From Tenure to Tech: Professors Who Pivoted to UX Analysis | by David Kille | Fb Analysis | Jan, 2021

There isn’t a single way to become a UX researcher. While some people are straight out of school, others choose UX research as a second (or third or fourth) career, including many academic professionals. To learn more about their experiences, I spoke to three former professors who became researchers on Facebook.

What made them look beyond science? What tips do you have for other professors who are curious about the UX profession? And what do you miss most about being a professor? (Note: it’s not summer.)

Every academic researcher has different reasons to think about industrial research, but living conditions are a common thread. Geography and mobility often play a role, as does Ana Pitchon, a former anthropology professor at Cal State and San Jose State. “I wanted to be able to live in a part of the country that I chose,” she explains, “not one that was chosen for me by my job.”

For some former professors, the main motivator was that their work felt mundane. Joe Goldberg was an associate professor of industrial engineering at Penn State, where he worked for over 16 years. It describes an annual routine for securing funding, teaching, and mentoring students that is fun but has become routine. Ana says that her research area “started going around in circles”.

In addition to some of these “forays” from science, there have also been some pulls towards non-academic research. For Sylvia Morelli Vitousek, a former assistant professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Chicago, it was the realization that what she loved most about being a faculty member – generating new ideas, creativity, and teamwork – even in the Industry could achieve.

In addition, non-academic positions offer access to large-scale data acquisition, the potential to have an immediate impact on people’s lives, and daily opportunities to collaborate with colleagues with diverse backgrounds such as data scientists, designers, and software engineers. Our researchers also cited the additional support they had hoped to find to facilitate non-academic careers, both personal and professional, ranging from compensation and benefits to more abundant resources to conduct research.

All three researchers miss students – especially, as Joe puts it, the “big-eyed optimistic students who believe they can change the world”. While Facebook has an internship program that provides mentoring opportunities to high-level researchers, it’s not the same as teaching students or mentoring people through their PhDs.

Another lamented blessing of science: job security doesn’t get much safer than tenure. And while any academic is probably tired of explaining that they don’t actually get a full summer vacation, academic research provides some time for reflection between semesters (replaced on Facebook with set paid time off).

Change is rarely easy, especially when it means leaving something you have worked so hard for. As Ana notes, “I miss the prestige of the job and the research I’ve invested so many years into becoming an expert.”

The “publish or perish” mentality of science can be hard to shake. At Facebook, we focus on research that drives impact. Publishing your research in-house is only the first step. You are most influential in helping team members internalize research, share your findings with other people and teams who can use them, and ultimately shape the direction of a product – or the company as a whole. It’s worth noting that researchers on Facebook can and do publish results externally. If this is your passion then don’t worry.

Fitting to tighter timelines can also be difficult. When a product team needs to make a decision quickly, your job is to guide that decision by providing insights into who is using the product. The fast pace requires adjustment, but it can also be invigorating. “This transition made me change and learn a lot about myself,” says Sylvia. “By working quickly, I learned to let go of perfectionism. In the industry, my focus is on being strict but not obsessive and have done some of the best jobs of my career. “

Organizations rely on UX researchers to hypothesize, clarify, and test, and to communicate their findings clearly. Sounds a lot like the core competencies of an academic researcher, doesn’t it? Many skills can be transferred directly from academic research to UX research for industry, e.g. B. create theoretical framework conditions, synthesize results, carry out statistical analyzes, present complex data and learn new skills.

Most of the core competencies professors have acquired through years of research, communication, teaching and collaboration are a perfect match for non-academic work in industry. It’s most daunting to apply these skills to different types of problems – in a completely different setting. “It’s terrifying to get out of your comfort zone,” says Ana, “but in my case it was a great move.”

Some scholars gain firsthand experience of non-academic industries through advice. Others learn about UX from former colleagues who have worked in non-academic careers. Companies like Facebook regularly attend large social science conferences and hold pre-conferences and symposia.

If you are interested in exploring research opportunities on Facebook, please note that lack of technical experience is not a barrier to becoming a great UX researcher. Many of Facebook’s UX researchers come from traditional social science backgrounds such as sociology, economics, political science, and psychology.

We are regularly looking for talented researchers. Let our recruiters know that you are open to a career change!

  1. You will find open research roles on our careers page.
  2. Make sure you have an up-to-date LinkedIn profile that clearly states your methodological research skills. And make sure your “I’m looking for” switch is turned on.
  3. Talk to former colleagues who currently work on Facebook or you can connect with researchers on Facebook. Feel free to conduct informational interviews with researchers you know or with whom you are connected.

Check out the other articles in this series: Transition from government to UX research and From non-profit to UX research: make the leap

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