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The HRW Graduate Academy: A first-hand account from two budding researchers

15.03.2019

What’s it like to join HRW’s Graduate Academy as a trainee Research Executive? Greg Hyatt and Abi Graham (part of our 2018 intake) joined us for a chat about their experiences after six months in our company – what they’ve learned, what surprised them, and how they are feeling now they are an established and valuable part of our team…

Hi guys! Let’s find out more about you. Give us a little introduction and tell us where you were before HRW.

Greg: I studied history at Lancaster University: I graduated about four years ago and worked a few (fairly boring) jobs before HRW. I’m originally from Wolverhampton – which is apparently rated the fifth worst place to live in the world (including several severe conflict zones)… but I don’t mind it.

Abi: I’m from Leigh on Sea, which is interestingly rated one of the happiest places to live in the UK! Coincidentally, I also studied at Lancaster University (geography).

How did you come across our HRW Graduate Academy?

Abi: I came home after travelling around Asia and was hunting for jobs… it was actually my boyfriend who found this one. He spotted it online and saw that it linked up two areas I love: health and research.

Greg: I did a lot of analyses as part of my degree and really enjoyed it. I was looking for work that would allow me to carry on using these research skills, and when I read this job spec it sounded like a good fit.

What were your expectations about the role before you started?

Abi: I thought it would be hard! During our assessment day, we did some tricky tasks with a huge number of acronyms that I didn’t understand yet. So, I expected there to be a lot of learning involved when I joined…

Greg: Yes – I remember thinking, what’s a HCP? I really had no idea… I think everyone knows roughly what market research is, so I had some expectations. I thought it would be fairly complicated with a lot of work involved.

What were your impressions during your interview for your role?

Abi: I first interviewed for a role at the Oxford office: I’d thought I might move to Reading. However, I eventually ended up in London. I remember being impressed by the offices… I met a lot of the directors, and when I spoke to Jeanette Kaye (Deputy Global MD) and Victoria McWade (Research Director), it felt more like a chat and a laugh than an interview! They kept forgetting to ask me proper interview questions because we were having such a nice time.

Greg: The interview was the most relaxing part of the assessment day! As Abi says, a good interview doesn’t feel like an interview. Everyone was really friendly, and it felt like a company I’d want to work for. I found the tests we completed during the day a bit less relaxing…

Abi: Yes, one task involved prioritising tasks and displaying time management, and it was a lot of work.

Greg: We also wrote headlines and insights for report slides, and I couldn’t believe how much thought had to go into them. Headlines are so important, and there’s way more that goes into report writing than I had anticipated.

Abi: The style of reporting surprised me too: I thought we’d be producing something more like a dissertation, but we had to adjust to a more creative, dynamic reporting style which was a bit of a shift in thinking for me.

What surprised you most when you started working here?

Abi: How relaxed our office is – it’s so friendly. In my previous job, I worked at my dad’s firm which was much more formal (especially when you’re the boss’s daughter!).

Greg: As I said, I’d worked a few jobs before and was used to being treated as part of a machine – being given tasks to just complete. Here, I feel like I’m treated more like an independent part of the business: we’re given responsibility for our own time and we’re trusted to manage it. For example, we have a flexi-time system and a fairly chilled out approach to start times for the day – if you’re a bit late, it’s not an issue as you’re trusted to manage your work accordingly (and everyone does!).

Abi: Yes, I was surprised by how much responsibility we had from the start. For example, I was able to input into reports within my first few weeks. It was great to be trusted like that. Saying that, we were also well-trained and were able to ask lots of questions… My expectations were correct that there’s a lot of learning involved.

Greg: Yes, it’s a balance. We have responsibility, but we’re not left to sink or swim. There’s always someone to ask for help and support.

Abi: And I was surprised by the fact that there’s so little division within the business. There’s not a sense of having “big, scary senior people” at the top, and I feel like I can approach any of our directors and chat to them.

How did you adjust to our approach of working across offices as a seamless team?

Abi: Working across our multiple offices was hard at first, as you didn’t know who these people were in real life. But I’m used to it now, and it doesn’t restrict us at all.

Greg: Look, it’s the 21st century! We email and message constantly and use group chats for each project with regular video calling to stay connected. Despite our multiple offices, the structure works very well.

What did you find most challenging in your first few weeks?

Greg: It was quite full-on. We had one quite relaxed “welcome” day and then ploughed straight on with training and our projects (we had two each, to begin with).

Abi: I genuinely didn’t think I’d ever get my head around the acronyms…

Greg: The internet was amazingly helpful for that. We also had to get used to using our calendars and diaries to really plan our time effectively – you need to be really on top of things.

Tell me about the training you received…

Abi: We had a programme of basic sessions over our first few weeks, and it’s basically been ongoing since then, with regular sessions within our first six months. The different topics introduce us to a new aspect of our role (e.g. reporting, moderating interviews, and advanced analytics) and include homework, so we can demonstrate what we have learned.

Greg: We also had a lot of ‘on the job’ coaching, that I find the most valuable.

What do you now enjoy the most about your role?

Abi: I love learning about health landscapes; such as lupus and schizophrenia, where I’ve had to immerse myself in each area and get up to speed. I also love working in a team on each project. You have your own tasks and roles, but there’s always someone to help, so you never feel isolated.

Greg: For me it’s the variety. My attention span is pretty short, but this job is great for that. In a day, you do so many different things. You might prepare a fieldwork update, write a debrief, update a questionnaire and do some desk research all in one day! There are a few bits admin that are less exciting, but the majority of what we do is really enjoyable in a few different ways. The health aspect is also interesting: knowing what’s at the forefront of medical development and being involved in that is great.

Who do you enjoy working with?

Abi: The other junior researchers in our team! We ask each other questions and work out the answers together. I like working really closely with our directors, who are very closely involved with projects – I know this isn’t necessarily the case everywhere, so it’s great to learn from their experience. I also like working with my manager, Faye Holmes (SRM), who joined HRW as a trainee as well – so she really understands what I’m going through.

Greg: To be honest, there’s no one I don’t like working with. I like working with Senior Research Execs like Emily, Sophie, and Vincent who are also quite close to the Executive role and know exactly how to accommodate a new team member. They respond to our queries so quickly and help to coach us through problems, which is so helpful.

What is your favourite project to date?

Abi: I really enjoyed a piece of quantitative tracking research for infant formula that I was involved with as my very first project! Jaz Gill (Associate Director, Analytics), as the director on the project, took me under his wing and I learned a lot.

Greg: I worked on a project involving an app for tracking asthma, which is a really interesting topic. It was also my very first one, and it was a great team. Despite being so new to the business, I really got involved from the start: I attended a centrally located day of interviews, I wrote slides for the report, supported in questionnaire development and then got to attend the debrief at the end, which was great!

What are your interests and passions beyond MR?

Abi: I love cooking and making stuff from scratch. My specialities include shepherd’s pie, lasagne, chicken tikka masala… This weekend I made pizza, including the dough!

Greg: London is a great place to work, so I try and take advantage of that as much as I can – going to gigs and stuff. I play football too, and practise jiu jitsu a few times a week.

Any final words of advice for budding researchers?

Greg: Research can be hard work, but it’s really rewarding!

Abi: Get used to tight timelines (way less relaxed than at uni!) – and getting up early for work!

To find out more about our Graduate Academy, click here.

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