Lauren’s FAQ about UXR
#1 What do you do as a UX researcher?
My job is to help our teams understand our users’ needs and guide decisions to better our products. My role splits into two portions: conducting research and being a lead on my product team:
- My research varies a lot depending on the team’s needs and the stage of a particular feature or product. It ranges from foundational work for new products (What makes using social media fun?) to more tactical work (Is this experience confusing to users? Where are the pain points? How do people use this product?). UX Researchers tend to divide into specializing in quantitative or qualitative methods. I am 'mixed methods' which means I do it all. See Nielson & Norman for an overview of UXR methods.
- As a lead on my team, I am the voice of all the research that has been conducted across the organization. I represent my own and others’ research to make sure our strategies and decisions are supported by our insights. This is one of the most rewarding parts of my job because I get to work closely with cross-functional partners (data science, design, engineering, product managers, etc) and implement what we’ve learned from our users.
#2 How do you use skills from Linguistics in your current work?
A lot of the underlying research skills that I developed in linguistics are directly applicable to designing and conducting user research (e.g., creating discussion guides and conducting interviews, designing surveys, determining sample size and methods, doing literature reviews, coming up with hypotheses and how to test them, etc).
There are also some more direct ways that linguistics is relevant to my current work. How we interact with technology often involves language (e.g., written text), so my research often touches on how intuitive or easy to understand that language is. Another way I draw on my linguistics training is in clearly and effectively communicating research findings to my cross-functional partners and leadership. I've started workshops that teach researchers how to use metaphor in their findings.
#3 How did you end up in a UXR role?
My path was a bit windy. After my PhD, I had a teaching position at USC. I ultimately decided that while I wanted to keep doing research, academia wasn’t a good fit for me. My first job outside of linguistics was in market research at an agency. Since then, I've doing UX research in-house at Instagram.
- Market Research relies on similar underlying methodologies and skills to UXR, but asks slightly different research questions. In Market Research you might ask questions like Why do people choose one brand over another? What messages resonate with consumers most?), whereas UX research is more grounded in the actual experience of using the app, asking questions like Is using the app confusing? Is it enjoyable? How does it fit into users’ daily lives?.
- The other difference between my previous and current role is being at an agency vs in-house. At an agency, companies hire you to do research for them. The plus of this is that right out of academia I got to work on a wide range of industries and I conducted a lot of research. This was a great learning experience for me. In-house, you’re doing research for one company, the company you work for.
#4 How do you “sell” or talk about linguistics to recruiters and in interviews?
I think the key here is taking a step back from the linguistics jargon and learning to talk about the underlying skills you have, and being able to talk about your research projects in a way a non-linguist, non-academic can understand. I wrote up blurbs for my website about a handful of projects in this way. I'm not sure very many people actually went to my website and read them (although one interviewer said they had!), but it helped me become better versed in framing and discussing my research for a wider audience. I think it's very important that you demonstrate that you are able to communicate about complex topics in a clear and simple way, without making assumptions about what's important to your audience.
- My advice for where to spend your time: When I was job searching, my strategy was focused on finding job ads and submitting resumes and cover letters. This felt safe and productive, but was basically pointless. What actually worked was connecting with people (networking!). I got my first job by messaging people on LinkedIn at a company where I wanted to work. All the interviews I got came from people I met, referrals. About a year after I got that job, I started getting recruiters messaging me on LinkedIn. This is how I got my second job.
- My advice for resumes: 1) talk about specific skills you use in your research studies (conducting interviews? designing surveys? Doing regression analysis?) and 2) mirror back the language you see in the job ad. This will likely mean you need to create a base resume and then customize for each application.
#5 Is your work interesting?
This question is indeed asked frequently and it always makes me laugh! First, I’ll tell you what I think this question gets wrong and then I will tell you why I find my work interesting.
- I think this question comes from two misconceptions: First, there is an idea that in academia you choose whatever you want to work on and in industry someone is telling you what to do. Neither of these match with my experience. When I was in academia, I didn’t have complete freedom over my work – I had to teach certain classes, had to do administrative tasks, and even felt compelled to research certain topics that were currently “hot”. Second, there is also an assumption that if you can’t choose what you work on, it won’t be interesting. I personally find that the process of doing research and investigating complex topics are interesting in and of themselves, even if the subject matter was not chosen by me. People tend to be interesting, and working to understand them at scale is a fun challenge!
- There are aspects of my job, outside of the research itself, that are also interesting. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is working with cross-functional partners (data scientists, designers, engineers, etc) to make decisions based on all our unique perspectives. We get to solve the complex problem of how to improve an app for the diverse needs and perspectives of our more than 2 billion active users.
- Book to help you find the right career path for you – How to find fulfilling work
- Overview of UXR methods by Nielson & Norman – When to Use Which User-Experience Research Methods
- Blog post from UX researchers who were formerly professors – From Tenure to Tech: Professors Who Pivoted to UX Research