I asked three UX researchers (and past clients) to share the biggest adjustment they experienced transitioning from academia into UX. I'm not at all surprised that each of them talked about the importance of learning the language of business and design for two crucial reasons: being able to interview effectively during the job search process, and to communicate their work with cross-functional teams once they got into their first job.
Here's what they had to say!
Cris Kubli (he/him), MS in Applied Cognition & Neuroscience, Senior UX Researcher at GM Financial
The biggest challenge for me was a linguistic issue. Academia and industry use different concepts, structures, and even different grammar, to communicate information. For example, academia is very verbose and likes to add complexity through essays, while industry likes things short and simple via bullet points.
From the very start, I had problems translating my achievements and experience to corporate speak. This was a big issue during my job search because people didn’t understand my language, so they couldn’t see my value. Being proactive in the UXR community by learning, networking, and attending events helped me learn new concepts such as “iteration” (replicating experiments), “A/B testing” (t-test or two-sample testing), and even “actionable insights” (conclusions with implications for product design).
Realizing that there were vocabulary equivalents changed everything. I shifted to more concise and simple writing, and used the appropriate vocabulary during my job interviews, which helped me get people interested in me. Unlearning what I thought was the right way of expressing my work took some time. It didn’t happen overnight and I’m still learning, but I’m glad I found that dissonance between the two worlds!
Mayra Morgan (she/her/ella), PhD in Environmental & Energy Policy, UX Researcher at JP Morgan Chase
My biggest adjustment was learning the language of business and UX, especially the acronyms. Acronyms are already like a new word for me because English is my second language. For example, the concept of research "insights", which isn’t just what you find in your research, but making the information actionable for team decisions. In academia, I would call this simply "results' or 'findings". "Actionable" is basically the "so what?" of your findings, and you have to be able to report them in a digestible way.
Effective communication comes up when working with people from different backgrounds who may not have much experience with research and the process of doing it. When you report or present research in academia, you talk a lot about your methods, literature review, etc. In UX, these are far less important than your recommendations. Reports are usually a Powerpoint, and the first slide is an executive summary with your most important insights and recommendations. Written reports are very short, whereas in academia, a two page report is unthinkable. Personally I like it, but it was definitely a big adjustment.
Himani Mehta (she/her), MS in Behavioral & Decision Sciences, UX Researcher at Google
In academia, my primary focus was on studying a specific research issue in depth. However, when I started at Google on the ads team about a year ago, I had to spend additional time and effort learning about the business. It’s not enough to just understand a specific user group's needs well: I have to know how Google makes money, how ads work, and how advertisers, publishers, and consumers interact.
Understanding how my research serves business goals and decision makers (such as product managers or executives) is key to making sure the research is as impactful as possible. And rather than having an audience of fellow experts in my field, I have to communicate effectively to people who may be unfamiliar with certain research methods. Over the last year, I have learnt a lot about communicating why my research insights are interesting, but most importantly, why they matter to stakeholders and their decisions.