In this episode of the Anthro to UX podcast, Rachel Fleming speaks with Matt Artz about her UX journey.  Rachel earned a PhD in cultural anthropology from the University of Colorado Boulder and currently works as a design researcher at Idea Couture.  

About Rachel Fleming

Rachel Fleming is a user experience researcher and PhD cultural anthropologist working in the digital product space. Building on over a decade of experience using qualitative methods in international and US settings, she combines the iterative process of design thinking with an ethnographic approach to complex problems. She uses generative and evaluative research methods with the goal of improving products so they truly resonate with users. She often acts as a facilitator on product teams to focus strategic direction and help a team collaborate more productively.

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Episode Transcript

Please note this transcript is an automated transcription and may have some errors.

Matt Artz:

Welcome to the anthro to ux podcast, where you will learn how to break into UX with an anthropology degree, through conversations with leading anthropologists, working in user experience, you will learn firsthand how others made the transition, what they learned along the way and what they would do differently. We will be discussing what it means to do UX research from a practical perspective and what you need to do to prepare resume and portfolio. I’m your host, Matt Artz a business anthropologist specializing in design anthropology, and working at the intersection of product management user experience and business strategy. Let’s get started. Hi everyone. Welcome to anthro the UX video podcast. Today, I’ll be talking with Rachel Fleming, who I’m very glad to have here. Rachel is a design researcher at idea couture, which is a cognizant digital business. And so Rachel really thankful to have you here. I appreciate all the work you’ve done in this space so far, you know, I’ve read some of your articles and I know that you’re passionate about helping other people get into UX from anthropology. So thanks. And I look forward to our conversation today.

Rachel Fleming:

Great. Thanks for having me. This is fantastic.

Matt Artz:

So can tell me a little bit about yourself, you know, how you sort of got to the role you’re in today and a little background on your education and, you know, maybe just a little bit of the backstory.

Rachel Fleming:

Sure. Well, I discovered anthropology way back in undergrad and found it was a good fit for kind of understanding patterns about the world and getting to talk to people, find out what’s actually going on. And I kind of hemmed and hawed about going to grad school and took a detour into urban planning. So I wanted to do something a little more practical got very interested in kind of work and the meaning of work and then realized I wanted to go back and study that as an anthropologist. So I ended up in a PhD program at the university of Colorado Boulder and did a project in India on women who are in tech jobs there in Bangalore and Bangalore is kind of the tech center of India. These jobs have not been around for very long. And so I really looked at kind of the generational impact of women having access to jobs that they hadn’t had in generations past and what that meant for gender equity and also why their attrition was so high.

Rachel Fleming:

They tend to leave jobs quite quickly. And very briefly it was because of many factors, but partly unexpected sexism and kind of blocks to progress in the office that they didn’t think would happen in tech. So during that project and during grad school, I was a little bit agnostic about going into academia. I thought, you know, if it works out okay. It be an interesting job, but I really liked the applied side of research and I knew that there were other anthropologists who’ve done this before. So I got involved with Epic ethnographic practice and industry conference. While I was still in grad school I talked to a couple of anthropologists who had done this before. I remember very early conversations with Melissa Cefkin and Donna Flynn that kind of set me on this path.

Rachel Fleming:

And even before I did my field work. And so I came back and wrote my dissertation and thought, well, maybe I’ll give it a try. By that time, this was maybe four years ago or so the business anthropology world had really become a UX research or user experience research. And so, you know, anthropologists have been studying organizations and business for very long time, but it kind of become more important in a digital product sense to talk to people who are using products. So I jumped off the deep end into UX research did a couple of kind of volunteer projects to get a little experience under my belt. And I can talk more about that later if you’d like and about my first job at a custom software development agency. And I’ve been going since then.

Matt Artz:

Cool. Yeah. So yeah, talk a little bit more, you know, you mentioned the volunteering project. So one of the things that I, when people reach out to me, they’re always asking is, you know, how do I get to have a portfolio? And I oftentimes do suggest, you know, if you can volunteer anywhere for a local nonprofit, whatever it may be, or if you can find a project, even in your own organization, whether that’s in school or at your employer, whatever, it may be, find a small project and start there to kind of get some wins under your belt and a portfolio. So how did you find these volunteer opportunities and like, what was your pitch to sort of get your foot in the door?

