Please note that the 2018 scheme has now closed for applications. The opening date for applications to join the 2019 scheme will be posted here when known, together with instruction on the application process.
What qualifications do I need?
GSR members come from a range of social science backgrounds including psychology, social policy, geography, sociology, political science, criminology and social statistics.
You must have, or expect to get, at least:
- a 2:1 degree in a relevant social science subject with a substantial social research methods component
- a 2.2 degree with a relevant postgraduate qualification in social research
Relevant social science disciplines include:
- area and development studies
- economic and social history
- environmental planning
- human geography
- management and business studies
- mathematical sciences
- methods and computing
- political science and international studies
- science and technology studies
- social anthropology
- social policy
- social work
- socio-legal studies
- sociology and statistics
Relevant social research methods component include:
- qualitative data collection and research design, including: interviewing skills, conducting focus groups and ethnographic methods
- quantitative data collection and research design, including: questionnaire design, sampling and weighting
- hypothesis testing and evaluation
- undertaking systematic reviews
- data analysis, including data linkage, imputation and presentation of results
- application of ethics to research
What would I do?
Government social researchers play a critical role in gathering analysing and interpreting the information that forms the foundation for decision-making affecting every UK resident. As a Research Officer (Fast Stream) working for a civil service organisation you can contribute to the reporting of social trends, the development of government policy and evaluation of how policies make a difference to public services. Your work might involve developing surveys, analysing data, producing statistics, reviewing existing research evidence and working with other analysts in government to provide timely, relevant and robust briefing for policy colleagues and Ministers.
Social Researchers working in departments and agencies
To find out more on the key issues for social researchers in some of the departments, as well as contact details please browse the departments below:
- Cabinet Office
- Committee on Climate Change
- Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
- Department for Culture Media and Sport
- Department for International Development
- Department for Transport
- Department for Work and Pensions
- Food Standards Agency
- HM Revenue and Customs
- Health and Safety Executive
- Ministry of Defence
- Ministry of Justice
- Office for National Statistics
- Valuation Office Agency
Allocation to a GSR department
You will begin your GSR career employed by a specific government organisation/department. Which one will depend on where there are vacancies. We will look at candidate’s preferences on the application form but as we are only expecting to be able to offer a very small number of places, the chances of meeting your preferences are significantly reduced. As your time on the fast stream, and your career progresses, you may choose to apply for roles in other GSR organisations/departments.
How much would I earn?
Salaries vary between departments. The average starting salary in London is about £27,000.
What is the Social Research Assesment Centre (SRAC)?
It is a half-day assessment centre to assess a candidate’s social research skills against set criteria. You should be aware that there may be periods of downtime in your timetable when you do not have to complete any exercises. Each candidate completes the same series of exercises with the same amount of time to prepare, so time delays will not disadvantage or advantage you.
There are 3 separate social research exercises to complete at the SRAC.
The following guidance is aimed at helping you prepare beforehand so that you can demonstrate your full potential on the day. You will be asked to produce your written work on a computer.
You will be assessed against 3 competencies throughout the SRAC:
- social research professional expertise
- managing a quality service
- leading and communicating
You must reach the standard for all 3 competencies to pass SRAC.
Positive indicators for the competencies are as follows:
Social research professional expertise
- has good knowledge of research methodology, method, techniques, (at e.g. degree level 2:1 or 1) and ability to apply these in small scale research projects
- is able to design small scale and less complex research projects, defining research questions and writing draft specifications
- is able to summarise and interpret information accurately, making use of different sources and to conduct basic analyses of key data sets utilising a working knowledge of relevant data analysis packages
- has good working knowledge of departmental procurement procedures, legal and ethical issues and principles relating to social research. Uses ability to critically assess and evaluate information and evidence, to support team members in managing more complex external research projects (judging merits of research tenders, assessing research findings, evaluating new ideas or methodologies)
- persuades others to support the research process and works to increase awareness of cross cutting research possibilities
- uses understanding of policy context to deliver appropriate and timely analysis and clear reporting of research results, tailored to customer needs
Managing a quality service
- make effective use of project management skills and techniques to deliver outcomes, including identifying risks and mitigating actions
- develop, implement, maintain and review systems and service standards to provide quality, efficiency and value for money
- work with team to set priorities, goals, objectives and timescales
- establish mechanisms to seek out and respond to feedback from customers about service provided
- promote a culture that tackles fraud and deception, keeping others informed of outcomes
- develop proposals to improve the quality of service with involvement from a diverse range of staff, stakeholders or deliver partners
Leading and communicating
- take opportunities to regularly communicate and interact with staff, helping to clarify goals and activities and the links between these and departmental strategy
- recognise, respect and reward the contribution and achievements of others
- communicate in a succinct, engaging manner and stand ground when needed
- communicate using appropriate styles, methods and timing, including digital channels, to maximise understanding and impact
- promote the work of the department and play an active part in supporting the Civil Service values and culture
- convey enthusiasm and energy about their work and encourage others to do the same
What are the exercises I will complete at the SRAC?
The three exercises you will complete at the SRAC are:
- competency based interview
- oral briefing exercise
- social research knowledge test
Can you tell me more about each exercise and how I can prepare?
