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Lessons Learned from Senior UX Researchers

Have you ever wondered what a day in the life of senior design researchers? Or maybe you want to learn from other researchers’ experiences to grow your skills and define your career path? Then join a panel of highly-regarded UX research professionals as they discuss their experiences, advice, and insights from their UXR career journeys to inspire you. Webinar speakers include:

Kevin Liang

Kevin Liang is a UX Researcher and consultant with over 10 years of behavioral research experience from academic research at UC Berkeley and Stanford, to the UX industry at various Fortune 500 companies like Google, Uber, Volkswagen, Stubhub, and consulting startups.

He has received patents for his research, launched over 60+ products and features, and adapted research methods and processes in creative ways, all while mentoring and inspiring junior researchers to find their dream job on his YouTube channel "Zero to UX".

He is from the Bay Area, California and as a self-proclaimed “space nerd”, his claim to fame is that he predicted Pluto’s demotion as a planet when he was 8 years old.

Eileen Ellis

Eileen Ellis is a User Researcher, Strategic Designer, and Foresight Strategist based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

After roles at Toyota North America, BCG Digital Ventures, and SF-based startup Ridecell, she now works freelance helping clients position new ventures and evaluate existing products and services through research, strategy, and design.

In her free time, she is learning how to cook in a way that is not embarrassing to show others, and currently has a 20% success rate doing so.

Elham Ali, MPH, PMP

Elham Ali is the Founder and Principal Researcher of Elham Ali Consultancy, a firm based in Los Angeles that aims to impact public health and healthcare outcomes through evidence-based and human-centered design and research. She is also a Design Career Coach at DesignLab.

For the past 8 years, Elham has collaborated with government agencies and enterprises such as the New York State Department of Health, Boston Scientific, and Tyson Foods. With a background in EMS and project management, Elham integrates principles in trauma-informed care and social determinants of health to impact population health.

From Bahrain and the Philippines, Elham enjoys cooking various cuisines and being a cat momma to her four kitties.


Over 200 people registered to attend the webinar event.

Webinar Recording

Video Transcript

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Okay, welcome, everyone, we're super excited to have you all join for today's webinar will wait will begin shortly as everybody trickle in. But in the meantime, add where you're actually calling from and which city or state or even country from around

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the globe love to hear from who is in this call and we'll start very soon. Thank you.

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Great, we have, California, Ohio, Washington.

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And that's awesome

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and Oregon, nice and Canada represent.

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Great, we'll go ahead and get started and everybody else can catch up, as they come in, into today's event. This webinar is being recorded and you'll receive the webinar recording as well as the transcript, and then email after this call, probably, this

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week or maybe really early next week. If we're delayed.

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But feel free to use the chat if you want to talk with each other and also add your LinkedIn URL would love to connect with everybody on this call. And then if you have any questions for the panelists please use the q amp a chat in order to ask us questions

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we'll leave roughly around 15 minutes until the end to ask questions, but will probably give priority to those who have asked us questions and the registration form, but Lastly, but not least, we also have enabled closed captioning, so feel free to disable

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it on your end. If you don't really need it. Now we'll go ahead and move forward to the agenda. So in a few minutes I'll explain about my company at home it consultancy why I created this webinar as well as future events and then we'll talk about upcoming

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events in February and March, and then I'll introduce to you our speakers, and we'll go into a really intense in depth discussion on current trends, their journeys, as well as really tactical tooling.

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And then at the end we'll have two minutes of q amp A. So, without further ado, I'm just curious as a researcher, I'd love to know who I'm speaking in the room.

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So, Everybody here is a researcher.

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Where are you now in your UX research career I'm going to put up a poll right now and see where you're at, so feel free to answer it you'll have roughly around 30 to 50 seconds to answer it.

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This is awesome.

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Okay, and we'll share of course, that's as a cadence as researchers.

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Okay, we'll be closing the poll in 321.

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And we'll share the results. Okay, so the majority of you are just breaking or transitioning into a UX research career, and then some of you are working in the field, but are looking to advance your skills maybe get mentorship and community so we're super

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excited to tailor our discussion to those who are attending today. Awesome. So a little bit more about me I'm in harmony, I'm the founder and principal researcher of at home it consultancy which is a firm based in Los Angeles, where I partner with enterprises,

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as well as government agencies and high growth startups in order to impact public health and healthcare outcomes, using evidence based and Human Centered Design and research.