Rachel Fleming:

Absolutely. Yeah, it was, I mean, it took a bit of a, it was a bit of a slog at the beginning and did not include getting much income in the door, but, you know, I wasn’t making much as a lecturer before that. So you know, I w I was able to float it for a few months. So I I started out taking a course through design lab, which is an online kind of program in research and UX research and strategy. And they it’s a, it’s a four to five week course. They set you up with a real mentor who’s in UX. So usually a designer. So they don’t really have necessarily researchers, maybe they do. Now, this was a while ago. And you can do like a little dummy project of your own, so that wasn’t really a real project, but I had at least exposure, some of the deliverables that would be expected.

Rachel Fleming:

You know, I did an empathy map. I did a storyboard. I did a small journey map. I did a little bit of usability testing just some small things personas. And I so I had, I had some idea of that. And then I started interviewing for jobs and I kept getting to kind of the final round and then not getting the job because I didn’t have experience. And I just got frustrated. So I went to Boulder startup week, which was a great opportunity, you know, when things are in person, again, it’s a little easier to meet people. There are ways to do it though in a remote world to reach out to people. And I met two female founders of startups who were interesting, and I kind of reached out to them and just said, Hey, could you use some, some work?

Rachel Fleming:

So I did month long projects for each of them kind of concurrently spent about four weeks. And it was so much easier to interview after doing those two projects, because I had something to talk about, you know, I could actually speak to working in this space. So, you know, one was, was kind of, they were dependent on the problems that the startups are having. One was for a study abroad software. And so I talked to students at university, I kind of talked to people who are using the software. I talked to people who are using a competitor software and figuring out kind of like where the gaps were making some recommendations there. And then I learned kind of the, the value of stakeholder interviews during that project, because, you know, half of what you do is research with the people you’re doing the project for.

Rachel Fleming:

And and then I did another one in the healthcare space. It was an app that was intended to make healthcare more equitable and accessible. So did some research with community health clinics. And it was really helpful. I mean, I was very open to whatever they needed me to do. And it’s been, it’s been valuable. It was absolutely valuable. And I, you know, there’s issues with doing volunteer projects. I think you should get paid for work. You do. But when you’re just getting started, it’s important to just have a little bit of experience.

Matt Artz:

Yeah. Yeah. It’s, it’s a tough thing to recommend to anybody that they do free work. But somehow you’ve got to find the work and then you brought up another point in there that is something that comes up with people. I talk to a lot, which is, you know, when it comes to bootcamps or in your case lean, I like the design lab program. Most, like you say, our design focus, you know, very few I’ve come across a research focus. And so I oftentimes caution to people that, you know, if they want to do one that’s, but just keep in mind that probably most things you’re going to do are producing designed assets. And, you know, the research component might be one week or, or whatever. And you know, I think that’s, it’s good to reiterate that just so that people maybe don’t possibly spend many thousands of dollars in some cases, you know, if that’s not what they’re looking for, and it brings up the distinction between UX research and UX design and, you know, just, it’s good to always kind of make that distinction so that I think a lot of anthropologists are interested in the research piece and less than the design.

Matt Artz:

So it’s, I think it’s just helpful to call that out for anybody listening. So aside from design lab, did you do anything else to upscaling? Obviously there’s some tech language and business language, you know, some, some basic knowledge that’s helpful. Did you, did you look at any other, do you do any other certs online or anything that, you know will help you sort of make the transition?

Rachel Fleming:

Oh, sure. Yeah, definitely. And, and, and the, the design lab course, I liked that because it wasn’t very expensive. So I recommend that because it’s not, you know, unless you can swing it it’s not really worth doing more school after you’ve already done a bunch of school to switch over, unless you’re really interested in design. In which case it bootcamp might be useful. I think that the, the most upskilling that I did was I, I had kind of networked with some local people who were in the UX research space and asked them, you know, where would you recommend? I start? And they gave me some really good resources. IDEO has a lot, you know, on, on iterative design and I started kind of learning about design thinking and how you can use that kind of problem solving approach for research projects.

