On discovering that I was ‘UX’-ing all along…
I don’t remember exactly how I came to decide that I would study an Undergraduate degree in Criminology with Psychology but I do remember that it was a pretty unfulfilling and detached experience. The University I attended was in my hometown as I’d chosen to live at home with my Mum and brother and work while at Uni, rather than moving away. It worked for me at the time. The content of my course, however, was disappointingly regurgitative, retelling the ‘pop’ psychology that I was already over-familiar with thanks to TV, film and books. Our lectures were over-subscribed and impersonal and every week I attended multiple hour long sessions of years old lectures, delivered by dry and lacklustre academics. I struggled with the contrast between what I felt was a deeply fascinating subject and the droll and disconnected delivery of the course content by the “experts.” In my third year, disheartened and by this point, probably disinterested, I made a poor choice for my dissertation supervisor and was lead into writing a weird systematic review of changes in legislation and social opinion of sex crimes and behaviour (I have no idea).
Glad that I was nearing the end of what felt like a slow three years, I decided that despite feeling disheartened, this was something that I was still interested in, something I wanted to be a part of. I couldn’t shake the thirst to learn about causes of human behaviour, emotional processes, psychiatric disorders, personality differences…so I looked for the next step; a Master’s degree. Little did I know that professionals who wish to work within the field of psychology as their main practice need to gain certain accreditations. These accreditations are formally recognised by the British Psychological Society and not all Psychology degrees are on the list of accredited courses. It was at this point that I discovered that my Undergraduate degree was not. In order to gain qualifications which would be recognised by the BPS, I would have to complete a very specific Master’s programme which offered both the PGCert in Psychology to gain accreditation, and also a Master of Science level qualification. It took four years for me to save the money and find a University which offered the course and was within a commutable distance from where I lived.
I remained committed to finding the right course because my desire to work within the field did not wane. I managed to secure jobs in a forensic psychiatry unit and then as an Assistant Clinical/Research Psychologist to ensure that I was getting appropriate work experience while I continued my search for the golden Master’s degree.
I found it — and actually, my (then) husband (to-be) and I ended up relocating about an hour and a half away so that I could work full-time and attend university part-time. We also moved house twice, planned a wedding and got married during this period. I became really good at multi-tasking.
I *loved* this course. I got great marks for modules I found incredibly difficult, was able to explore new, exciting theoretical perspectives and I learned a LOT. During this time, I was working at a Clinical Research Facility in a very junior position. I’d had to take whatever I could get in the new city to make sure that I was still getting relevant work experience, but the pay cut hit us hard. I got a promotion within 4 months and after a year and a half of being told that there were no options for me to progress, I secured a research role in the psychology department of the local university.
A few research roles later, and I found that feeling of discouragement was creeping in. That contrast came back, too; I felt such passion and intrigue for this subject and just didn’t see that in my employers. I graduated with Merit and felt recharged and ready to dive into my next challenge. I’d now developed a track record of research jobs within which I was designing and developing surveys, focus groups and patient reported outcome measures (PROMs) for a range of clinical and psychological conditions and disorders. Though I enjoyed my work, I was frequently frustrated by the pace of it: I’d do a lot of research to develop a tool, polish it, make changes and then submit it into the ether that was the lead academic’s inbox as my contract would end and I would move onto another fixed-term role.
I felt unfulfilled and underpaid. I had two more positions, much like the last few and though my most recent was a huge improvement; Research and Innovation Manager at a ‘digital and social inclusion charity’, it still wasn’t scratching the itch. I’d explored every avenue I could think of and after a coffee shop rant to a friend over lunch, it dawned on me that the change had to come from me. I had to disrupt this process by thinking differently about the problem.
So I started to pick apart the areas of my work that I enjoyed, the stuff that really grabbed my interest. I realised very quickly that what I loved most about my daily tasks is what I loved about psychology and the study of the human mind: finding ways to learn about why and how people respond to a thing. What I loved about what I was doing was exploring the ways in which human beings interacted with the world, or a particular stimuli.
It was then that I decided to take an objective view of my skills and experience and try to hack out a path for myself, which meant I wouldn’t continue incessantly on from one fixed-term contract to another, feeling like I was only utilising a portion of what I was capable of.
As I altered my LinkedIn to say things like ‘multidisciplinary stakeholder management’ instead of ‘clinical research staff coordination’, it became clear to me that my skills were much more broadly applicable than I had initially realised. To my surprise, I also found that my skills and experience were highly desirable. I then got connection requests and InMail from recruiters for roles that sounded amazing though I wasn’t sure I was actually qualified for. It was then that I realised that the jobs these recruiters were approaching me about and the job that I really wanted to do were actually one in the same, it was just that I’d been using slightly different language to talk about it.
I really wanted to work in a role where I could use my seven years’ experience in clinical and psychological research and my two degrees in psychology to learn about how and why human beings respond to a thing. Any ‘thing’. A therapeutic intervention, a drug, a new device or ideally, something that I was genuinely interested in: digital products. Yep…I’d spent all this time working, learning, getting promotions … and had never come across User Experience research or Human-Computer Interaction. It was then that I saw my skills and experience in UX language, realised that I’d used card sorting, wireframing, focus groups, surveys, interviews and various other research methods with great success.
So, I put my thirst for knowledge to good use and drank up all the UX training Lynda.com hard to offer. I read blogs on Medium. I reached out to UXers on LinkedIn, I joined groups on Facebook — and I learned to speak about what I was good at in UX language. I connected myself with the community that I wanted to be a part of.
It was a lot of work. It was overwhelming and definitely served to remind me of my earlier posts on Imposter Syndrome (one, two) — but I did it. In three weeks I’ll start a senior role at a ‘big deal’ international organisation and my title will describe what I do in UX language.
I found my dream job because I didn’t give up, but also because I learned to identify what I wanted and how to get there. I UX researched my way to a UX research career.