Taking the plunge: From teaching to UX Research
I have learnt some essential life skills: networking, growing a thick skin, and not underestimating the power of transferable skills.
From criminology to editing, to teaching, to psychology, and back to teaching. My educational and career journey has taken a varied path and has just arrived at the next stop: UX research.
Well, why not? It’s a growing industry, there is potential to work anywhere in the world, and it affects everyone. As someone who enjoys research, with an added bonus of a master’s in psychology, the research side of UX seemed the most logical path to take.
Why leave teaching? That’s a question for another day..
After a few months in the UX world, I have learnt so much already. Amongst other things, I have recruited participants, carried out interviews, and sorted qualitative data. Aside from these aspects skills specific to research, I have learnt some essential life skills: networking, growing a thick skin, and not underestimating the power of transferable skills.
Maybe I‘m just not passionate enough about pedagogy, but I don’t think that networking amongst primary school teachers is a thing, unless perhaps you’re in a position of leadership. I had been teaching for over six years but had never met a teacher who used LinkedIn to enhance their career. Sure, teaching agencies had connected with me and spammed me with messages that I never replied to (karma pending) but I never used those contacts. The most I had done to my LinkedIn profile since 2011 was change my profile picture, update my employment and educational history, and add a bunch of skills which my colleagues and friends loyally endorsed.
However, in the past month alone, I have made more use of LinkedIn than I had in the past 10 years. From searching for UX researchers to connect with and crafting personal messages, to following relevant pages and liking posts, I have been on LinkedIn every single day. The initial excitement started to wear off when I found out that people will view your profile but decide not to connect with you. Learning that they sometimes ignore your requests to connect as well as those sweet, personally crafted messages you write — yes, I know I had ignored messages in the past, but my messages are not spam-like at all — was a tough lesson too. At first, I thought all of this was just plain rude, but I now understand it is all part of the game. It comes with the job.
I always thought LinkedIn was like Facebook for business, and I guess it sort of is — minus the posts telling me what kind of pizza my high school friend is based on their dog’s name, or how many kids an ex-colleague will have because they were born in August. After connecting with several people in the industry and following relevant UXR pages and groups, my feed is now full of great articles, resources, and notifications that are actually of interest to me. I’m appearing in more searches and more people are viewing my profile because I am interacting with UX-related posts.
I would say I’m generally quite a sensitive person, and that extends to social media interactions.
You read my messages and I see the blue ticks,
but it’s been four hours and you still haven’t replied…why?!
That attitude doesn’t get you far on LinkedIn. Through trying to grow my network of connections in the industry, and attempting to recruit participants for a project, I have learnt to grow a thicker skin when it comes to rejection.
I found that people were viewing my post asking for participants, some liked it, and others even reposted it. But I still ended up with zero recruits. I noticed that people who had seen my post also looked at my profile but didn’t want to connect. Numerous messages and connection requests I sent were ignored, but I realised that you can’t take it personally or it will drive you crazy. You just have to keep going and be resilient. I’ve been lucky enough to have a great mentor to guide me and remind me of these things.
Persistence, politeness, and honesty does pay and I have connected with some great people in the past month. As I am just at the beginning of my UX journey, I understand why my LinkedIn profile may not be appealing. I don’t have much solid evidence that I know anything about UXR. Sure, I have a psychology master’s and my current role is UXR-based, but there’s not enough for people to see right now. That’s where honesty comes into it. I’ve learnt to be totally honest in any messages I send or posts I create. Everyone is new at some point and I am not ashamed to say it.
Just last week I posted a request on a Slack channel (Hexagon UX) for UX researchers to help with my project — I said I was a newbie in need of help. I thought nobody would reply and forgot all about it, but a few days later I got an email from a UX/CX researcher who had just relocated to the U.K. offering to help. There are nice people out there who are willing to help just because they can. I remember this now whenever I am ghosted.
Within a few hours of starting my first project, a Miro (I had no idea what that was at the time) was shared with me. Not only was I so scared of accidentally deleting something — everything — , but the amount of jargon staring back at me was terrifying. Skill maturity, tangibles, strategic oversight, user needs… as single words, I knew what they meant, but as UX terms I had NO idea! I felt as though I was reading something in a foreign language. Actually a foreign language would have been better as I would have had an excuse for not understanding what it all meant. This was in English, and a lot of the words were research terms I knew from psychology…why did I not understand anything?
After making a cup of tea and calming down, I started researching some key terminology and began creating a spreadsheet with all the new words I was reading and their corresponding meanings. I add to this now every time I learn a new term or concept.
Then I read a whole bunch of Medium articles and guides for beginners, bookmarked them all, and was feeling much less scared. My mentor assured me that I would soon learn all the jargon, and sure enough, I am now able to use a fair few terms competently. She also kept telling me not to worry because my psychology and teaching background are so beneficial to the world of UXR.
It’s not just skills gained from teaching and psychology that help. All professions bring something to the UX table and this page on UX beginner says that while transitioning to UX is not easy, the skills you have acquired from your past are useful and should not be ignored. For me personally, I could see that psychology skills are obviously used in research, but I didn’t really see how teaching related to UXR. It turns out I was selling myself short and I discovered there are so many skills teachers use on a daily basis I hadn’t even considered.
My organisational skills had already helped me create my spreadsheet, and problem solving led me to all the articles I read. Add to that a whole host of other tools teachers have — such as clear communication, management, planning, and negotiation — and you’re armed with so many skills that are beneficial in UXR.
Since my arrival on planet UX, I have learnt how to network effectively (although there is so much more to learn), started to toughen up, and have realised I am more prepared for this career change than I previously thought. I feel excited to delve deeper into UXR, learn more from industry seniors and leaders, get hands-on experience, and research the hell out of UX.
If you made it to the end of this post and can either empathise with my journey or would like to help out a keen newbie who is eager to learn from experienced UX researchers, please do reach out. Connect with me or even just send a message to say hi. I’d love to chat UX with you.
[First published in UX Bootcamp on Medium July 9th 2021]
An experienced educator with a master's in psychology. Trying to make it in the world of UXR.