Rachel Fleming:

And I also just did a little bit of a Google research and when you x-ray search and just try to figure out, you know, what, what are the deliverables that you’re expected to produce? How, how should this look? I did a little research on agile product development as well, because a lot of this research goes into a product development process, and you have to kind of figure out how to fit that in. Honestly I didn’t really learn how that all worked until I worked in an agile development shop and was working closely with designers and developers figuring out, you know, how is a backlog built? What is a user story? How does research go into these things? How do you build a good prototype and then test that? And those are things that are hard to learn without doing them, but you can learn about them beforehand.

Matt Artz:

Does your first custom software development company where they agile or, or did you start in another environment and move to agile? No, they were at trial.

Rachel Fleming:

So I’ve been working in that environment since then. That’s great.

Matt Artz:

So, you know, obviously there’s the agile space is very different than, than academia in terms of the pace and the cadence that we’re building and releasing products. So were there any particular challenges there for you?

Rachel Fleming:

Of course, of course I made it that the pace is much faster and you’re kind of asked to turn research around very quickly, and I think it’s helpful to remember that this is research for completely different goals than academia. You know, academia is a little, you know, you have the time to kind of understand something in a more holistic sense. And these agile product development questions are often very targeted, you know, like what do insurance agents in this particular industry struggle with and what do they need in terms of, you know, something that software can provide them. And it’s good to know their context, and it’s good to bring that holistic viewpoint. But you do have to turn it around quickly. So as, as I, as I tell people, you know, anything is possible. You can put any kind of constraints on research that you want. There are limitations to what you can produce in a given time with the resources that you have. And so you can, you can say, you know, yes, I can take three weeks to do this, and this is what you’ll get out of that. It’s good to not over promise always.

Matt Artz:

Do you ever you know, sort of state it as, you know, we can do it in three weeks and you’ll get this, or we could do it in six weeks and you’ll get this like, and let them pick, or

Rachel Fleming:

I have started to, yeah. Sometimes I do research proposals and kind of the silver gold platinum format, you know, and, and I want them to choose the middle one. So, so you can kind of say, here’s the bare bones, here’s the like mid range. And then here’s all the stops, you know, and the, and then they usually pick the middle. But it’s nice for them to have a choice.

Matt Artz:

Yeah. Yeah. I find the same. I, and I you know, I try to always give them the options, let them know what the outcome may be. And then it’s, you know, the outcome is their decision. Ultimately, you know, what they want to get out of it. And especially in consulting, right. When there’s sort of a fee for service hour to it, it’s, I think it’s helpful to do it that way.

Rachel Fleming:

You know, you’re

Matt Artz:

Obviously we’re talking about the pace here of being quicker. Tell me a little bit, tell me some other things about what your day looks like. I mean, you know, you’re not researching all the time. There’s lots of other duties as a UX researcher, right. There’s lots of non-research duty. So what does a typical sort of day, week, month look like for you?

Rachel Fleming:

Sure. So, so most of what I do is not the actual research. But it’s always helpful to, under, to remember, you know, no matter what I’m doing, I do feel like I have a responsibility to be the voice of the people who I’m talking to. And that’s the way for the organizations to kind of what’s going on with them. So that really does motivate me. I think the, I spend quite a lot of time scoping projects. I, I work for consultancy now, so I do business development and writing research proposals kind of figuring out, you know, what should this look like? How much time will this take, what activities should we do? And you can kind of it’s hard to get a sense of, you know, what future projects will take and you want it to be a good project for whoever takes it up in the end.

Rachel Fleming:

So it’s good to kind of learn about scoping and, and what is needed in a project. So you can do that. I also do a lot kind of after the, you know, research phase is finished, you know, synthesizing data, analyzing, getting insights, and then using that to help the stakeholder team. And we do a lot of workshops with stakeholders. We do a lot of kind of interactive meetings, not just, just read outs, you know, of what we found. So it’s really using that research data to make decisions and build, you know, what, what the product’s going to look like.

