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Giant steps for student interns

Budding social scientists are seizing the opportunity to make an impact in the real world, thanks to Q-Step – a pioneering programme of work placements.

The University's Q-Step programme is blazing a trail into the workplace for students, connecting them to employers such as the World Bank, the Home Office, the Department for International Development, YouGov, Santander, the BBC, The Times and Sunday Times, and Ipsos MORI.

Part of a five-year, £19.5 million national programme, Q-Step is transforming the way social science undergraduates are taught. It's teaching them to crunch the data needed to answer research questions of academic and public-policy interest, and enabling them to apply these skills to real-world environments such as social and political research, consultancy, business and marketing.

The runaway success of Q-Step is the second-year, paid summer internships. There are 50 each year, paid for by the University and Q-Step. In the words of Joe Twyman, Head of Political and Social Research at YouGov: "This is not about coming here and doing the photocopying or making the coffee – this is about coming here as a fully functional member of our team."

The feedback from employers has been exceptional. Joe describes the student he took, Mia Vamrak Strand, as "one of the strongest, most talented and capable interns we've ever had". Meanwhile, Ed Cox, Director of IPPR North, whose intern, Marcus Johns, investigated the potential success of the Northern Powerhouse, recalls: "Marcus trawled many, many sets of data and pulled out one statistic, the 'early years gap', that had fantastic media coverage and a lot of political interest."

David Lewis, AudienceNet CEO and founder, describes their intern Anna Kiel as "no better testimony to the programme", adding that she "has more than surpassed all expectations".

In fact, they have now employed her and one of her first projects – data analysis on public perceptions of the refugee crisis in Europe, North America and Australasia – was presented at the United Nations and sent to Kofi Annan, Queen Rania of Jordan, the Turkish Ambassador and President Obama's senior representative in relation to the crisis.

Closer to home, Charlotte McCarthy's internship at anti-poverty think tank the Social Action and Research Foundation (SARF) saw her proving her mettle alongside sociology's finest.

"Charlotte stood on the same stage as prominent sociologists – and wrote articles that had as many hits as theirs did", explains SARF Co-Director Dan Silver.

The University's Q-Step Co-Director, Dr Jackie Carter, says: "The students get an amazing work experience that really hones their skills and builds their confidence. The University finds out what employers need. The employers get a student for the summer who is paid for, administrated by us and who'll do a great piece of work."

Such is the success of the programme and our interns that placements are now being planned at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Dr Carter continues: "This programme is giving all social sciences students – whatever their backgrounds – access to professions based on their talent, and they have done us proud. As a result, this programme is a real differentiator for the University."

The national Q-Step programme was launched by the Nuffield Foundation, HEFCE and the Economic and Social Research Council.

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