Why Psychologists Are Naturally Gifted User Researchers - Parvathi Ganesan

We spoke to our in-house counsellor, Parvathi Ganesan, about her recent foray into user research, and why more psychologists need to explore the field.

Why Psychologists Are Naturally Gifted User Researchers - Parvathi Ganesan
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Stories from ownpath

Observed to be one of the most in-demand digital creative professions over the past few years, user researchers are a vital part of product and tech companies. However, most job listings tend to overlook a very important and highly potent talent pool—psychologists.

Trained to be empathetic, listen to people, and analyse behaviour to derive insights, psychologists are equipped with solid foundations that allow for a seamless transition to careers in user research.

At ownpath, we’re happy to boast of one such story. We spoke to Parvathi Ganesan, our in-house counsellor, who has been steadily transitioning to performing user research, and has fallen in love with all that it entails.

Here’s Parvathi’s story, her experience with user research, and her case for more psychologists to explore the field:

Can you tell us about your background and love for psychology?

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with the field of psychology. When I began my formal college education, I instantly fell in love with everything about the discipline.

Towards the end of my Master’s degree, I had to undergo fieldwork training - and my choice of study was trauma therapy and substance addiction/abuse. While it may sound daunting, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience because it sharpened my empathetic ability, got me attuned to people’s body language, and provided me with the skill of understanding what people are trying to say - without them needing to say it.

We were trained to be a vessel for people’s emotions, and this is how I fell in love with interacting with and listening to people.”

How did your subsequent foray into user research happen?

“Trauma therapy can be taxing at times. After I graduated, I really wanted to try my hand at something new. Last year, I worked on a brief internship with ownpath and I loved the experience. With more time on my hands as a fresh graduate, I reached out to Shreyas, the Founder of ownpath, to explore a full-time role with the company. During our conversation, Shreyas mentioned that he could also envision me working on user research to help inform and better our Fellows’ program experience.

Initially, I was taken aback. As Shreyas elaborated further, it made complete sense to me. The user research role heavily revolved around listening to people, tuning in to their behaviour & emotions, and, at the end of the day - the skill set required to perform user research is very similar to what I’ve been formally trained to do.”

What other abilities from your psychology training have aided you in conducting user research?

“As psychologists, we are taught statistics and research methodology right from the beginning - these are integral aspects of quantitative user research. I also noticed that the qualitative research we perform, the methods of probing we are trained to do, and the way we listen to stories to extract pain points, all overlap between traditional psychology and user research.

In fact, user research is incomplete without a solid understanding of psychology & human behaviour, for user research is all about people.

We are also thoroughly trained in the skill of interviewing - and one of the biggest aspects of user research is interviewing people. As counsellors, we are trained for… let’s say, three to five years, to simply talk to people and refine our conversational skills. We pick up on these micro-skills over time, and it hones our ability to understand people deeply.

That’s why I genuinely believe that people from the field of counselling have a very natural advantage in the user research space.”

Can you share some insights about the user research you’ve been working on at ownpath?

“I’ve been interacting with our Fellowship participants to try and understand how motivated they feel while juggling work and their rigorous coursework and to understand how engaged they feel with the Fellowship, their peers, and mentors.

Working with Aishwarya Jare, our Fellow and Designer-in-Residence, I derive insights from our conversations to help better our program experience, so that it truly caters to our participants’ needs. We recently wrapped up a huge research project, and I thoroughly enjoyed the sense-making and research synthesis process, as well as our workshop presenting our findings to the entire team at ownpath.

Another aspect I’ve noticed through my conversations is that quite a few designers tend to experience impostor syndrome—they sometimes feel like they aren’t good enough at the work they do. Having shared these insights with our Programs team, we are now working to figure out ways to help our Fellows overcome these obstacles.

I definitely think counselling has helped me understand how our Fellows feel, and it has enabled a very natural segue into user research.

In fact, I think that if I were to present my research and findings to a fellow psychologist, they would be able to make sense of the entire process—it just feels like home.”

Which psychologists would you make a case for, to explore user research?

“I think that, if you are a psychologist looking to explore alternative avenues, user research would be a wonderful fit. The means are very similar: we get to hold on to our love for talking to people and getting to know them, but the end goal is very different—we are deriving insights to help better a product and the user’s experience with that product. I find that to be an incredibly exciting perk of user research.

I think that anyone who is highly empathetic takes an interest in talking to people, and is good at active listening, would really shine in the user research field.

It also gives you so much relief, because you can actually see your work go into the process of making a product’s experience better—adding value to the company, and to their users.”

Parvathi is currently working on her second research project at ownpath, and we’re eagerly looking forward to her findings and insights ✨

We’re so excited to have recently launched our User Research Fellowship!

A 10-week program that helps you develop a strong understanding of the best practices in user research, the Fellowship is a great fit for designers, product managers, and counsellors looking to transition to research 🔍


⁽¹⁾ https://www.onwardsearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Onward-Search-Salary-Guide-2020.pdf

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