Matt Artz:

And so, you know, in terms of the interactive presentations, do you find that that is helpful, you know, does that lend itself to people sort of really, you know, embody like a, I think really taking on the findings and, and, and helping you or more or less sell it?

Rachel Fleming:

Oh, absolutely. It’s invaluable. I think if you give people a chance, you know, stakeholders, a chance to really look at the data themselves and then say, you know, what they think is most important, they vote on things, they move stickies around. We’re doing all remote workshops now. So we use Miro a lot and they really get into it. They get invested in it and they have good discussions and they, you know, that’s where a lot of the work gets done, I think is, is having them interact with the data

Matt Artz:

And as it relates to scoping. So obviously when, when sort of scoping out a project, you have to decide given, given time cost, all of those sort of variables who like what methods, you know, and they give a need at hand, you know, what methods are we going to use? Can we get X done in such amount of time? So how does your ethical logical schooling sort of lend itself to that? You know, like you find yourself using certain methods more than others in the UX world. You can talk about all of that.

Rachel Fleming:

Sure. I mean, I think I’m of course at home with qualitative methods and interviews, because I’ve just done a ton of those. And but I, I find that I’m using more and more kind of concepts in those interviews and kind of having people react to something. So if it’s kind of a prototype test, but more like a concept assessment so have, you know, do maybe some generative work in the early on in the interview to kind of figure out what they’re doing currently and then show them something and say, you know, how would you use this? Is this useful to you? What would you do with this? What, you know, what would you suggest all of those things? And I think that’s something that I never used to do in my anthropological work is have them kind of work with a thing. I also have become more comfortable with I, I work with behavioral scientists now who do a lot of surveys, and I think that data can be incredibly useful. So kind of, I I’ve become more comfortable integrating survey data with my interview data as well.

Matt Artz:

And in what order are you using sort of your call to influence that influence the survey design or your learning from the survey? And then

Rachel Fleming:

It depends on the design of the project. We actually just did one where we used a survey to help structure the interviews and diary studies, and then that informed another survey that we did. So, so it was kind of like a tiered approach which was fantastic. Worked really well.

Matt Artz:

Yeah. Using them together in a very intuitive way is helpful. For sure. So you wrote an article in the American ethnologists that, you know, a really great article that is gold listeners should check out, you know, if they sort of Google your name and American ethnologist will find it, but it’s, and we’ll put it in the show notes, but in there you speak of anthropological thinking and, you know, and it’s obviously there are certain things that we learn in an academic program that, you know, I think we would agree lend itself to that, but, you know, that was a really nice piece of that article. So would you mind elaborating on that and, and sharing with the listeners, what, you know, how you view anthropological thinking?

Rachel Fleming:

Sure, sure. I think it, it, it has to do with kind of an iterative thinking in scale. So we’re, we’re very used to kind of looking at the details of things and then pulling back to abstraction and we have to do that over and over in doing field work and then figuring out, you know, what does it mean? And we do that also in the reading that we do in an anthropological program, you know, you have to read something and then you have to think about it abstractly. And it, it just it’s a skill that I think we become used to, and that’s very helpful because often in UX research, you kind of lose sight of what the woods are like because you’re in the trees so much. And it’s really our job, I think, to get that detail and then be able to put it into a context and say, you know, why does this matter?

Rachel Fleming:

What is the value of this? What is the larger question we’re asking? Are we even asking the right questions? And I think anthropologists are skeptics and we’re good at that. We’re good at saying, you know, you’re making a lot of assumptions here. Let’s go see if those assumptions check out before we go and do this whole big project. And so I think that helps the UX research process because it’s really about making good decisions and figuring out how to spend valuable dollars in developing a product, it takes a lot to develop a product and it’s a big pain. If you have to rework something, or if you develop something that isn’t use it useful and people don’t like it and people are people can’t figure out how to use it. So I think we’re, we’re also very good at kind of listening.

