What is a researcher? There is no one path, no one exact job description, no one single approach or professional charter to follow. Among the many variables that can shape this are the individual’s background and training, personal philosophy and worldview, and years of experience. For better or for worse, the context in which a researcher works – an organization’s culture, goals, worldview, resources and constraints – also has an undeniable impact on her role, and how close to her ideal she can get.
In the right work environment, at the right time in a person’s career, being a researcher transcends simply doing research, moving beyond the job description and typical day-to-day responsibilities. In my current position as a senior design researcher at a large e-commerce company, I am largely able to shape my role and determine my impact. This luxury of autonomy has enabled me to achieve more of my professional goals, expand them even, not to mention be more of myself as a person. It’s gotten me closer to my ikigai, or reason for being.
Naturally, I can never go back to previous versions of myself as a researcher (or as a person). My values and my concept of what is important have evolved. I can no longer think just in terms of a list of skills and experience requirements on a job description. I must also think in terms of how a role and organization resonate with me as a person.
In the context of business and design in a large organization, this is my ideal for what a researcher should do, and who a researcher should be. This is a personal manifesto.
A researcher is someone who seeks to understand and learn from people phenomena in the world, and uses this information to help solve problems. A researcher does not simply learn for learning’s sake. The goal is not the research, but the impact of the work.
A researcher has a solid understanding of methodology, an ability to apply or create theoretical frameworks, and a tool kit of methods and approaches for answering questions. She can do exploratory design research, generative user research, and evaluative usability and concept testing. But a researcher is not just a project monkey, doing the projects that others want doing. She uses every opportunity to shape the research and organizational road map, and identifies and advocates for new opportunities for understanding.
A researcher is a strategist, going beyond study results and in-the-moment, near-term impact, building a deep knowledge base for long-term use and cross-domain connections. She synthesizes and triangulates.
A researcher cares about process.
A researcher is reflective and iterative.
A researcher is good at people.
A researcher is not a lone wolf, but brings people along with her – close colleagues, stakeholders, and anyone else with whom she comes in contact. She is inclusive, ignoring hierarchy and tradition when it makes sense. She guides others and facilitates understanding. She is an educator. She can sell and convince.
A researcher is not a service provider. She is a collaborator and contributor who partners with others and works in service of all people.
A researcher is a systems thinker, regardless of where she sits and who she is responsible to within an organization. Her outlook is holistic, her work centered in the design, technology and business trifecta. She is a strong advocate, an evangelical, for the perspectives and needs of people outside the organization who are affected by internal decisions.
A researcher is a relationship builder, a cultural broker, a dot-connector, a conduit of information, a navigator. She builds rapport, gains trust, is sought out for advice and insights. She influences.
A researcher is an experimenter and an entrepreneur. A risk-taker and a big picture thinker. A progress maker, a troubleshooter, tinkerer. She is creative and works with the constraints of the organization and its resources, while simultaneously figuring out how to change them. She persists in the face of frustration.
A researcher seeks to improve the culture of her workplace, helping it grow through all of her efforts. She is a catalyst for change.
A researcher asks the questions that need asking. It’s not just a job – she truly cares and lives and breathes her work.
Finally, a researcher acts like the researcher – and person – she wants to be.