How to Break into the Field of UX Research

| July 1, 2015
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UX research is an exciting and rapidly growing field, but many people aren’t sure how to get started in it. The good news is that you don’t have to have a background in UX to break into the field and become a rock star.

Talented individuals from all sorts of backgrounds comprise the UserTesting Research Team. It’s not surprising that we are often asked this question: How did you break into the field of UX without a Human-Computer Interaction, Human Factors, or Computer Science degree?

Our skills and strengths are partly due to our diverse backgrounds. The approaches and skills cultivated from our past experiences are applied to our research daily.

Today, four members of the UserTesting Research Team will share what we learned from breaking into the field of UX research.

Starting a UX career from different backgrounds: 4 stories

Anthropology to UX

After Alexandra earned a Master’s degree in Anthropology, she began to explore career options in non-academic fields. A friend recommended that she check out UX research. She researched online and networked at events to learn about the latest developments in the field and to hear about other people’s experiences breaking into the field. She researched the different roles and stakeholders in the field of UX to learn how her how her experiences bring value.

While Alexandra’s education was not typical for UX, her past experiences conducting ethnographic research set her up for success. It helped her develop intuition on what questions to ask during a study, whether it be writing a test plan for a remote unmoderated usability study or on the fly in a remote moderated session. This experience trained her to pick up on little cues from both clients and users, and dig deeper when something interested her. Her research background also gave her the experience she needed to summarize the results of a study clearly and concisely.

Cognitive Science to UX

While Shreya was earning a Bachelor’s degree in Cognitive Science, she worked in three different labs to prepare for entering a graduate program. She gained exposure to the field of UX while working in an eyetracking lab. She got interested in a UX career after reading a study about eyetracking in grocery store aisles.

She then began to explore the field through independent research and networking. She talked to professionals in the field and attended meetup events and learned about others’ experiences in breaking into the field. She also researched online to become more familiar with UX. She found that the hardest thing about getting into the field was the limited number of people who understood the various roles in UX.

Working in linguistics, neuromarketing, and behavioral dynamics labs helped Shreya develop skills in quantitative research, qualitative research, and conducting surveys. She applies these skills to her research everyday to uncover meaningful findings.

Communications and Marketing to UX

Asha had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and started a Marketing career before she decided to pursue a career in UX. She had wanted to enter market research, but her job as a Partner Marketing Associate required her to maintain the backend aspects of the website instead. Asha later had the opportunity to change career paths, and took the chance to pursue her passion in UX research.

Asha had discovered UX while she was in college through elective courses. She gained insight into the field of UX Research through a Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) course she took while completing her Communications degree. She also networked at events and conducted independent research to keep herself up to date with the field.

Experience in academic research and Marketing helped Asha gain confidence in client-facing interactions and designing effective test plans for studies. She says, “It’s the kind of field where you can make an impact.”

Neuroscience to UX

I discovered the field of UX when I was starting a Master’s program in Neuroscience. I soon realized that academic research was not the right fit me, and began exploring career opportunities in UX after finishing my degree.

To prepare myself and to enter the field, I enrolled in an HCI course at my alma mater. Though this course, I learned about the value of UX research throughout the project lifecycle. The opportunity to exercise my UX research skills helped me gain confidence in my abilities. Networking with professionals also helped me understand recent advancements in the field. But most importantly, I learned from their experiences in breaking into the field. I found comfort in knowing that I was taking the right steps.

Completing my Master’s degree, although not in the HCI or Human Factors field, helped me develop the skill to consider all parts of a research project when designing a study.

Tips for getting your foot in the door

1. Expand your knowledge

One of the most important ways to prepare yourself to break into the field of UX is to expand your knowledge of the field. There are many different roles in UX, and it is important to understand how these roles play into the larger picture.

Take courses, read articles, listen to podcasts. Get comfortable with the jargon, and find out about the latest trends. It’ll make you feel more confident when you go into an interview.

2. Network, network, network

Bring your curiosity about the field of UX to networking events. Build your skill set using the knowledge you gain from attending UX conferences or local meetups.

Networking events are also a great opportunity to connect with professionals who have also broken out of one field and into UX. We found it was helpful to speak with professionals in the field to learn how we could enter the field of UX.

3. Build confidence in your skills

The degree you earned does not define your qualifications! Many UX pros don’t have the degrees listed on the job description, but they were still able to successfully break into the field by proactively gaining exposure to the field.

The skills you have cultivated through your education and professional experience can give you an edge in creative thinking when approaching UX research. The opportunity to develop or share innovative approaches to UX research is what makes this field so exciting!

Go get that job!

Although breaking into the field of UX may seem daunting, there are many helpful resources. Take advantage of online courses and seminars to build your rapport. Network with professionals to foster connections. Most importantly, be confident in your past experiences and skills.

Our skills as UX researchers have been enriched by the experiences from our unique backgrounds. We hope that our experiences will help you take the first steps in entering this field!