Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?
I’m Carmel Hart, a 24-year-old Research Executive at Walnut Unlimited, part of UNLIMITED.
What does your job involve? Give us the typical outline of a day?
I work within the social research team, meaning the work I do is for either government departments, charities or NGOs. The research we normally do is based around finding out what people think, feel and what their experiences are. What I do changes day to day, so I don’t really have a typical day, which I love, it means I never get bored. I could be writing questionnaires or discussion guides, out on fieldwork doing interviews, or looking through data tables and writing reports.
What’s great about your job?
My favourite thing about my job is that the research we do is really important and ultimately helps people. When we work for Charities and NGOs the results we produce might get used to raise awareness for certain causes, lobby the government to change legislation, or help form the basis for campaigns. For example, when we worked with the MS Society, we ran a series of interviews with people who suffered from MS, asking them how the rising cost of living was impacting them. The findings from the interviews helped form part of their #BreakingPoint campaign, aimed at making the government take action and give more financial support for those living with MS. Doing projects like that where I can see the positive results from the research, which is definitely my favourite aspect about my job.
What are the bits you don’t like or find challenging?
I still find presenting to clients scary, and it’s definitely something I’m still working on. But it’s part of the job, and each time I do it, it becomes less and less intimidating.
What are the highlights of your career to date?
A definite highlight for me was the first time research I worked on getting published was mentioned in a national newspaper. Even now I find it exciting and motivating when I see the research I’ve worked on being used somewhere.
What was your career path into this job?
Since studying sociology at A-level, I’ve always wanted to go into social research. I found the idea of research exciting, as I could be at the forefront of a field finding out new things. I ended up studying international politics and sociology at university which I loved. When I graduated, I was working at a mountain sports shop, which I enjoyed but isn’t what I wanted to do long-term. I then applied to the graduate scheme at Walnut Unlimited and was lucky enough to get in, and have been here ever since!
How has your background, upbringing and education had an impact on your career?
Doing sociology at A-level was a turning point for me. Up until that point, I was planning on doing chemistry at university, and going into academia researching STEM. I decided to change from physics to sociology, and I’m so glad I did! I found sociology a lot more exciting than the STEM subjects I was studying at A-level, as it felt like there was a lot more nuance and the answers were less black and white. I decided to start my year at college over again and study humanities instead which is a decision I don’t regret!
Did you have any role models or inspirations growing up?
Someone who definitely inspired me growing up was my chemistry teacher at secondary school. Although I didn’t end up doing chemistry at university, he taught me new ways of thinking about things. My friends and I used to spend our lunchtimes in his classroom talking with him about all sorts of subjects such as chemistry, psychology and sociology, and his passion and enthusiasm inspired me to be more curious about the world around me. I’m not sure that I would have ended up doing the job that I’m doing today if he hadn’t been my teacher.
Can you describe your biggest challenge so far in your career? How did you overcome it?
My biggest challenge has definitely been doing qualitative research as it's something that doesn’t come very naturally to me. I’m quite introverted, so conducting interviews can be quite scary sometimes. I remember when I joined Walnut, I was working on a project where I had the opportunity to go to Scotland for a week to do interviews and intercepts. Travelling to Scotland on my own to do fieldwork felt so terrifying at the time, but I ended up having so much fun travelling on my own and felt really accomplished once I came back. Now interviews feel so much easier, and putting myself out there and just doing it is definitely the best way to overcome my fears.
Have you noticed any changes in the industry? If so, what?
From what I have seen there is a definite want from brands to want more from their insight, thankfully at Walnut Unlimited we pull on neuroscience, behavioural science, and data science to help our clients understand not just what their audience thinks, but also what they feel. We also are very fortunate in the sense that at Walnut we are part of a wider group which makes up UNLIMITED’s Human Understanding Lab allowing us to offer so much more to our clients and help solve problems that maybe traditional research agencies can’t.
You’ve been granted the ability to send a message to 16-year-old you. What do you say?
I would say it’s ok to change your mind. You don’t always have to follow exactly what you have planned. It’s ok to follow your passions. And don’t take rejection too personally!
Do you have any advice for young people interested in doing your kind of job?
Market research and social research is so broad, my advice would be to find a niche. Anything you’re particularly interested in, follow that passion and curiosity. Your passion will make you stand out from the crowd.