Rachel Fleming:

And this helps us within organizations and in our jobs is kind of listening to people who might use products. But especially within organizations, we can be really good mediators and kind of like negotiate between, you know, the design team and the product strategy team and the developers or the tech leads or the architects, and kind of get everybody onto the same page about why are we doing this thing and what do we need to keep sight of? And that’s, that’s also a valuable skill. I also think we’re very open to kind of ambiguity. A lot of UX research and product development is very ambiguous. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know what the right answer is. And so I think anthropologists kind of sit well in that space because we’re often asking these big questions that don’t have real answers, not definitive answers. You know, we’re, we’re looking at things that are fundamentally, you know, they’re pretty subjective. They, they have to do with meaning. They have to do with value and those are hard things to define. So we’re, we’re good in negotiating those waters. That can be a little difficult

Matt Artz:

Know, so they’re hard to define, but there are also sometimes hard to convince people of, I find, you know, in the end. And so, you know, that gets to sort of a topic that I, I asked a lot of people who work in this space and I’m always interested in how are different practitioners essentially systematizing, or maybe not systematizing in any formal way, but how, how are you, what are you doing to preserve your findings for organizational memory? Because I’ve, I’ve seen you know, I’ve done myself research, you know, there’s this finding we it’s very applicable in the short term, but you know, you’re, you’re on and people are seeming to forget, you know, the, the previous finding and how that relates to the product strategy and have, so do you do anything personally or organizationally, if you can speak about it that, you know, tries to systematize those findings or tries to preserve them and, or make them searchable anything in that space?

Rachel Fleming:

I think we’ve where I, when I worked at, I worked at a product accelerator for two years before this position in the consultancy and we did create kind of a research repository there. And I don’t know if anyone ever looked at it except researchers, but it was useful for researchers. We created a Wiki on confluence, which was actually, that was more useful because developers use confluence. They love it. And so they could go to our website essentially and kind of learn more about our process, learn more about, you know, what we do. We have like things on there, like how to take good research notes. You know, what we found in certain projects, we did research snapshots where we kind of summed up, you know, how a project went. We did some lunch and learn presentations talking about, you know, how we made impact with different projects.

Rachel Fleming:

So I think, you know, reaching the audience where they are is important in terms of research repository, I have not seen something that works terribly well yet. Although I know a lot of places are trying, I think for me the thing that stays in an organization, and this is true of where I am now is kind of the process, you know, like figuring out, you know, how do you do a project? And we’ve created kind of an an insights playbook to walk people through, you know, what is how do you start a project? How do you scope it? What do you think about what’s the timeline? What are your deliverables like? How do you create them? What’s the format and, you know, it’s, it’s not set in stone. There are a lot of different options of how to do it, but I think those are probably the most valuable assets that an organization can work on to preserve kind of at least the way they approach research.

Matt Artz:

So, you know, one thing that comes to mind when you say all that is there’s really a lot of project management sort of activities in there, if you will, or which I don’t think a lot of say students, or even early career, early to mid career anthropologist who might not be in tech are anticipating you know, w w as you come into tech, I think we have to take on a lot of that. Enema was pretty quick. And so, you know, I know we already kind of talked about some upskilling, but is there anything that you did particularly around like project management or was it just sort of self study?

Rachel Fleming:

You know, I, I wish I’d done more of that. That would have been super helpful. I think the product management skills that I took in to to this career were designing my own research and running it. And then I did a lot of organizing of conferences of panels of various, you know, group events. And that was sort of like something that I was really involved in, in grad school. And I think those skills were kind of helpful cause you kind of can like put together a program based on a bunch of different people, doing different things and you know, about timelines and you know, about deadlines and can kind of organize people that way. So I think it would be incredibly helpful to take product management classes or do something a little more formal. I know there’s a lot of certifications on the web. There are things you can kind of courses you can go through to learn about it. And I, I don’t know if it needs to be specific to tech or not. I think that would be useful learning about, you know, agile project or agile product management would definitely be useful.

