Learning the research ropes in social science

The first experience in the world of work, especially when you’re still unsure of your next move, can be daunting.

Our graduate research assistant programme makes the transition much easier. We’ve been running it in our social, economic and geographic sciences (SEGS) department since 2020.

The latest tranche just completed their six-month placements on the programme – and some have been lucky enough to have their contacts extended while others are looking forward to the next steps in their career.

Find out more about their experiences, what they’ve learned and what they plan to do next by reading their thoughts on their placement below.  

I have been fortunate to have had a really positive experience at the Hutton as my first experience working in research. The SEGS department is extremely welcoming and open to sharing knowledge, ideas and experience. It’s a really open, productive and balanced workplace that is a privilege to be a part of.

I have been on a variety of projects where I was not familiar with the subject matter in the beginning. As a result, I have found it fascinating to gain an in-depth knowledge of specific topics that are completely outside the realm of what I learned in my undergrad. This has included waste in the seafood supply chain, digitalisation in Scottish rural micro-enterprises and consumer preferences for olive oil in Tunisia and Morocco!

Through this immersion in research, I feel like I have gained a wealth of useful knowledge and information about how research is conducted and how the different systems involved in research work.

I still want to work in the area of developmental psychology. Although, my time as a graduate research assistant has helped me realise how much I value variety in the day-to-day tasks I am involved in, which I will take into consideration in my future career.

For now, I’m happy to say that my contract at the Hutton has been extended, so I will continue to work here until August.

I will then start a master’s in Applied Developmental Psychology in Queen’s University, Belfast, in September. Although I will be sad to leave the Hutton and Aberdeen, I am excited to continue my education and I hope to utilise all the skills I have developed throughout my time here during my master’s and throughout my future career!

Isabel Williams
Mike Bartram

My experience at the Hutton has gone well! Everybody has been welcoming and friendly, fostering an environment where I am made to feel like my contributions are valuable, while help is readily available when it’s been needed.

There have been many opportunities to learn and develop. I think that the most interesting thing I’ve learned is some of the similarities and differences between disciplines. My background is in psychology and I was surprised at how much crossover there was with an economic/agricultural project I worked on.

It’s been really useful applying the research skills learned at university to actual projects. For example, I learned that there are some research groups which meet to present their methods and hypotheses prior to data collection, in order to receive feedback, brainstorm ideas and maintain accountability. Learning this has been very useful and is something I hope to take into my work in the future.

Prior to joining the Hutton, I wanted to get more experience in research because it was the aspect of my degree I most enjoyed. My experience here has confirmed and furthered this interest – it’s something that I want to continue pursuing.

With that in mind, I’m pleased to have received an offer to study MSc Psychological Research at the University of Oxford, starting in October. My plan is to spend the next six months saving up for it!

I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience I have had at Hutton. It has been great learning about the research process in more depth and to broaden my understanding of research within the SEGS department. I have particularly enjoyed working alongside my colleagues, who were so welcoming and are very supportive.

My projects were all quite varied and allowed me to learn many different skills. It was interesting to see the behind-the-scenes aspect of working as a researcher. I found it remarkable to see how many projects people were working on simultaneously! A fun skill that I learned was learning to sew in a workshop for a circular economies project. It was a fun, practical and useful skill to learn, tying in well with the repair work we are doing in the project.

I have also learned many other things while working at Hutton. Some are professional, for example how to gather and analyse qualitative data or working with different software and data analysis techniques. Others are personal, such as how to balance work and life. During university, it was quite easy to forget how to manage work/studying hours. Learning that I should be able to get through everything in working hours has been beneficial and is something that I plan to take with me through my new role and when I start to think about future studies.

For now, I look forward to extending my time in the SEGS department and I am pleased that I am getting the opportunity to work as a research assistant. I still intend on completing further studies, but I am eager to continue learning and developing my skills here at the Hutton.

Fiona Bender

Read more:

Hutton’s graduate research assistants – bridging the gap in social sciences | The James Hutton Institute

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post are the views of the author(s), and not an official position of the institute or funder.