Studying sociology at university opened my eyes to the world of social research and gave me a glimpse into how we can ethically use research to make a positive change. All of a sudden, I saw a career in the distance that I hadn’t even known existed.
As a graduate I was full of hope and optimism that I would be able to find a job by Christmas, but this was not to be. I entered the job market in the middle of pandemic and one of the “worst jobs crises since The Great Depression”. Living in Bradford where the unemployment rate is higher than the national average and opportunities for social research positions are few and far between, I was faced with challenges.
As a woman with disabilities, one of which greatly impacts my mobility and being vulnerable to Covid-19, there were limitations on the types of positions I could go for. Despite applying for universal credit, I still struggled. The ones I applied for would either not get back to me or reject me, and if I got through to the interview stage it was very clear that I was not who they were looking for. I was, in a lot of ways, rather undesirable as a new hire, as I had mobility issues and limited work experience – I was not the ideal candidate.
The North-South divide is something we hear a lot of in commentary surrounding social mobility and employment, and I felt this divide keenly as I searched for social research positions. Yet – as my work coach and I soon came to realise – most research positions are in London. Some discussed remote working but included the caveat that this was not a permanent option and instead a short-term solution as a result of the pandemic. The need to go into the physical office meant that, as someone living in the North with lower financial capital and disabilities, I was almost immediately dissuaded from applying. Furthermore, most opportunities were for a senior researcher, and no matter how much I wished I were, I was not. How do you become a senior researcher if you are struggling to even get a foothold on the research ladder?
The shift online
I entered the new year unemployed and becoming quite despondent with the process. My work coach was very rarely suggesting roles to me, and I was beginning to lose hope of ever finding a role which was either remote working or close enough to where I lived that I could reach it in a reasonable time frame. It became obvious to me that there was some level of preference for research to be conducted in London, so roles were only available in this area. This left me at a significant disadvantage, as I was unable to up and move to the capital at the drop of a hat. Both financially and physically, that would be a very large burden. It felt unfair to me that even though I had my degrees, and I had the passion to become involved, I was prevented from entering research due to the North-South divide. It felt almost ironic that in order to study the social disadvantages that people face, I needed not to be inhibited by such disadvantages.
The shift to the online world had definitely benefited many people, but at this point of my job hunt, I found that it did little to aid me getting into social research. While many organisations were quick to include a line in their adverts to let you know that do not discriminate, it is almost as if they do not actively need to do this because their structure does it for them. Once again, it felt like yet another blockade was built to prevent me from getting into the workforce and gaining experience. My feelings of despondency had grown. I began to give up hope of getting into research, and focused almost entirely on roles that would be considered ‘low skilled labour’.
A new (kick)start
It was then that something positive occurred. I was assigned a new work coach and almost immediately she had found me a handful of roles that I could perform very easily as they were almost entirely online, and were also a part of the Kickstart Scheme, set up by the Government, which meant my limited experience would not hamper me. And among these roles, one of them was a research position. I applied to them all, but paid significant attention to the role in research, keeping my fingers crossed that this could be my chance. This was my gateway into research. And even with the office based in London, it was entirely based online, meaning that I had a chance.
I now work as a Peer Researcher for The Young Foundation, and I could not be happier. I have my chance to gain work experience, flesh out my research skills, and also begin working my way up the ladder within the social research world, something which I never thought I could accomplish. The chance to work online from my home has meant that I have the ability to get into work I had begun to think impossible due to my location. It has also meant I am able to manage my disabilities in a way I had never thought possible. While the option to work online has come about from a very negative situation, I believe this is possibly one of the most positive and greatest things to happen in regard to work in a very long time. It opened the door for people like myself. I will be forever grateful to The Young Foundation for this opportunity, and forever grateful for the transition of the workplace to the online space, and how it has allowed for me to do what I love.