Matt Artz:

Yeah, I agree. Yeah. So you talked about previous study, you talked about the lunch and learns. So that’s, you know, you sort of shopping around the findings, right. And, and a part of that I think is related to that at least is the another big topic that oftentimes comes up in, you know, when I’m talking to UX writers and when I’m talking to just the business anthropology community at large, and that’s like the, the general topic, but how do we sort of gauge, you know, the impact of our work? I think in UX that can be a little easier than maybe in like an organizational anthropology or, or anthropologists who are working in branding. It seems like, you know, we, with sort of the analytics platforms maybe have like a little bit more of a concrete way to do that multiple times, but do you have any thought on, you know, like how you know, how do you gauge the impact of your own research or how do you know the stakeholders that you’re selling it to gauge that,

Rachel Fleming:

Oh, gosh, it’s hard, it’s hard to come up with, you know, real measurable indicators of impact. And sometimes it’s kind of like you have to think about development effort and kind of like, you know, how, how much effort would this thing have been that we didn’t build because research told you it wasn’t valuable and that’s kind of like how much money did you not spend. And which is hard to measure. I think success of a project can be measured maybe in kind of alignment with the team how, how much they kind of understand about the people who will use the product and kind of how, how invested they are in, in making something that matches those needs. So, so I think a lot of it comes out, you know, rather after the fact but research has done and, and hopefully research is kind of like, you can be part of something long-term and kind of see it.

Rachel Fleming:

But in, you know, in consulting where I am now we don’t really see where the product necessarily goes or, or what happens, you know, in this like large digital transformation experience. But we do know that we’re bringing teams together that weren’t didn’t know quite how to do a large project before. And we know that they’re able to talk about it and they have a direction and they have a roadmap and they are in a better place than they were before. So I think that that has impact, but, you know, you do need to you do need to bring these, bring these measures up with, with leadership now, and then, and they engineers that I’ve worked with tend to really like the value to effort matrix. So if you can map a set of features along how, how valuable it is to users and how much effort it would take on the development side. So you can work with the development team to do that. Then you can have a grid that shows you, which features have high impact for users and are high value and are not too much effort to build or a little bit of effort. And that kind of is like an aha moment, I think.

Matt Artz:

Yeah. It really helps for prioritizing for sure.

Rachel Fleming:

Yeah. Yeah. And it’s, it’s in a format that is very understandable and makes decisions more clear. So I think our role is really helping people make decisions in a better way.

Matt Artz:

Yeah. It’s interesting. You say that, you know, also when you said earlier about, you know, maybe helping them, helping the organization, not build something that maybe they shouldn’t, but in many ways it’s sort of about reducing risks in a lot of cases, but you’re also saying some things in there that happened to, you know, we would depend on the organization and how it’s sort of defined, but there’s, you’re doing a number of things that maybe a product manager might do in some cases, depending on the size of the team and how maybe mature their, you know, their, their organization is. So how do you work together? You know, in this role or in previous sales, what do you find? How, how are you working with the product manager?

Rachel Fleming:

It depends on who, like what, what role they’re they’re in at different organizations they play there are various iterations of a project or product manager or product owner, or if there’s a lot of different words. And I think it, it comes down to, you know, who, who is responsible for kind of the vision of the project and where it’s going. And it really helps when there is a person who is responsible for that. Sometimes project managers play more of the role of kind of making sure all the meetings happen on time and notes are, you know, given and kind of coordinating all the different people. And then sometimes the tech lead might take on that role of, you know, the product vision person and sometimes nobody’s taking on that role and it’s really tough. So and then sometimes UX research takes on that role and can pull people together around that vision.

Matt Artz:

And it is well suited for which brings up another thing, which is that, you know, your research today, you don’t see, we don’t quite have a seat at the table in a lot of cases or at least like, you know, higher up in the organization. Research still seems to be sort of nestled under something else, you know, whether it’s sort of design or product in a lot of places, not everywhere, of course. It depends on maturity, but in those cases, you know, in our, in your case, when maybe you don’t have, you know, somebody who’s really taking on the product vision, what do you do to sort of exert your influence and what could other people maybe do, you know, any tips for how that they can really make sure that the research gets you know, has impact ultimately that it gets adopted?

