May 27, 2014, by Beth Dawson

From research to recommendations: Holly’s Third Sector Consultancy Challenge experience

By Holly Welsh, Year 4, MSci International Relations and Global Issues Holly Welsh (3)

Our Third Sector Consultancy Challenge is a four week project, designed to offer social sciences students the opportunity to develop skills, experience the world of consultancy and give something back to the local community. Holly shares her experiences of taking part in this project and explains how it’s affected her job prospects.  

Beginning the project

I was part of a small team working with our client, IntoUniversity, a charity that works with young people supporting them on their journey towards higher education. Initially, IntoUniversity sent us a brief introduction to what they do and a list of questions then wanted us to research for them. Some examples of the questions we were asked to research include, are children who are eligible for free school meals under-represented in Russell Group universities? Has the fee increase disproportionately affected the children in the areas in which IntoUniversity work? And, are children from certain backgrounds more or less likely to move away to university? We were also tasked with developing recommendations to the issues we came across, such as helping pupils to gain extra work experience to support their applications for courses such as medicine.

At our first session, we met a representative from the organisation to discuss the task they’d set us, to explore IntoUniversity’s work so that we could understand how our research would be making an impact, and to give us the opportunity to ask any questions about the project.

It was really exciting to have a meeting in such a professional environment and it was useful to discuss the task in person to clarify our expectations. We exchanged contact details, arranged a couple of interim meetings and set up a Facebook group which made it easier for our team to communicate and share documents and website links. Then we got researching!

Getting stuck in

After the first week of conducting general research, we’d each identified one or two research questions we wanted to focus on. We spent the following week preparing a two page summary of the statistics we’d found and suggestions we wanted to make and we were able to run through these in an interim meeting with IntoUniversity to make sure we were on the right track. The next two weeks of the project we spent filling in the gaps in our research and compiling it into a comprehensive report, and then preparing our final presentation.

At the final session, we handed over our – very professional looking – report to the three representatives from our clients who attended and shared our findings with the other groups. It was a bit daunting to present in front of so many students and staff from various organisations in the rather grand Senate Chamber in the Trent Building, but it was also really interesting to hear what the other groups had been investigating because they had worked with was such a range of third sector organisations.

Looking back

I learnt so much from the experience, the topics that I had investigated and the world of consultancy. The experience has been particularly valuable since I’m graduating this year and it’s given me lots to talk about and skills to show off when applying for jobs. I’ve got a flavour of a professional working environment and  experience of working in the third sector which I hope to pursue a career in. I’ve also developed my research, teamwork and  communication skills in terms of liaising with my team and our client, as well as my public speaking and presentation skills, through presenting our findings at the end of the process.

A great factor of the project is that even if something goes wrong, it gives you another experience to draw from in job applications and interviews, especially when talking about overcoming difficulties. I’ve used an example from my experience of this scheme in recent job applications which must have impressed employers, as I’ve got through to an assessment centre for the Charityworks Graduate Programme.  But the best part about this project was being able to make a difference because it involved organisations who really valued a bit of extra help to continue and improve the great work they do.

If you’re a social sciences student, look out for information about the Third Sector Consultancy Challenge next year. Also, visit our work experience and volunteering pages, to explore how you can get involved in this sector. 

Posted in VolunteeringWork experience