Research careers outside academia (more humanities & social science focussed)

researchI went to an event recently on research careers outside academia.  There were 13 different speakers working in the Civil Service, local government, Think Tanks, parliament, commercial organisations, and the charity sector.  Some points of interest.

  • Only 3 out of the 13 speakers had a PhD (and another speaker was doing one).  So it wasn’t a requirement of many of the jobs but they were all conducting research and using skills that you’ll be developing in your PhD.
  • Many had a background in humanities but were working in social research roles.  Some had a social research element to their degree or Masters, but not all.  None of them had a science or technology background.
  • There seemed to be a lot of ‘impact and evaluation’ roles, in charities and public sector, to demonstrate value for money and show programmes were having the desired outcome.
  • Many stories of unpaid internships – in ThinkTanks, local government and charities – as the way to gain experience.  The Careers Service doesn’t promote unpaid internships (unless they’re in charities) but we are aware it’s a common route to gain experience.
  • Many of the speakers hadn’t started out wanting to work in social research.  Instead they were interested in a cause / doing something socially worthwhile and then saw research as a good way of contributing.
  • Speakers stressed the importance of signing up to the values of a Think Tank or charity as that will be a big element in recruitment.
  • Ability to communicate the impact of research (e.g. on policy) was key in many roles, often to persuade people to fund the research / programme.
  • They talked about the ‘feel’ of doing research in different organisations:
    • fast paced and delivering to tight deadlines (e.g. in NatCen),
    • more academic and often slow pace (e.g. House of Commons library),
    • not as rigorous as academic research due to the tight yearly cycle of doing the research and demonstrating impact for the following year (e.g. CityYear – a charity that works to raise attainment in school kids)
  • Variety of skills needed:
    • quantitative research skills (Stats, SPSS),
    • ability to communicate what data does and doesn’t tell us,
    • designing an effective way of evaluating programme,
    • communicating results / impact of research,
    • persuading people to fund research
    • being inquisitive
    • and more….

Finally, I wanted to share a few job titles and employer names so you can see the range of people who were speaking.

  • Data Insights and Intelligence Manager, West Sussex County Council
  • Senior Research Analyst, House of Commons Library
  • Policy Director, Centre for Social Justice
  • Impact and Evaluation Manager for the National Literacy Trust
  • Research Manager/ Insight Consultant, Employee Research, ORC International
  • Senior Associate Director, Research, Evaluation & Impact, Teach First

If you want to explore these types of opportunities, look at the relevant section on the occupations part of our website.

Public services and policy work

Charity, international development, and aid work

Information, research, and culture

(I’ve got full notes from the event so if you want to view all the speakers biographies and read more about what they said just drop me an e-mail on

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