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So, I've been absolutely blessed in the past nine years to have worked in obesity prevention diabetes, HIV management and prevention and most recently in substance use disorders and I'm currently working in crisis response and covert 19, and it's been

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absolutely a privilege to work with really state, as well as county level government partners, but also enterprises in different various industries, beyond public health, so I'm super excited to have created this series of events this year, in order to

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foster belonging as well as community for researchers, but also to engage and knowledge sharing and shared consciousness. So that's the purpose where I created this event.

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And we have a couple more events for February and March if you're interested in February I'm hosting a speed networking event for UX researchers, and then in March, if you're interested in learning about mixed method research, definitely come and sign

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up for this event, it will be a workshop for an introductory lesson on what are the common factors you need to think about on sequencing for quality and quantity methods, what are the types of methodologies that you would need to know from each part.

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So that would be upcoming so feel free to sign up now without further ado, I'd love to introduce our speakers you'll probably see me looking to the side because I'm introducing him to have such rich backgrounds, there's no way that I'll be able to to

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memorize it. So we'll start off with Kevin. Kevin is the founder of zero to UX and he's also a senior UX researcher at upward. He is a UX researcher and consultant with a decade of experience a behavior research experience from academic research including

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UC Berkeley and Stanford, to the UX undersea a lot of Fortune 500 companies like Google, Uber Volkswagen and like consulting startups. He's also received a lot of patents for his research he's launched over 60 plus products and features and also adopted

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a lot of these research methodologies and processes in great ways. He's also an amazing mentor. He's inspired a lot of junior researchers to find their dream job and he has a YouTube channel you probably have heard of it.

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Zero tux he's from the Bay Area, and is also a proclaimed self space nerd. His claim to fame, is that he predicted Pluto's a demotion as a planet when he was just eight years old.

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That's awesome.

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And to also introduce Eileen, Eileen is a user researcher strategic designer and foresight strategist based also in the Bay Area. She's worked in a lot of roles in her career, including she was a co founder of inefficient consultancy org innovation in

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New York. She was also the senior foresight and innovation strategies at to North America, and also she was a senior strategic strategic designer at BCG digital venture, and was also the first user researcher at San Francisco based startup called right

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clients are a lot from governments, private entities humanitarian aid education and even nonprofits, like the United Nation, Hong Kong Institute for design, knowledge and also led startup clutter.

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She's worked a lot in terms of strategic foresight so she really brings that experience and scenario planning sessions with a lot of leadership groups, and it's pretty awesome.

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She's right now working in freelance helping clients really position their ventures, while supporting them with existing products, and the next week. She'll also be starting a new role as a senior user researcher at Wells Fargo super exciting.

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In her free time, she is learning how to cook in a way that's not embarrassing for others and it's currently showing a 20% success rate. So super cool.

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Okay, so let's get started and get to the meat.

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How did you get into UXR I'm super excited to learn, not just about your background but also your career path, and I would love to start first with you, Eileen you come from a very traditional art but also designed backwards so can you walk me through

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how you got to where you are today.

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Yeah, so I'd say, I got into UX or just in general like because I'm a curious person. I know that some people are very passionate about a specific field or industry, but I'm pretty industry agnostic.

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I'm truly interested in people and what makes them tick and can even be curious about like super boring people like, Why are you so boring like What makes you so boring like this.

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So curiosity is really the main driver when it comes to pretty much all the work that I do.

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The way I got into UX research was mostly going to school for it, you know, spoiler alert.

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And then, while I was there I was kind of just brainwashed into thinking this way.

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So I have a degree in quantitative economics, and then I was like, okay I'm actually going to ditch this field.

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Went into person's new school for design, where I got another degree in strategic design management.

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And so it was there that I learned about courses and user research and even though it was like more of a business degree it really helped me gain the skills to set up like the rest of my career.

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Wow, that's awesome. And, and I know Kevin, you bring a different contrast since you come from a non traditional background you're self taught, and I'm interested to learn what drove you to do the current work that you do every day and how you got into

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your to your field.

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Yes, thank you and for the great introduction, what drove me was also like Eileen said, kind of the curiosity about people.

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As a space nerd, I've always loved space.

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But the thing is, you can predict how long it takes something go inside a black hole, you can you can predict how, where an asteroid will appear in a billion years.

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But I can't predict what I want for dinner tonight, or what you want for dinner tonight, or how you're going to feel five minutes the brain. To me, the human brain.

