Graduate profile
The Rik Medlik building

Dr Victoria Staples

"Surrey provides the knowledge, skills and support to help you get the career you want."


Physics PhD

What attracted you to choose Surrey and to study your course here?

Surrey had a great reputation for high quality research and had successful, active research groups in my substantive field of interest – sleep research. I became interested in this through one of my final year undergraduate modules. In 2004, a new ESRC-MRC Interdisciplinary studentship scheme was launched, and with support from my supervisors I was awarded a 1+3 studentship, enabling me to undertake research in both sociology and chronobiology on sleep-wake timing in older people, focusing on morning-eveningness or whether people are ‘larks’ or ‘owls’.

The MSc in Social Research Methods is well established as providing an excellent grounding in research methods and would provide the skills I needed to undertake the social research element of my doctoral studies. The opportunity to gain real world research experience through undertaking a placement also appealed to me after my experience as an undergraduate at Surrey.

What is your strongest memory of your time at Surrey – what do you picture first when you think of being here?

The sense of achievement on seeing my first paper published, from a chapter of my PhD thesis. This was the culmination of a journey started during my MSc year in learning about survey methods, through developing my own questionnaire to ask about usual sleep patterns in older people, collecting and analysing data, then situating my findings in the context of existing research.  I published the paper with my supervisors, who provided excellent support and guidance throughout my time at Surrey.

What is the one thing you would say about Surrey, or the course you studied, to someone who doesn’t know anything about it?

I came to the MSc in Social Research Methods with a background in Biochemistry. My undergraduate and MSc studies both developed my analytical skills, particularly in how to develop research questions and objectives, and provided knowledge of methodological principles and practices to enable me to decide which methods to use.

It is this practical knowledge and expertise in social research that helped me begin my career in social research after graduating.

How did you change as a person during your time as a Surrey student, and how has your time here influenced your life and career since then?

My time at Surrey gave me confidence as a researcher and a person, through meeting people taking part in my research, tutoring undergraduate students and developing a network of research contacts.  I also met my husband (who graduated in 2004 with an undergraduate Masters in Electronic Engineering) while studying at Surrey.

"Surrey provides the knowledge, skills and support to help you get the career you want."


During my time at Surrey I valued the support I received from more experienced students and researchers, and since graduating I was happy to be invited back to speak to MSc and undergraduate students about my experience working as a Government Social Researcher.

 I’ve also been able to work with an undergraduate Surrey placement student this year, talking through career experiences and going back to final year studies after a year working.

The Careers Service were really helpful in identifying jobs that I hadn’t initially considered could lead to a career in social research and helped me prepare for the assessment process using my experience from my MSc and doctoral studies. I applied to national Government Social Researcher recruitment schemes, but the Office for National Statistics also offers opportunities as part of the Civil Service for social researchers as well as statisticians, economists and operational researchers.  

I joined ONS as a social researcher in a role investigating how we could use administrative data sources to improve migration and population statistics.

During my career at ONS I have drawn on the methods and skills I learnt and developed through my MSc and continue to do so.

What has been your career highlight to date?

I am currently a Senior Researcher in the Beyond 2011 Programme in ONS, which is reviewing the future needs for information about population and housing in England and Wales, and how these needs may be met.

Every 10 years, for over 200 years, every household in England and Wales has been required to respond to the census. The 2011 Census successfully provided population statistics that will be used for the next decade by planners, policy makers and researchers across the public and private sectors. However, the population is changing rapidly and there is a need to understand how these changes will continue, and to understand the opportunities to either modernise the existing census process or develop alternative census method that reuse existing data already held within government.

In my role I have been involved in understanding the challenges of using administrative data to produce population statistics, and how a population coverage survey design may be different in a method using existing administrative data.  I was also involved in questionnaire design for a survey field test as part of developing alternative census methods, and in analysis of data that was collected. In this work I’ve written reports and papers, presented to users and academics at our research conference, as well as managing a small research team.

Working in Beyond 2011 has been the highlight of my career to date as it has been a great experience working in a programme looking at new and innovative alternatives to a census for producing population statistics. I have been able to get involved with other teams, in operational delivery and survey operations and get different perspectives on research.

What do you find most enjoyable about your line of work and why?

The opportunity to get involved in a wide variety of research in my different roles means that I have a better understanding of work across ONS and the Civil Service, and means that no two days are ever the same!

What are your top tips for students aspiring to work in your profession?

  • Work experience and placements can help you get valuable research experience
  • I have found my knowledge of quantitative methods has been particularly useful so far
  • My experience of being a Government Social Researcher is that its not just about your technical skills – you need to think about how you manage and plan your research, and how you communicate your findings and ideas through presentations and written communications as well. Your hobbies or voluntary work are also great ways to get experience working in a team and develop other transferable skills
  • Check out the Civil Service Jobs website – individual departments offer researcher posts, and there are also Civil Service Fast Stream recruitment schemes.

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