B.S. Psychology grad here: Best route towards becoming a UX Researcher?
August 14, 2017 3:39 PM   Subscribe

My background: B.S. in Psychology (with a Minor in Anthropology). Just graduated. I haven’t found a job yet (I graduated in May) and am wanting to become a User Experience Researcher. With zero experience in design or the tech industry, I’m wondering how to break into this field. I learn best through a structured in-person setting, where I can learn alongside others and have access to mentors. Should I get a Master’s in HCI, or should I take General Assembly’s User Experience Design Immersive course?

I know that User Experience Research (or Usability Research... these fields have so many names!) is part of User Experience Design (UX Design). However, I've been told (and have realized for myself) that my talents and interests lie more in the research side rather than the design side.

I'm very analytical, and enjoy research. I've always wanted a job doing ethnography work. I see those commercials where a guy/gal is talking to a group of people about their experiences with a product (I'm sure, like with most things, this process works differently in the real world than it does on screen). I've always wanted to have a job like that. I'm interested in what people think, and how they work and interact with the world.

As a quick aside: interpersonal communication is my TRUE passion (I found this out as a senior - too late to change my minor), but besides academia or becoming a marriage counselor, I can't think of a career where I could use further education in this body of interest. Becoming a college professor sounds cool but too long of a road and too much competition, and being a marriage counselor sounds like hell.

Anyway, it seems like UX Design engulfs every search I do - there are few courses teaching UX Research, and most jobs seem like they just want a UX Designer. It's a bit annoying.

Here's the deal: I'm unemployed, I have no experience with a real career, and I already know what I want to get into. With nothing to show to employers however, I'm not sure what to do. I learn best by doing hands on work, and with both UX Design and Research, hands on work seems to be a collaborative activity with others, not something you can just solo teach yourself and add to your portfolio like design. Although even that would require a collaboration, now that I think of it.

Thus, I don't see how online solo learning of UX would move me forward, without the ability to collaborate with others. I'm not going to build an app or website to conduct UX research over - programming and web development aren't part of my talents. I unfortunately don't have any friends in any applicable IT industry that I could collaborate with.

And so the three remaining options that I see are:

1. A UX Researcher internship: I've been searching, but they want people who have experience conducting UX Research. It's a catch-22 - I need experience to gain experience.

2. Getting a Master's in Human-Computer Interaction: While this would give me a pretty thurough education, it would come at a significant cost: Time and Money. Especially money. And I regularly read that to get a job in UX, often a Master's degree isn't required.

3. A boot camp, such as General Assembly's User Experience Design Immersive course. This is expensive ($13,950), but not as expensive as a Master's. It's a ten week extreamly intense program which purports to teach from the bottom up people who are transitioning into UX via unrelated careers. Additionally, it's taught in my area - Austin, Texas - and the students and instructors I would work with would be familiar with Austin (a significant help in networking).

I'm heavily considering General Assembly, but I want to make sure that it pays off. I've done a megaton of research, and by and large they have a very positive reputation. It doesn't immediately lead to a job, but within 6 months (or less), most people find an entry level UX job.

However, from some alumni, I have also read that it's a big help to have prior design experience. Others say it's not, but that does give me a bit of pause. Also, I only want to be a UX Researcher, not a Designer.

Still, General Assembly's course sounds like my best bet. But before I throw down the money, does anyone any experience with General Assembly? Should I take a closer look into getting a Master's? Are there any other ways that I could get into UX Research given my limited background?

Thank you!
posted by ggp88 to Education (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Start with your local UXPA chapter if there is one.

Grab a copy of Krug's book "Rocket Surgery Made Easy," and dream up a small project for yourself. If you have a friend with a website or even just have one you like, come up with a small and narrowly focused challenge. You don't have to have built it to perform research on it, in fact most of the time, you might not be doing front-end research at all. And you'll need to acquire the skill of learning as you go, because many UX teams are pretty small and you have to bootstrap up fast.

There are definitely more UX Design jobs than research, but if you can skill up and put yourself into the local network, you can find one.
posted by canine epigram at 4:12 PM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Please do not pay $14K for a boot camp certificate that is of dubious value. I highly recommend Audrey Watters' recent piece "Why Are Coding Bootcamps Going Out of Business?" for some insight as to why:
In December of last year, Bloomberg published a warning to prospective students: “Want a Job in Silicon Valley? Keep Away From Coding Schools.” The article contended that many companies have found coding bootcamp grads unprepared for technical work: “These tech bootcamps are a freaking joke,” one tech recruiter told the publication. “My clients are looking for a solid CS degree from a reputable university or relevant work experience.” Google’s director of education echoed this sentiment: “Our experience has found that most graduates from these programs are not quite prepared for software engineering roles at Google without additional training or previous programming roles in the industry.”
Have you considered getting your foot in the door via QA or customer service, then once you are a known entity to an organization and have a little work history under your belt, moving up and/or laterally into UX? As your alumni friends are pointing out, you may have to demonstrate some experience with design to get to research. This is how the majority of my friends who work in the tech industry, most of whom are located in Silicon Valley, got into their current jobs.
posted by zebra at 5:30 PM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would try and figure out a bit more precisely what you want to do as a 'UX Researcher.' One way to do this is to create accounts on some job sites (linkedin.com, indeed.com, etc.) and see what comes up when you search for 'UX Research' (etc.) jobs. UX is one of those terms a lot of companies now use to show that they care about the user, and this can range all the way from anthropology to wireframe design and A/B testing.

