Careers in Research

 

In brief

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. What underpins the work is a desire to use research methods, to design research activities, conduct investigations, analyse findings, write up and present reports. Your outputs might shape policy decisions or evaluate existing policy.

It’s a popular sector 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.

Where can you work?

  • 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.
  • 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 Global Index are useful sources of information.
  • Government (local and central) and other policy makers – allthe main UK government departments employ social researchers. A useful starting point is the Government Social Research website.
  • Agencies – focus on a range of topics, e.g. employment, social services, education, the environment, health and transport. Examples of employers include: NatCen Social ResearchScotCen and IPSOS Mori. The Social Research Association provides information on agencies providing social research in the UK, searchable by topic and/or research method.
  • Market research agencies – may work across a range of sectors or specialise. Examples of large agencies with international reach include Mintel, npd, WPP, IHS Markit 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.
  • Charities and pressure groups – many charities, political parties, trade unions, pressure and lobby groups employ permanent and freelance research staff.  
  • International and multilateral organisations, and development consultancies – the bigger NGOs, e.g. 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 sometimes 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 Coffey, RAND, Ecorys, IMC and Dalberg. There is a list of development consultancies at www.weitzenegger.de.docon/index.html
  • Environmental consultancies – the ENDS directory lists more than 1000 consultancies and the Green Directory is a searchable directory of environmental organisations.
  • 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, e.g. in equity, investment, corporate finance or wealth management. Finding, analysing, reporting and presenting data are common tasks. High level quantitative skills are often required. 

What’s changing in the sector?

Increasingly, large agencies are offering their clients different types of research work, including social research, market research and user evaluation. Technology will continue to influence the methods used and the reporting of findings. Being able to help a client publicise findings and implement change based on findings is increasingly part of the service offered.

Useful websites

Vacancies

CareerHub – jobs board targeting LSE students, including events and networking opportunities.

Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Jobs

Jobs.ac.uk – for social research jobs in higher education as well as academic positions 

Find a PhD.com

Research Job Finder

Social Research Association Jobs

W4MP.org – for vacancies and internships in Parliament, pressure groups, campaigns and public affairs.

Charityjob

Civil Service job search – a searchable list. Look for job roles such as social research, policy, market research.

Civil Service Fast Stream

Government Social Research Service

Local Government graduate training scheme – known as NGDP.

Environment Jobs

Evergreen Resources – specialist recruitment agency for environment jobs.

We subscribe to four specialist jobsites: Policy Jobs, Political Jobs, Human Rights Jobs, Ethical Jobs. Scroll down to ‘Exclusive jobsites’ and follow the instructions. Each site lists job vacancies internationally, but with a focus on UK, USA, Canada and Europe. 

Sector research

Market Research Society

Social Research Association

National Council for Voluntary Organisations

Third Sector Research Centre

Green Career Guide

Useful Information

Routes in

Introduction

Graduate vacancies can often be found on CareerHub, but we recommend you use other sites too. Many employers advertise jobs on specialist websites. In all sectors, networks and alumni will be helpful. LinkedIn and LSE events are great starting points.

If you’re looking to gain experience

Many organisations advertise work placements, internships and fixed term contract positions. Organisations often advertise for researchers to conduct telephone interviews, a good way to gain some hands-on experience. Speculative applications are often well-received.

Test out your practical research skills by conducting a research project or contributing to someone else’s project. An undergraduate project or Master's thesis will provide employers with evidence of your motivation and ability in research.

If you’re early on in your career

Some large research agencies and government departments offer graduate training programmes. These usually last two years. Schemes are also available in the Civil Service and the larger agencies and consultancies.

With many smaller organisations you'll be trained on the job, learning from colleagues or taking short courses.

If academic research really motivates you, then a PhD will be important at some point in your career. The process for deciding on this and making strong applications is covered by the LSE Careers webpage ‘Want to do a PhD?’

If you have more experience

Career progression tends to be fairly structured and depends on your previous experience. Senior researcher might be your next step, and then director – where you will commission or pitch for new projects, manage staff and budgets and have less exposure to conducting research projects. If you are entrepreneurial, setting up your own agency providing research services to clients is perfectly possible. Many people work on a freelance basis in this industry.

If you’re changing career

People often move into this sector after completing a Master's qualification, and you might be able to make use of previous work experience to show your flexibility. Some people chose to study for a part-time MSc in research methods or social research while working. PhD qualified candidates can move straight into senior researcher level positions.

Research skills are much needed in other occupations such as political risk, intelligence, law and journalism.

Not sure what to do next?

We’re here to talk over your career plans with you. It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at, so don’t feel you have to have it all worked out. You can book a one-to-one appointment with a careers consultant on CareerHub.

Job roles

Job roles often have researcher or analyst in the title. We’ve outlined some of the major ones with links to where you can find more information and vacancies. If you can, try and talk to someone who’s doing the job you’re interested in, so you get a real flavour of what it’s like.

  • Academic researcher – plans research projects, seeks funding, records and reports findings etc. The Jobs.ac.uk  Researcher (HE) job description provides further details.
  • Policy researcher – investigates, analyses and evaluates policy relevant to the organisation.
  • 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.
  • 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.