Rachel Fleming:

I think the most important thing you can do is bring people into the research process with you. So, so they are kind of helping make these decisions along with you because that, that can really help with buy-in. And if you just have sort of, you give them, you know, insights or ideas and say, this is where it should go. You know, they, they may not adopt that or be very interested, but if you can say, Hey, can you help me figure out where this should go? And I can help give you these tools and let’s figure this out together what this product should be, and then they really get into it and are excited about it. That’s great. So,

Matt Artz:

So along the lines of recommendations, yeah. I’d like to maybe pivot and talk about what’s you know, what the listeners could do if they want to get into UX. So that could be students could be early career, mid career, whatever it may be whether the, the needs are a little different, right? If you’re a student, you have some time to plan and maybe do some upscaling ahead of time, take some classes, you know, whatever it may be. You can serve structure that if you’re already working, then it’s more a question about maybe how do you reframe your experience to get into tech? So maybe a first for students, you know, is there anything that stands out that you would recommend that they do?

Rachel Fleming:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think that gaining some work experience is critical before you graduate, because no one will see anything that you did as a student for like your, you know, if it’s a dissertation, whatever it is as work experience. Even if it’s applied, even if it’s a research project, you know, for a company, if it’s for a company, maybe they’ll give you a job afterwards, but barring that usually, you know, it’s, it’s interesting background, but it’s not work. So if you can, as a student, you can get internships that are not available once you graduate. So I, I strongly recommend taking advantage of those and your graduate programs, or if you’re an undergrad, your, your program will not help you necessarily in finding these. So you’ll have to find them on your own word of mouth. You know, a lot of big companies have them.

Rachel Fleming:

And I, I can’t stress enough just, you know, I wish I’d had that that would have helped me a lot. And you can also start taking courses in some other departments, you know go check out. It would help. It would have helped me to have a little better background in statistics, honestly. So make friends with your sociology buddies and go figure out what they’re doing. Cause it’s really helpful to kind of at least know what the quantitative side looks like, so that you can do that. If you, if you need to pull on that tool later, you can do that. There are some programs in, in computer science that are focused on kind of product and agile product and management. The business school might have something related to like, you know, strategy could be really useful. So, so I recommend, you know, get out of your bubble and go see what else is on campus. Design of course a design program might be a great place to start to find something that would help.

Matt Artz:

And how about for those who are working any tips for maybe reframing their experience on a resume and a portfolio?

Rachel Fleming:

Oh, sure. Well if you’re not in the UX research space and you want to get in and you have research experience, that is great. I’ve worked with amazing UX researchers. Who’ve come from biological science, who’ve come from, you know, neuroscience or all kinds of business, all kinds of different backgrounds, right. And they all have in common being able to take you know, collect data and then critically think about it. So if you can package up your experience in that way that goes a long way, you know, can you put, can you put a case study on your portfolio that says, what’s the problem? What did you do about it? What was the impact? You know, if, if you can show that you did good research that fits that form. I don’t think it has to be in the UX space necessarily. But it sure does help to have a few UX type projects on your portfolio.

Matt Artz:

Yeah. And you’re on your own website, you know, we try to encourage everybody to look up there’s, you know in the FAQ section, you talk about the portfolio and it’s, you know, it’s a good breakdown of it. You mentioned one of the things in there that I wanted to touch on, which is strategy. So, you know, maybe this isn’t you know, maybe this isn’t for like sort of a junior UX research role, but as we sort of mature, there’s other opportunities for us as UX researchers, we can continue on in the UX research path and, and, and maybe specialize, we could also venture out, you know, I, myself at this time, I’m spending more time in the product management space, but strategy’s also a really interesting area. And so maybe, do you want to say anything particularly about strategy, but also about maybe just, you know, sort of career path as a UX researcher?

Rachel Fleming:

Yeah, absolutely. I think that as you kind of get into a, a career, you know, place, you have more choices, you can say, what do I really want to specialize in now? And and there are quite a few more roles coming up that have strategist in the title, or people are becoming kind of UX research strategists or lead strategists. And I think this, this has to do with kind of you know, basically a strategy is choice-making. How do you make a choice? How do you decide how to spend resources? And there are various approaches to this. I took a great course with IDEO on on strategic decision-making or I think it was called design strategy. Roger Martins course, and it was it’s a great, you know, framework for kind of thinking about how you make choices.