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It's so that's the most complex thing in the universe, in my opinion, and just understanding people, and just listening to how people think different perspectives.

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That's what drives me to do research and behavioral research and user research.

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So yeah, that's, that's what drives me and non traditional background, I feel like that's a lot of folks.

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But yeah, my background was in biology, or at least my degree was in biology psychology.

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And that is still along the lines of learning about people and humans.

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So, very tangential.

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But yeah, I was self taught, because I didn't want to do biology anymore.

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So I took all the classes on my own, and worked on project to transition into UX research. And yeah, and it's, it's pretty interesting we're all driven by the human element in the human condition.

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And I know a lot of us are driven to go to other fields that does the same thing, whether it's becoming a therapist or a counselor that just wants us to help people.

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And there's a common question with when I work with students, it's like, what does a typical day look like in your work. And I know for for me working right now in crisis response in emergency preparedness it's pretty different every day is not really

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typical one day I might be doing UX research on vaccine hesitancy another day I'm actually assembling a team to figure out what does help communication look like for brown and black communities.

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So I'm curious, at least from your experience Kevin What does a day of now looks like in your current law.

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Yeah, great question, a day in the life of a researcher So, a lot of it is planning and talking to stakeholders.

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Being in meetings, understanding what is it we need to get done prioritizing projects, because there's always request for research. So a lot of conversations is juggling juggling projects herding cats.

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As the term is.

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So, but yeah, some days I'll be planning some things I have a lot of meetings. Some days I'll have a research sessions with actual participants. and depending on where you're at.

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That could be part of your work, you know recruiting participants, or if you're lucky to have a recruiting team, they'll do that for you. And you can focus on the research.

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And today just now I have been analyzing data for the past eight hours, and hopefully I'll present that soon so it all goes in the cycle and at the same time you might be juggling two three different projects.

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So, there's always overlapping what you're doing.

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Yeah, yeah.

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Does that does that overlap with what you have been doing, Eileen, a lot of it is stakeholder management planning and also focusing a lot on perhaps recruiting, what does that your typical day look like.

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Yeah. So, what I found it really depends on the company that I worked for, you know like, how setup everything is. So, let's, let's look at like my role, right now with my client clutter.

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So typical day might be like in the morning I meet with the person who is like my direct contact the company, and she'll tell me about like some questions that the team has, and then it's almost like a consulting experience like weirdly enough where I'm

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like asking her things like, okay, like what's the timeline who's going to help me do they need training.

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What's my budget that I'm working with.

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What are the deliverables, that's pretty important to get a line there, and then scheduling like more meetings right like stakeholder meetings, just to make sure that everybody's aligned and knows like what's going to go online and when they expect stuff.

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So typical day might be like straight up heads down planning.

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It might be man like on Monday, it was just like, all these user research, interviews, so that was pretty intense.

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It might be a day where I'm like analyzing user research videos, maybe cleaning out transcriptions so I could like take out quotes or making like video clips for like a compilation, or it might be like making your presentation to communicate to all these

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different people, and then just trying to get down pat like all the findings from the research that I've learned, because like when it comes to the q&a in those presentations, usually doesn't have to do with what I just presented about something else.

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So I have to like really get the information down. So that's typically like what it looks like for me. Yeah, and it seems, as, as we move in our careers as from from, whether you're starting as a junior researcher to senior research.

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feel that you're moving away from users. And so, it's a trade off that I felt at least throughout my career, is that, as I become a manager of lead my success is dependent on the success of my team, and not necessarily the success of my customers are

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end users. And I'm curious to learn, at least from your perspective, Eileen, who has helped you and maybe what has helped you get to where you are right now today we don't, we know that it takes a village for us to all succeed, there's no one self made

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person. And so I'm curious, how did you position yourself successfully to get to where you are right now.

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Yeah, that's a good question. So, um, I'd say in terms of people like to be honest my professors at Parsons really helped me get to where I am today, helped me gain, like some real world skills that I use like in my world today.

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I don't think I'd be where I am today without having gone to that school, but okay I'm just gonna say, you know, as a caveat that's like more for me personally, like advice friends come to me for advice not to go there.

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It doesn't like fit their situation. Okay, so it's not a shameless plug for my school right so it's really for me. Um, let's see, and then you know to be honest I can't really say that I have mentors.

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But I have what I call like brain trust. So it's like groups of like friends or colleagues that you know when I'm in a situation where it's like okay I don't know what to do I need to like negotiate my salary, I don't know, like, how to figure out like

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working with this person or, you know, yeah.

