work experience opportunity is definitely ‘relevant’… if it interests you, just try it… most of us learn best through experiences and it is very difficult to choose a career if you have not had experience of working in different contexts.  If you are thinking of a PhD, take any opportunity to talk to academics specialising in areas of interest, use departmental contacts to speak to current PhD students and check application deadlines.

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Practical tips for international postgrads looking for work in the UK

international (1)With strict visa regulations, it can be difficult for international students to secure a graduate role in the UK. However, it is not impossible and we have many international alumni who have successfully found interesting graduate roles here. As a postgraduate student, you only have one year during which you can gain valuable work experience and focus on your job hunt, while at the same time concentrating on your studies. This can be a challenging task and it is therefore helpful to have a good understanding of the local employment situation and requirements, so you can effectively manage your time throughout your studies.

We will mainly focus on the switch from a tier 4 to a tier 2 visa, which is an employer sponsored visa, but keep in mind that there are other visas that may be applicable in your individual case.

So, where can you find graduate roles in the UK?

The good news is that there are around 30,000 employers registered to sponsor tier 2 visas. The full list can be found here and a searchable list here. If you see a job that you like, it can be a good idea to check these lists first in order to find out whether the employer would be able to hire you. Doing this research will save you some valuable time and help to avoid potential frustration.

Now, let’s look at some top tips that may help you land that UK graduate role: 

Get some London based work experience – Getting work experience in the UK, during your studies or holidays, will enhance your CV and increase your chances of landing a role upon graduation. This could be in the form of volunteering or temping (keeping in mind hourly work restrictions relating to your individual visa).

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