A day in the life of a... Senior Researcher

Alex Scholes shares his experience as a Senior Researcher at the Scottish Centre for Social Research (ScotCen).
Old Town during the Fringe Festival

The Scottish Centre for Social Research (ScotCen) comprises a small team of researchers based in Edinburgh that manage a variety of different research projects. I’ve worked at ScotCen for just over five years – and as a Senior Researcher on the team for just over two. My background is primarily in quantitative research; I gained my MSc in Social Research from the University of Edinburgh in 2018.

Since joining ScotCen, I have been able to work on a range of really interesting projects, utilising many different research methods. My primary research interest has always been in social and political attitudes, so it’s been great to have the opportunity to work on the Scottish and British Social Attitudes Surveys and write reports based on the findings. I also work on the UK in a Changing Europe project, helping Professor Sir John Curtice update and maintain two websites that provide up-to-date, impartial information on attitudes towards the EU and Scottish independence. There is such a broad range of projects to get involved with at ScotCen, and I’ve worked on the larger scale, multi-year, face-to-face surveys like the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS), as well as helping with the survey elements of smaller scale mixed-methods projects.  

Who do Senior Researchers work with on a day-to-day basis? 

I work with a range of different departments at NatCen on a day-to-day basis. A typical day may include speaking with someone from our Project Management team who are making sure everything is on track, or the Survey Enquiry team who deal with all the incoming queries related to the surveys I work on, or maybe one of our Field Performance Managers who are the link between ourselves in the Research team and our interviewers out in the field. I like that as part of my day-to-day role, I have contact with people working in completely different departments and different roles but who are working towards a common goal, as it keeps things varied and interesting.

What activities do you undertake for data collection?

There are lots of different things we need to do as a Research team in advance of data collection, but of course, they vary depending on the project. For the type of survey project I typically work on, the questionnaire will need to be designed and drafted. If it includes any new questions then these may need to be cognitively tested; this involves going through the questions with potential respondents to understand their thought processes when reading them and to make sure they understand them in the way we intended. We may also conduct a pilot, basically a practice run, to get feedback from interviewers on how the survey is working in advance of the main fieldwork.

As well as survey instruments like the questionnaire, the Research team need to draft any materials for respondents or interviewers that may be required, such as an advance letter inviting people to take part in the research, or a leaflet that provides additional information about the survey. We will also need to prepare and deliver any interviewer briefings that may be required – to provide interviewers with all they need to know about the survey before they go out and collect the data we need. 

What should you consider when entering the research industry? 

This is an exciting time to be in the research industry; since the COVID pandemic there has been a lot of thinking about what the best ways are to deliver high-quality social research, and many of the projects I work on are adapting methodologically to be fit for the future. So, I would say be open to change, flexible, and try to gain as much experience as possible in as many different research projects as you can, even if you think they may not immediately match your interests. I’ve learnt something new in every project I’ve worked on at ScotCen, which is why I really enjoy the work I do here.