What is a career in research?
Research roles are found in academia, advocacy and policy development, in international or environmental organisations, as well as financial services, market and social research. The list goes on. Underpinning the work is a desire to use research methods, to design research activities, conduct investigations, analyse findings, write up and present reports.
In social research your outputs might shape policy decisions or evaluate existing policy; in commercial settings your work might shape corporate decisions or contribute to product development; in agencies you might provide clients with insights and recommendations; in academia you will create new knowledge and disseminate it through publications and teaching.
Research is popular work with LSE graduates, and you’ll find alumni working in many different types of organisation. Many will have done a master's qualification; nearly all researchers in academia will have done (or be doing) a PhD. As you progress in your career it’s common either to develop expertise in a type of research method or to become a specialist in a particular field. Research managers have been promoted because of their competence, and they progress to managing other people, overseeing projects and allocating budgets.
Where can I work, what can I do, and how can I get there?
- Academia – in a research centre, conducting and promoting research, or in a department where you will also teach and carry out other tasks associated with higher education. A PhD is the entry point criteria in academia.
- Think tanks and foundations – employ researchers permanently or on short-term contracts. There are many think tanks all over the world. Smart Thinking and The University of Pennsylvania's Go To Think Tank Index Report (2020) are useful sources of information.
- Government (local and central) and other policy makers – all the main UK government departments employ social researchers. A useful starting point is the Government Social Research website. Many people will also be members of the Social Research Association. If foreign policy and political risk are your interests.
- Research agencies – focus on a range of public policy topics, eg, employment, social services, education, the environment, health and transport. Examples of employers include: NatCen Social Research, ScotCen and Ipsos.
- Market research agencies – may work across a range of sectors or specialise. Examples of large agencies with international reach include Mintel, NPD, S&P Global and Kantar. In-house market research is conducted by many organisations. The Research Buyers Guide provides information on companies and consultants offering market research services. The Market Research Society (MRS) is the industry membership body providing professional standards and qualifications, as well as useful information about the industry.
- Charities and pressure groups – many charities, political parties, trade unions, pressure and lobby groups conduct their own research and employ permanent and freelance research staff. A genuine interest and demonstrable passion for the organisation’s cause is required.
- International and multilateral organisations and development consultancies – the bigger NGOs, eg, Save the Children, employ research staff to conduct studies, pilots and evaluations of policy. Multilaterals such as the World Bank, UN, EU also employ researchers and, in some cases, have specific PhD entry points. The smaller consultancies employ researchers to research and write funding documents or to evaluate work for their clients. Specialist consultancies include RAND, Ecorys, iMC, Tetra Tech and Dalberg.
- Environmental consultancies – the ENDS directory lists more than 1000 consultancies and has a jobs page. The Green Directory is a searchable directory of environmental organisations including vacancies on Green Jobs.
- Broadcast and social media – researchers assist with all aspects of media production from ideas to execution. They find information, people and places for media producers and so have a different focus from researchers in other sectors.
- Financial services – analysts working in the finance industry have a range of specialisms, eg, in equity, investment, corporate finance or wealth management. Finding, analysing, reporting and presenting data are common tasks. Specialist consultancies provide clients with quantitative research. For example, G Research seeks applicants with high level quantitative skills.
There are many different roles in the sector. We’ve outlined those that are often of interest to LSE students with links to further information. If you can, try to talk to someone who’s doing the job you’re interested in, so you can get a real flavour of what it’s like.
Job titles and ways of working vary between sectors, and we suggest you consider the differences between them. For example:
- Academic researcher – plans research projects, seeks funding, records and reports findings etc. The Jobs Researcher (HE) job description provides further details.
- Policy researcher – investigates, analyses and evaluates policy relevant to the organisation. Take a look at the Prospects Policy officer job profile for more information.
- Data analyst – uses quantitative skills and tools to conduct research and manage data, often producing visualisations of data and graphs. The Prospects profile describes the Data analyst role and you may want to use the LSE Digital Skills Lab for free training.
- User experience researcher – conducts primary research to inform an organisation’s design of the (often digital) user experience. The Prospects UX designer job profile provides useful information.
- Evaluation officer – reviews and reports on the impact of policy. A search online will provide example job descriptions.
- Analyst – more often found in the finance and corporate sectors. Visit our Careers in Economics page to find out more about the analyst role.
- Market researcher – collects and analyses data and information to present to clients. Check out the Prospects Market researcher job profile.
- Media researcher – provides support to the producer and production team of a television, radio, film or online project. The Prospects Media researcher job profile will tell you more.
- Social researcher – plans, designs, conducts, manages and reports on social research projects. The Prospects Social researcher job profile provides further details.
You can find more information about starting a career in research here:
Where can I find out more about working in this sector?
Interested in finding out more about a career in research?
Here are some helpful links, including the ways LSE Careers can work with you on your journey.
Examples of jobs boards and recruitment agencies include: