I’d Rather Be Doing Research
Lately I’ve become a professional meeting attendee and document reviewer. Yes, at one time I did user research, but now it appears that I’m too experienced. So I’m moving up to simply overseeing others on projects, attending meetings, and reviewing documents.
I’ve found that the more advanced I get in my career, the less research I actually do, but not by choice. As a Principal Researcher in my company, I’m often involved in sales meetings with clients, scoping new projects, interacting with clients and stakeholders, mentoring newer researchers, reviewing work, and overseeing projects. I don’t mind doing these things, but I’d rather do some research.
The newer researchers in my company are the ones who spend most of their time doing research, and I envy them. We both get put on the same projects, but my role is more to interact with the client and oversee the work. The more junior researchers, meanwhile, get to have all the fun doing the actual research.
During some recent usability testing, I found myself thinking, “Wow, this is really refreshing. I’m actually doing research again!” I had been on a project that had seemed to go on too long, and I realized that the last time I had performed any user research was when I did contextual inquiries for the project three months before. The three months in-between was filled with presentations, client meetings, reviewing designs, and a lot of sitting around waiting. It was nice to finally get out of the office and interact with users again.
It doesn’t make sense to me to take experienced researchers and have them do everything but what they’re best at. It’s like a concert violinist finally making it to the first chair of the London Symphony Orchestra and suddenly deciding to stop playing and instead head up the administrative unit of the orchestra.
In a previous job, I had a manager that asked me what I wanted to eventually do after being a user researcher. He thought there must be a career progression and wanted to know where I wanted to go next. He gave the example of developers who eventually become project managers and then program managers. “This is what I want to do,” I told him. I want to advance and become a better user researcher, but I don’t want to move into something else. This is the top. Maybe someday I’ll lead a user experience group, but I didn’t want to move onto something else. I made a career change to get into this field. Why would I want to stop doing what I’m doing?
So yes, I would rather be doing research. Hopefully, someday soon, that perfect project will come along, and I’ll be busy again with some real work.