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Career Progression & Empathy in UX: Who Has The Answers?

User Interviews, Research Ops, Human Hiring Practices & More | Learners Digest
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Career Progression & Empathy in UX: Who Has the Answers?

I just want to start off by saying thank you to the Learners community for being the most insightful and thoughtful group of individuals that I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with. Thank you to every single one of you that I get the chance to engage with during our weekly hangout sessions, Learners Clubs, or interacting with you folks over email. In our last Learners Club hosted by Babz Jewell and Elysa Smigielski, we were able to unpack topics like career progression in UX, what it means to be an expert and who should be having conversations centered around empathy.

Career Progression - Vase shaped ResearchersCareer Progression

We spent a lot of the time during our hour-long sessions discussing Molly Stevens’ Thought Career Progression – Vase shaped Researchers. In her Thought, Molly discusses how, as researchers, we start out with a base set of skills just like the base of a vase, then we widen our breadth of knowledge, and then we narrow back down into a specialty, just like a vase shape! The Thought sparked some discussion around how long your ‘base’ and ‘widening out’ period should be.

When does one start to narrow their scope and specialize?

We couldn’t come up with any definitive answers, but it really got us thinking about career progression, advancement and what our individual interests are as researchers.

What Makes You an Expert in UX?

As we talked about career progression, naturally the conversation around expertise came up. We talk about experts a lot in research, probably because UX Research is a field filled with individuals with a wide variety of backgrounds who all bring their specialties to the discipline.

But what makes someone an expert? Why do we value expertise in one domain more than another? What’s with 2 years of experience being the benchmark for aptitude or prowess?

In the discussion, we talked about how there just seems to be a point where you go from unhireable to dangerous. It’s an interesting phenomenon with work in the realm of knowledge creation—it’s difficult to get in, but once you do get in, people start to treat you like an “expert” and you become validated in your skills.

Empathy in UX Research

We also discussed empathy, which is really becoming a hot-button topic for researchers this year. It seems as though we’re all going through an awakening in terms of what empathy is and what it means to research as a profession. We sometimes talk about empathy as if it’s an innate trait and we don’t have to really think about it. We seldom talk about experts in the world of empathy and a lot of people feel qualified to talk about it, but is this really the case? There are communities and programs like HmntyCntrd which are centered around empathy and developing emotional intelligence; why aren’t we looking to organizations like this more for guidance?


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