A letter to a confused graduate, from Cuvva’s UX researcher

Aleks explains why UX Research could be the perfect option for psychology graduates
By Team member, 18/11/2021
5 minutes read

When I first graduated in 2017 with a Bsc. Psychology (Hons.) degree, I had no idea UX was a thing. And then I watched computer science students only to realise that I was missing a whole field of user experience (basically human experience) where my skills make me ‘someone with expertise’. This is because I know about people and we live in a digital age… made for people.

So I’m writing this post for you, perhaps someone like I was back then. Someone who’s not sure, just like I wasn’t sure, how to secure lean development for themselves. Someone who, rather than cram regressions into presentation decks, could do something much more creative and fun - and have time to figure out that transferable experience.

Job hunt chaos

December’s coming and if you’re a 3rd (or 2nd) year psychology student, you know what it means: you should be way further with your dissertation than you actually are/you’re behind on that Statistics revision/haven’t started writing that essay for Biopsychology and you’re sitting in the library debating buying another coffee to give you anxiety for motivation.

If this wasn’t enough, it starts to hit you that it’s time to START LOOKING FOR SCHEMES OR JOBS! If you dreamt of the DClinPsy, you’ve heard the news already - the admission prices went up, PWPs (psychological well-being practitioner) posts will soon need to be held for at least two years before you can apply (this does not apply to this years applicants) and, generally speaking, unless you’ve secured some experience already you’ll have a hard time getting that AP-golden-dust-post.

Or perhaps you’re looking at other alternative careers like consulting, or research, or simply you just don’t know yet - aka omg what do I do, I need to start LOOKING FOR JOBS.

This is a daunting task… it’s daunting even if you’re not a graduate. At the end of the day, you will be joining a place where everyone knows each other, there is a hierarchy and you feel you need to prove yourself. It feels like you’re joining a TV show, and you’re a new character in season 5. But fear not! You can take your time to evaluate because you know about thinking fast and slow (Kahneman, 2011).

We all want to prove ourselves, to show how competent and reliable we are, especially when we just start. There is a lot of insecurity in any graduate. ‘I need to enter looking like I have expertise and I learn with the speed of light’ we often think. Often we work with people who don’t even remember how it is to start, and we don’t know what we don’t know, so how are we meant to know what to ask?

Put simply, our first roles after uni feel like a mess because we learn our expertise. But there are new things emerging on the market’s horizon. Psychology is flooding the mainstream like people were flooding shops for toilet paper in the beginning of the pandemic. And as much as Instagram is full of aspiring psychology professionals, there is also an influx in some really interesting fields - one of which is UX Research.

User Experience Research

What is UX Research (UXR)? User experience focuses on making digital products which truly match peoples’ needs, feelings and abilities and account for them. A UX Researcher investigates what can be done to make sure this is reflected in the product’s design. This lets the business flourish on providing something that is actually needed (and no, this isn’t only about visual aesthetics).

Now, what if you want a career in something different? I am not saying you should drop your idea of getting chartered as an Org Psychologist by working in HR; I’m saying you can do some research and gain transferable experience whilst working in a profession which develops your human-centric skills. This lets you gain expertise, get your foot in the door, reflect on things and have fun applying your knowledge - oh and remember, chances are no one knows as much about human nature as you do, and the product is made for people.

Ok, so what if you are interested? Here’s a brief run through of what I found convincing (but don’t forget to do your research!). UX Research is fun, you will still learn a ton and you get to play with all sorts of research methods. Some you already know very, very well and you can use them to develop transferable skills for the future.

You want to practice interviewing and ‘digging deep’? You can do 1-2-1 interviews, moderated or unmoderated (yes, you heard me right, all those hours spent in passing developmental won’t go to waste), or even focus groups.

Looking to work with a more clinical sample? Why not recruit participants with disabilities. There are dedicated companies which help UX Researchers do this (i.e. Fable) and you will learn a ton from working with them, which you can then use to apply to volunteer with Samaritans.

Perhaps psychometrics or stats is your thing? This couldn’t be easier. You can, for example, design and distribute questionnaires for profiling, needs assessment and experience, or discover needs, frustrations and missed opportunities.

You loved the cognitive module? You’ll discover mind mapping, empathy mapping and mental models. And the list goes on!

Why am I telling you this?

Don't limit your potential

Because I love the field of psychology and I’d never want to do anything that doesn’t fall into it. And if you’re reading this, you probably do too. In all my years of education no one ever told me that after graduation, I wouldn’t have to be limited to assistant posts (I don’t mean AP). I’m not restricted to presentation decks and t-tests, because I can transfer my experience and work in a more innovative way, and have more control over my development.

I started working as a Research Assistant, then Research Executive and as much as I was learning about research and the field, my work was reactive rather than proactive. I didn’t see any opportunity to exercise and develop independence or intuition.

The reason I got interested in UXR was because I noticed that I can engineer processes and methods which are human-centric at heart, and that because of my already acquired skill set I enter the profession with enough expertise to build trust faster, even when I had a lot to learn about the business-y side of things.

UX Research attracts individuals from many backgrounds: AI, CS and HCI, but psychology gives the advantage of being human-centric from the very start, and in return you can be innovative and contribute more from the get-go. You have the reflective skills to monitor your progression, you have people skills which attract people who want to participate in your research, you know enough about statistics to not have to only rely on qualitative methods.

You will have things to learn. SPSS is not the end of the world, look into SQL and Python if you want to (but you don’t have to - if you manage to work with SPSS you’ll be fine).

And finally, if you want to take a different career path but you are worried it’s going to cost you time and it’s risky… you can do this! Get your experience or freelance and don’t worry about financial aspects as much. You will learn how to be lean with your skills, and think on your toes, something academia does not teach you. I’d still recommend you do your research, and by no means is this extensive, but hopefully this can be just one of the breadcrumbs on your way.

Team member