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I have them to turn to for that kind of advice.

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Yeah, and then like, as far as like the white I'd say like curiosity again and like truly wanting to be good at the thing that you're trying to learn and understanding how you learn is really key.

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But like for me like I learned through like visuals and experiencing the situation on like an emotional level.

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So like by doing or like even like a really good speaker can like move me emotionally.

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Because the education of persons was really grounded in that it was really helpful for me.

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By, you know, in terms of like harsh truth, right, like more philosophy.

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There are some bad i Bye bye, and I wrote them down, so I didn't forget.

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So, and this is gonna sound really negative, but honestly like sometimes you just freakin need it.

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So, number one, okay. No one's gonna watch out for your career, more than you know. Yeah, and number to listen to your guide, because sometimes the body understands the situation better than the mind.

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And number three. Okay, no matter how good you are, or how hard you work, you're still expendable. So, protect yourself accordingly. Okay. And then number for the final one.

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So what I try to do is I strive to turn nose into yeses. So if you really want something you figure out like why people are saying no to you, and then you try and solve for that, so that they can't say no to you anymore.

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And so that's been like, yeah, like a pretty big philosophy that's driven me through like my career. That's, that's absolutely amazing. And I love your value system.

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And, and I know Kevin that you could have gone here alone, you're are right now, a mentor for other people.

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How did you go about with mentorship, when you started out, and what is part of your value system as a researcher, when you go into any new client situation or even with your new job.

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Yeah, great question.

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I, I honestly didn't have a mentor, starting out, I didn't have one until a year ago.

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So that's five years by myself. I mean, of course, there's a lot of classes that I took. I see the professors who teach those classes on spreading the knowledge that I need to kind of gain that fundamental UX knowledge to get started.

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But like I said I can't, you know, like she said, I can't stress enough that philosophical part of things. Yeah, there's the resources there's books but really, humility is one of those things that all researchers need, especially when you're approaching

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Because relationships is number one, and all kind of work.

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It's almost not what you know right it's who you know, especially when you're trying to look for jobs.

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And one thing that helped me was just having grit, a growth mindset, you might get a lot of rejections for example for job applications I had hundreds and hundreds of them.

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And of course there are moments where I would want to give up.

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But just turning those negatives into positives or see the light in every dark tunnel.

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That is what keeps me going and that's how I suggest my mentees to keep looking. Right.

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And in terms of looking for mentors. Right.

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See how you can help them to mentors want to give back, and everyone can still learn, right, I mentor people but I still learned a lot from my mentees.

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So I think those are the things in relationship to mentorship, that I can give.

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But what's really helped me today is just getting second pair of eyes, a sounding board for if Am I doing this right Am I doing this wrong I think that's the biggest struggle of learning UX research because you're like, Am I am I doing this right.

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How much do I know how much Don't I know, right, those are the toughest things as you're transitioning to know where you are right now, and a mentor who can help with that.

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One thing I think that both resonated, at least in my career, I created something called a board of directors.

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At least when it comes because I work in public health and healthcare and it's not just a niche, but it's also requires you to position yourself as a subject matter expert.

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So anybody who works in that those types of industries really understands that how do you adapt, whether it's mixed method or quality client approach, working directly in product development, where you have to be extremely agile, you might need to make

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certain trade offs versus how you'd maybe potentially apply it in an academic institution, and you'd have also different trade offs to think about. And I saw, we also talked about this before the webinar, fostering psychological safety is extremely important,

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not just with your users but also with the team that you work with.

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And so I thought that was helpful as part of my, my belief system. And this brings me to the idea, and also the question, is there always going to be joys and pitfalls and maybe this is a two prong question that I wanted to, to just split up between both

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of you, at least from your perspective what has been the biggest like enjoys you're like, Oh, this is awesome. This is why I am a UX researcher This is why I love doing what I do.

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Yeah, I mean, okay i'd say my biggest joy is seeing the impact that you've made with your work, right, like that's where I I don't know I just games like so much static satisfaction from that, just to be honest.

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So, I might be like the creation of a new product that you see out in the world. That's like super tripping or seeing that you've made somebody's life easier as a result of your work, and enjoy for me is also being able to inspire people on my team to

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be interested in design research work, and then value it more highly so I work on a lot of teams where I'm the sole researcher, and then I've got a train like anywhere from Customer Success managers launch team managers, engineers, like designer like

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