UX Career Apr 22, 2022

The Rambling Road: How I became a UX Researcher

The Rambling Road: How I became a UX Researcher
UX Career Apr 22, 2022

 I didn't plan to be in the user experience field. It found me.

When people asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I never had a good answer. I never knew! I could never see myself doing one thing for the rest of my life.

High school me decided to go to a small, liberal arts college because I knew that the encouraging environment would lend itself to more exploration and personalized advice than a large university. So, off I went to Presbyterian College where I had a wonderful experience and grew as a person.

At the end of my four years in college, I had a bachelor of arts in Spanish Literature. Mostly because I had a lot of credits from studying abroad in Spain more than I actually wanted to do something with that degree.  

I still had no idea what I wanted to do.

In my senior year, I found out about the Digital Media program at Georgia Tech, which was the perfect mixture of liberal arts, design, and computer science. I went into that program not knowing what I wanted to do, but thinking that this degree would expose me to something I’d want to pursue. 

Once I got into the program, everyone I knew wanted to go into UX.

When it was time to get my first summer internship, that's what I ended up going for as well. I got a position as a content strategy intern on the user experience team at State Farm Digital. I loved that team there. They gave me so much flexibility to learn about other disciplines. I practiced doing wireframes, information architecture, and high fidelity design along with my duties as a content strategist. One day, I went into their usability testing lab and was fascinated. I sat on the other side of the one-way mirror and watched as a participant tested out a design I'd worked on with my team.

That experience stayed with me as my career progressed.

I worked a few other part-time jobs in different areas of UX before getting a position at Stanley Black and Decker as an associate digital product manager. I thought I'd like to be in that role because I'd get to see all the different parts of the product creation and be in a higher-level position.

Yet, something was missing. I wanted to know the reasons WHY we should build something a certain way. I wanted to get out in the field and learn from our users.

I wanted to do research.

I realized this when I interviewed at IBM and had to make a tough choice on whether to stay or leave Stanley Black and Decker. I decided to leave because I wanted to dig deeper into the WHY.

At IBM, although I was fairly junior, my management had the confidence that I could do my job.

I started experimenting with different methods to use and teaching myself new ones.  When I first started in my role and didn’t know much about the product, I learned the most from asking participants to explore the product and think aloud rather than having a strict usability test. I’ve heard that be called an exploratory user test. I had the luxury of being given the freedom from my leadership to explore. 

However, to learn more about other ways of working I shadowed other researchers to learn from them. Eventually, I found creative ways to establish relationships with my product users.

I had this freedom I'd never had before to explore and make choices about how I work. I loved it. I thrived.

It definitely came with challenges I had to learn to overcome, but it made me a stronger researcher and person.

I still work as a researcher because I like the tedious side of doing research more than I like the tedious side of design. A lot of people might find taking notes and synthesizing data boring. For me, it’s actually soothing. I find making detailed wireframes a bit dull, which is why I’m better as a researcher! That said, every job is going to have something tedious to do. Choose the job where you don't mind the tedium so much.

I'm grateful that I found user experience research. It's the perfect blend of creative problem solving, critical thinking, and people skills. And I get to learn something new every day. 

The field chose me and I'm so glad it did. Here are a few tips for budding user experience researchers:

  • Don't be afraid to explore different fields and see what might interest you – both in UX and outside of UX.
  • If your background isn't in user experience, don't worry! UX, and specifically UX research, is a blend of many disciplines.
  • Do some informational interviews with people in the field.
  • Get involved in the community by attending meetups, user research happy hours, and conferences.
  • Read, read, read everything you can get your hands on about UX research. There are so many great resources out there!
  • Most importantly, don't give up! It can be a tough field to break into because of the job market, but it's so worth it. Stick with it and you'll get there.

So, that's my story. I didn't plan or dream of being in the user experience field. It found me. If you're considering a career in UX research, go for it! You won't regret it.

About the Author:

Rachel is a user experience researcher and strategist. A self-proclaimed nerd of all trades, she loves to learn about everything that crosses her path. In addition to being an avid learner herself, Rachel also has a passion for helping others shine their voice through her research, writing, and editing skills. In her spare time, you might catch her reading, drawing, or traveling. Visit her blog to read more or get in touch!



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