Rachel Fleming:

And that is pretty much what we do. You know, we, we help people make choices informed by data and it’s data that we actually collect, you know, on, on the ground, outside the organization. And so hopefully it’s a better informed choice. But strategy is absolutely a direction that UX researchers can go in. I’ve also seen quite a lot of uptick in kind of realizing that anthropologists and social scientists are good at figuring out kind of ethics within technology. And there are a lot more roles kind of for people who are thinking deeply about the ethical implications of technological decisions. And I think that’s a good space for us as well. So I think the technology world is really opening up to what anthropologists can bring and realizing kind of that holistic understanding of human behavior and human motivations is useful in a lot of different areas and not just in, you know, UX research specifically.

Matt Artz:

Yeah, for sure. And, you know, with every company at this point, not just the tech companies, per se, you know, not just the Googles and Facebooks, but with every company really now trying to build digital products. Now the job market is just exploding for us. And so it’s a really great place to be. And so, you know, in, in closing maybe I guess one is, you know, is there anything I didn’t ask that you think would be good to bring up

Rachel Fleming:

Maybe just to reiterate that graduate programs and anthropology are doing great work by training anthropologist, and then they are not doing great work in helping them figure out what to do with their training. And so I think there’s a big space there for graduate programs to think about, you know doing, you know, a hybrid curriculum with maybe a design program or technology, putting something together that fits this space in a way that kind of shows anthropology majors and graduate students, that there is a path there are many different paths and and getting them the training and getting them prepared for that job market, because it is a big market. And so far people are kind of figuring it out on their own. There’s a few programs, but not many.

Matt Artz:

Yeah. You know, what would be very interesting in there too, just to maybe to add onto that. I am, I’m personally interested in teaching, like, you know, cross-listed courses across broadly speaking art or design business and social sciences. And I would like to see all those people brought together because not only not only is the subject matter useful for the different players in that space, but begging getting them together early on very much like a product team. Right. And sort of that actual a sort of real applied training of working together across disciplines. So, you know, it’s, it’s really ripe space, you know, for, for innovation within education. So I hope somebody does it.

Rachel Fleming:

There’s, there’s a space there for sure.

Matt Artz:

So is there anything you’re involved in that maybe you want to tell, tell everybody about?

Rachel Fleming:

Well there, I, I, I’m working on a, an early project for possibly grad programs and I, I really do feel strongly about helping students figure out of means to gainful employment. Because I think they, they, you know, you, you don’t need to be poor forever and you can, you can have a job and that’s okay. So, so keep an eye out for that. But kind of an early project for that. And also I’d like to just call out, you know, the Epic website, ethnographic practice and industry conference are Epic people.org has great resources on all of these things from getting started to really people who thought very deeply about a certain subject and Ben the Napa designed by anthropologists blog has fantastic resources for people starting out in this space. So I would recommend those.

Rachel Fleming:

There are also a few organizations that help, you know, PhDs transition to industry. So you know there’s beyond the professoriate. The professor is an, of course has some resources and from PhD to life is another one. So there, there are a lot of kind of people in this space who can help you move more into industry, or at least in there’s a lot of free resources to so, you know, there’s, there’s a lot of, there’s a research project to be done if you’re getting started, but they’re also people who can help you kind of figure this out.

Matt Artz:

Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing all those in a note on Epic. So just you know, the past day or two, I think it was that they released, you know, all the 20, 20 materials. So definitely check those out. Okay. Where can everybody find you? Okay.

Rachel Fleming:

Well, my website is rachelfleming.net, and I have links to things that I’ve written and a big, long FAQ’s page about UX research, because I thought I should just, instead of repeating myself all the time, just put it on the web

Matt Artz:

And it’s a great piece, and along with the, you know, the American ethnologist article, definitely a, one of the reasons I reached out to you first. I really thank you for coming on being the first guest, your great first guest for this. I know you’re passionate about the same thing. So Rachel, thanks very much.

Rachel Fleming:

Well, thanks so much for starting this. I think it’s needed and it will have a great future.

Matt Artz:

Thank you all for listening to the Anthro to UX podcast, to learn everything you need to break into UX, visit anthrotoux.com. There you will find all the podcast, episodes and career coaching resources, please like share and subscribe. See you next time.

Please note this transcript is an automated transcription and may have some errors.