Summer Internship at ScotCen


Sophie Birtwistle, a 4th year Q-Step student studying for a degree in Social Policy with Quantitative Methods explains how skills learned on her degree transfer to a workplace internship with ScotCen.


Hello, I’m Sophie. I’m a 4th year student studying for a degree in Social Policy with Quantitative Methods at the University of Edinburgh.


During the summer of the 3rd year of my degree programme I had the opportunity to undertake an internship at ScotCen.  ScotCen is the Scottish branch of NatCen social research, which is the largest independent social research agency in the UK. ScotCen are involved in many data related projects. This includes the collection and administration of the Scottish Social Attitudes survey and the Growing up in Scotland Survey.


During my placement I was employed to work on the 2021 edition of the Scottish Health Survey (SHeS). This is an annual survey that provides a detailed picture of the health of the Scottish population. SHeS data is used by the Scottish Government to support what policies should be introduced in Scotland to help improve public health.


My placement involved many different tasks. My main role was editing, writing, and checking SPSS syntax to run analysis in order to create the data tables. These tables formed the basis of analysis in the SHeS annuals report. In addition, I contributed towards the analysis of the SHeS technical report and I also wrote two of chapters of the SHeS annual report.


From this experience I was able to greatly improve my skills using SPSS. This is a software that I had not used since my first-year quantitative methods courses. I was a bit rusty because of this, but throughout the weeks I became more confident and comfortable with using the software.


The skills that I had developed on my degree transferred well to ScotCen and meant I was soon able to write and run code quickly and efficiently in SPSS. Working hands on in an agency focussed on social research also helped to improve my data management skills. There was so much data that it was important to keep it organised by applying principles of data management that I had learned.


My role at ScotCen went far beyond data analysis and input into the report. I was able to attend briefings on other projects such as the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey. It was helpful to be able to see how things worked differently between surveys.


I was also able to gain bio measures accreditation. SHeS uses bio measures such as height, weight, blood pressure, waist measurement and saliva samples. Interviewers perform tasks and practical procedures to gather this information when out in the field. In order to ensure validity and robustness interviewers must be accredited in order to gather these data. My accreditation meant I was able to help interviewers gain their accreditation in the use of bio-measure so that they could then go into the field and collect the required information.


My contribution at ScotCen was so successful and enjoyable that I was able to stay on for an extra two weeks. This gave me time to complete my involvement in the SHeS main and technical reports. Because of this, I will be a published author on a report for one of the Scottish Governments main populations surveys, which is a brilliant outcome and addition to my CV. And all of this before I even graduate!


The experience was a great insight into work using large survey data. It was fantastic to get hands on experience in analysing these data in a real research context. The experience assured me that a career revolving around data analysis is something that I can see myself doing after I graduate.


ScotCen was a lovely place to work; everyone who works there is friendly and chatty and very approachable. I was sad on my last day knowing I had to leave. I am keeping my fingers crossed that I will be back working there one day.



Photo by Sophie Birtwistle


The Research Training Centre applies expertise in a diverse set of social science methods, through teaching and research. The Centre provides new insights to the key challenges in society.

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