A day in the life of a…Survey Methodologist

Sierra Mesplie-Cowan shares her experience as a Senior Survey Methodologist.

A Survey Methodologist is a survey designer with expert knowledge in the scientific field of survey research who ensures data collection meets the client's needs at the highest possible level of quality. At the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), Survey Methodologists play an essential role in consulting on survey designs from inception to final data delivery. At some point, many of the surveys run by NatCen will be advised by a methodologist like myself, on features such as sampling strategies, respondent communications and incentive strategies.

Since 2021, I've been a Senior Survey Methodologist at NatCen. With a wealth of survey research experience and an MSc in survey methods, my role stands out. Unlike colleagues tied to specific projects, I provide on-request internal consultation. I'm also a Methodology and Innovation Hub team member, where methods innovation and knowledge dissemination across our staff team takes centre stage. Being one of the few dedicated methodologists at NatCen, my role is dynamic, flexible, and, most importantly, never dull.

So, what's a typical day like for me?

My days vary wildly based on projects. But, most days, I start by tackling the survey methods queries that have dropped into my inbox overnight. These cover everything from optimal survey incentives to the best methods for respondent communications and sampling methodology. While I often draw on existing knowledge, I also delve into academic literature and internal repositories, weighing evidence to provide informed opinions.

Today involved a Methodology and Innovation Hub catch-up, where the team and I discuss project progress. These meetings are productive and fun, fostering discussions on promoting innovation and continuous learning around methods. Recently, we have been diving into video development, showcasing innovative methods used across the organisation. There's also talk of upcoming seminars and noteworthy methodological innovations within the organisation.

The remainder of my day is dedicated to projects. Currently, I'm analysing a qualitative project focused on the experiences of face-to-face survey field interviewers. Then, I review a survey question's paradata (data about the data collection process) to check for potential measurement errors. Despite being a Survey Methodologist, typically a quantitative researcher, I've honed qualitative skills that add a unique flavour to my survey research role.

What do I love most about this role?

I'm fortunate to enjoy a self-directed role with the freedom to choose projects and provide meaningful support. While I'm a Survey Methodologist primarily focused on methodology consulting, I'm not confined by it. NatCen's continuous quest for innovation means I'm always immersed in interesting and engaging work. 

What should you know before becoming a survey methodologist?

I recommend gaining experience in general survey research and management first. This foundation helps you discover your interests within survey methods. Every methodologist has a special interest and works to become an expert in that area; gaining general experience allows you to find what resonates with you. I started with an interest in using paradata for survey development, but now I'm delving into UX (User Experience) methods and their application to survey research. Career satisfaction for me is important, and being able to be a source of knowledge and influence on my special interest is particularly rewarding.