Oral briefing exercise
You will have 45 minutes to review some research data and prepare an oral briefing to give to two assessors who will be representing the perspectives of a policy professional and senior social researcher. You will then have 10 minutes to deliver your briefing, followed by up to 20 minutes of questions from the assessors. The oral-briefing exercise is what is termed a ‘work-simulation exercise’, i.e. it is designed to simulate aspects of the job to be performed and thus provide a basis for assessing the behaviours and competencies required in the job. All three competencies are assessed in this exercise.
The aim is that the exercise simulates a briefing you might be asked to do for a senior research colleague or a policy maker. During the 45 minutes you have to prepare for this exercise, you will be given a room to prepare in, instructions and research information to work with, and you will have to prepare an oral briefing based on the information provided. In the time allowed for preparation, you will be required to read and analyse research information (e.g. survey data) provided, which will relate to a particular policy area and prepare notes that will allow you to brief the assessors according to the instructions for the exercise.
You will then move to a room where the assessor panel made up of two people will be based and you will deliver the briefing to them for up to 10 uninterrupted minutes. You will be stopped if you overrun. The assessors will take on the role of a policy or senior research colleague.
When you have finished delivering your briefing, the assessors will have up to 25 minutes to ask you further questions, exploring the ideas you have presented. This question and answer session is intended to allow the assessors to probe your depth of understanding of the issues, your ability to ‘think on your feet’, anticipate likely problems and your persuasiveness.
Please note that you are not expected to have any prior knowledge of the oral briefing subject matter; all the information you will need to complete the exercise is given to you with the instructions and any supporting information/materials supplied on the day
Competency based interview
You will be interviewed by two social research assessors for approximately 40 minutes. For the first 10 minutes you will be asked some follow up questions to the Knowledge Test. For 30 minutes the interview will focus on the following competencies: managing a quality service and leading and communicating; and will also include questions about your motivation for a career in Government Social Research and the application of social research in the real world.
NB: You should come prepared to talk about one or two examples from your own experience or from the public domain of when Social Research has had an impact either good or bad.
The assessors should introduce themselves to you and tell you all you need to know about how they will conduct the interview, for example how they will organise the questions between them, that you can clarify any questions which seem unclear to you, and that you will have the opportunity to ask questions. It is the assessors’ job to try and put you at ease from the beginning and then throughout the interview, they want to give every candidate the chance to show him or herself in the best possible light. They will want to know as much about you and your suitability for the fast stream as is possible in a limited period, so ensure that you make them aware of everything that you feel is relevant.
The interview is your chance to talk candidly about your abilities in relation to the competencies being tested. The questions have been designed to tell the assessors more about specific job-related abilities and will be looking to you to give relevant examples of your past experience. This can be experience from work, higher education or personal activities. You will need to tell the assessors in each case about the context of the situation, what you did and why you chose your course of action, and what the outcome was. Everyone’s interview should be similar: questions will be selected from the same core list. Obviously, any follow-up questions will depend on the answers you give and will not necessarily be the same as those for other candidates.
The questions may take the form of examples of previous behaviour, so might begin ‘Can you give me an example of when you have…’. Some questions might relate to hypothetical situations, so might begin ‘How would you go about…’.
Remember that you can decide what you are willing to discuss in your interview, and you can ask for information to be treated as confidential. You will not be penalised for not wanting to talk about issues that are sensitive to you. Any information that you ask to be kept confidential will only be shared with the other assessors if it has a direct bearing on the selection decision.
At the end of the interview you will usually be asked if you have any questions or whether there is anything else you want to add. Take your time to think. Ask any question you would like answered but do not ask just for the sake of it. If you realise you could have given a better answer to one of the assessors’ earlier questions, tell them briefly what you meant to say. If there is some relevant information that you neglected to mention – or a major achievement that you think is pertinent – do so at this point, but briefly. Finally, do not read too much into any interview that is slightly longer or shorter than the time estimated as assessor panels sometimes differ in how they divide up their questioning and use their time. Interviewers will be making notes throughout the interview so do not worry if they do not always maintain eye contact.
Social research knowledge test
You will have 50 minutes to answer the questions. There are 16 multiple choice questions and 4 questions allowing free format responses.
The test explores the basic knowledge and application of statistical, analytical and research skills and techniques. The questions will cover basic statistical principals, use and interpretation of statistics, research methodology (including both quantitative and qualitative approaches) and the presentation of findings. Underlying issues such as practical problems in research design, ethics and the design of tools may also be covered.
Note that many of the questions contain data and results – all of these are invented and do not necessarily relate to the real world. You do not have to have any experience of working in any particular area (e.g. education, transport, law enforcement) to answer any of the questions.
You should attempt to answer as many questions, as quickly and as accurately, as you can. You will not lose marks for incorrect answers.
All instructions will be given to you on the day, and you will have the opportunity to ask questions related to the instructions after they have been read out.
Example of an oral briefing:
- road traffic accident oral briefing exercise
Example of Knowledge Test questions:
- social research knowledge test example questions
All questions are based on fictional cases and data is provided to inform applicants about the type of questions that you may be asked as part of a written test.
Candidates who pass the SRAC and the fast stream assessment centre may only defer appointment to complete a postgraduate degree in a social science. Deferrals are granted for a maximum of 12 months. Candidates who do not take up appointment within this period will need to re-apply for the Social Research Fast Stream scheme.