About 4 years ago, I did a master’s degree in organisational psychology. I started off with the intention of changing career quite radically; I ended up (in the manner of many career changers) by making a more gentle change, to focus on science, new technology and (where possible) applying all that newly-updated knowledge of psychological theory to real-life projects.
Last year, I mostly worked with non-research organisations: usability agencies, user experience consultants, management consultants and learned societies. Different working practices, different worldviews, different assumptions.
One huge difference in assumptions is that the practitioner is expected to bring their own professional opinions and wider knowledge to the table. It may just be my impoverished experience, but too often researchers expect to present the findings rather coldly and consider the job done. That’s what many research users expect, too. You decide what to do with the findings once the researchers have backed out of the room.
At the same time, the Market Research Society complains (as it has done for over 20 years if my experience is anything to go by) that researchers are not getting enough respect as providers of true insight.
It is a remarkable thing when researchers offer insight. Possibly a rather rare thing, too.
I think researchers box themselves in without even knowing it. It’s a craft job, apprentice-taught. There’s a startling lack of basic knowledge. Although professionalism is creeping in via training, you’ll still find plenty of quantitative researchers who can’t tell you what a correlation coefficient is, and plenty of qualitative researchers who think that social constructivism is some form of Russian architecture.
We’re mechanics then, mostly, not designers and theorists. There isn’t much of a theory of mechanics, and the mechanics struggle to offer meaningful insight into automotive design.
If I think about my own qualitative research training, then I don’t think I received any significantly useful professional development since I sat at the feet of Roddy Glen (himself an ex-planner) as a wee junior. Doing a qualitative project as my Master’s thesis offered the chance to get stuck into theory; and theory, as it turns out, is one of the most practical things you can learn. Understanding competing theories, and you understand your own landscape for the the first time. You’re clear about what you do, and you can offer your own opinion with far more perspective.
It’s a bit of a stretch, but I also wonder whether that atheoretical, fear-of-taking-a-stance working practice is one reason why there are so few research bloggers. Having a personal opinion simply isn’t done.
My bad experience? Or would you agree?
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