Once you start to come across things you think are attractive, in terms of the job description, then you can start to see what qualifications they require in terms of discipline(s).

There are also some senior UX researcher jobs out there, these can often involve a larger degree of project management.

From what you've said above I might also consider checking out usability labs in Austin just to see what kinds of jobs they have; and if you see anything you might want to do in the future, maybe just cold call them and ask them what background they would look for in a good candidate.

You can also get hold of some UX textbooks; prior editions are often cheap, and/or available as pdfs online. I'd recommend checking out Don Norman's work, it's in cheap paperbacks, beginning with The Design of Everyday Things, but also looking at his other books. He also has talks etc. on Youtube as well. Another useful course textbook is Preece/Roger/Sharp's Interaction Design .

If you really really want to take courses I would maybe look at Nielsen/Norman Group, they have decades of standing in the usability community. But don't take my word for it, ask around about them.
posted by carter at 6:16 PM on August 14, 2017

Do not cold call anyone. Nobody has time for that.

Find local UX meetups and start there.
posted by canine epigram at 6:33 PM on August 14, 2017

I see you're the same dude who just asked recently about becoming a UX designer.

The bottom line is that jobs in UX are advanced positions. They are not entry level positions. You need to recalibrate yourself to look for entry-level positions, although to be honest, you're not qualified for entry level positions either, because you have no relevant experience or education. You almost always need a design background, or if not design, certainly some kind of experience building things for the web. There is no scenario where you graduate with a BS in psychology and no relevant experience whatsoever, and get a job in a few months as a UX professional. It just doesn't work that way. A Master's won't help you. You will still need the technical background to break into the field.

So if you're sold on UX, get that technical background. Go back to school and become a designer or a programmer. Most 2-year colleges will have a program on web or interactive media, and that's a lot cheaper than any boot camp or master's degree. You will find out there if you have the talent and/or interest level to consider a career in the field. If you do, then that program will be enough to help you develop a portfolio which you can then use with your BS to get jobs in design, and from there, work your way up to UX. While you're doing that, then get your Master's in human interaction and you'll be a shoo-in.

A background in psychology is useful in UX because it enables the usability tester to ask the right questions of the user, and use that information to build better user interfaces (and future iterations of development tools). But the field of UX comes from design, not psychology. It is about building tools, not about people, or for that matter, about research or even about communication, except incidentally. There is no getting around the design aspect of UX. It is a field about design.
posted by Autumnheart at 7:10 PM on August 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Have you considered looking at consumer research as a marketing field? I don't know much about it, but if you could find an auxiliary position like this one you could learn a lot about who runs the groups and so on.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 8:15 PM on August 14, 2017

You should definitely check out Center Centre. It's new, but run by some of the very best people in the field.
posted by maupuia at 9:49 PM on August 14, 2017

It's also not accredited and costs $60K. Which is on par for an art school, but for a non-accredited program where you don't even get a degree at the end of it? That's insane. Even the Art Institutes program is accredited.
posted by Autumnheart at 4:34 AM on August 15, 2017

Well, yes, I would email them - nobody has phone numbers on their web sites anyway. But I do this, and people also contact me, and email is easy to delete if you don't want to deal with it.

UX is multidisciplinary, and good UX teams are multidisciplinary too. There's definitely a place for cog psych somewhere, but you'd need to get up to speed with whatever is required, such as running usability tests, and I am not sure that is what you really want to do?
posted by carter at 4:50 AM on August 15, 2017

Volunteer to do UX research for a nonprofit or community organization. If you meet someone with experience at a meetup, maybe they can advise you through the process. You'll learn a lot and it will give you something for your resume. I think it would also be good to look for entry level jobs in the tech industry. Personally, I think customer support is a good place to start because it will help you understand the issues that customers face, a good jumping off point for user experience!
posted by beyond_pink at 10:00 AM on August 15, 2017

I currently work in what sounds like the career you're after. My undergraduate degrees are in Psychology and Graphic Design, and then I took one semester at a graduate school in HCI before being offered a full time job - through an internship I earned during that semester. I also am about to hire a woman who interned for me for two summers who was originally an Economics and English major, but who proved herself on the job.

All that to say, this is not impossible. You made need to relocate - I'm not sure what the UX firled is like in Austin right now. People are extremely focused on the design aspect of user experience, and so you will definitely run into people asking for portfolios, code reviews, etc. I would suggest reading all the books you can get your hands on (here's a starting point), and then doing some heuristic evaluations of various websites, as well as user interviews if you can - even going into a Starbucks and asking people for 10 minutes of their time in exchange for a coffee can give you some insight into how people work.

Feel free to memail me - I'd love to talk more about your potential.
posted by DulcineaX at 6:45 PM on August 17, 2017

I don't have any personal experience with General Assembly, but I know someone who does UX for Disney and he has told me that GA doesn't have a very good reputation in the industry. Apparently they teach theory but not a lot of practical work. I would do more research on the GA UX program before signing up.
posted by monologish at 8:33 PM on August 17, 2017

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