Government Researcher

What do you do for a living?

I spend a great deal of my time in prison. Actually, that’s true. I do research on how to steer offenders away from crime,  whether prison works to reduce reoffending and also do research on what the public think of prisons and the sentences given to offenders. I then ensure that the findings of the research are explained to Ministers and government officials who use it to make policies that are based on good research rather than on what the media says or  hearsay or opinion. Well that’s the ideal scenario!


How did you get interested in what you do? What advice was available to you when you chose this career direction?

I wasn’t a massive fan of spelling or arithmetic, but always liked doing projects at school. I loved looking up information and organising it in an interesting way. I also loved talking about what I’d found out. I talked a lot. Fortunately, the job I do basically requires exactly the same skills.

My school wasn’t very good at giving career advice. They used a computer which took your details and came up with weird job choices. I was lucky that my dad, who’s a scientist inspired me to follow research path and my mother, who is a psychologist got me really fascinated by what makes people behave the way they do and what makes them change.


What was your journey to reach the role you are in today? (talk perhaps about education/choices/university, college, training or apprenticeships/ CPD or professional exams/job progression)

To get the job in Analytical Services I had to achieve 5 higher grades (as they were in those days) and then a degree (or 3) so I went to study Psychology at Glasgow University. After that I completed an Master of Philosophy degree in Criminology and then completed a PhD. My first job was a actually as a University lecturer…which I loved but the post wasn’t permanent. Although I had several academic qualifications , I also had to find out how criminal justice actually worked so I started delivering training courses to police officers, advocates and judges which taught me about the criminal justice system and the role of the people who work within the system.


Talk me through a day in your life... what sorts of things would it involve?

Some of you may think that working for the government sounds a bit dull, but one positive aspect about the Scottish Government is flexible working hours so I don’t have to start work until 10am. The day usually starts with have to respond to 100’s of emails followed by meetings with other analysts, policy colleagues or Ministers. When I get a minute I write evidence accounts on various topics, for example I’ve written about women prisoners, drug abuse or violence. We analyse data, deliver presentations or have meetings to discuss what we know about an issue. We sometimes get to visit prisons to interview offenders and prison officers on various topics.


Was it your planned career when you were 18?

Not really, I wanted to be a dancer.


What did your mum and dad want you to do?

Anything that gave me financial independence, that I’d enjoy and be good at.


What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?

Go to Uni and work very hard, but also show how interested you are by doing voluntary work in the topic area.

What other directions could you go in /work in within your field other than the job you have chosen?

I guess I could go back and teach and do research at Colleges or Universities. There are also private research organisations I could work for.