Recently, I was selected to be on the panel of an online live chat via The Guardian website. The Q&A session was about “Finding a research job outside of academia”. As the MD of a leading market research agency, employing from various academic backgrounds (including PhDs), I was selected to represent the voice of the market research industry, which was a great privilege.
The live chat discussion centred on research opportunities outside of academia, particularly for PhDs, and the pros and cons of leaving higher education. Here at Marketing Sciences Unlimited we value academic, as well as industry, experience – our team includes several PhDs, as well as masters and graduates from many different disciplines.
My summary of the live chat is below:
THE MARKET RESEARCH INDUSTRY CAN BE ENTERED FROM A VARIETY OF ACADEMIC BACKGROUNDS AND LEVELS, HOWEVER AN ENQUIRING MIND IS ESSENTIAL
I am proud to have several PhDs within the team at Marketing Sciences Unlimited with specialisms in Neuroscience and Sensory Science. We also employ graduates and masters in a variety of disciplines including social sciences, psychology, the arts, languages and maths. We are looking for people with an enquiring mind who can help our clients understand consumer wants and needs.
SUCCESSFUL TRANSITION FROM ACADEMIA TO THE MARKET RESEARCH INDUSTRY IS REWARDING AND STIMULATING
A career outside academia offers many of the same challenges as an academic career, as both can be intellectually stretching and both can be rewarding. Our employees, including several PhDs, have the freedom to develop new products and processes, but they also have real clients and we have to meet their needs. This can mean working at a fast pace to deliver the work our clients need on time. Sometimes people struggle with the pace that we work at and the deadlines our clients require, however most respond well to the wide variety of work that we can offer.
Those who have joined us successfully have been good at working in teams and taking on new ideas whether they come from an academic environment or from within the business. Our PhDs, along with our other employees, bring lots of energy and make a massive contribution. They have allowed us to push forward in ground breaking areas such as Consumer Neuroscience and Sensory Research.
THERE ARE MANY OPPORTUNITIES FOR QUALITATIVE RESEARCHERS IN THE MARKET RESEARCH INDUSTRY
One concern raised during the discussion was the perception that the research industry is dominated by quantitative research methodology. Qualitative research methods are also an essential part of our market research business, allowing us to address (and enhance) different client objectives to those answered by quantitative results. These methods are an essential part of our research toolkit. Our growing qualitative team have the freedom to use their skills in their day to day job to help our clients grow their business through exploration of issues.
THE MARKET RESEARCH INDUSTRY OFFERS FLEXIBLE AND CREATIVE ROLES FOR ALL, INCLUDING PHDS
I believe a career in the market research industry will provide PhDs with great opportunities to explore their field in a flexible and creative manner. PhDs are highly valued, as they are able to bring experience in their specialism into the business. One of the PhDs on the live chat is currently completing a cognitive neuroscience PhD, like our neuroscience expert had done, Dr Andy Myers. One of the concerns some have when leaving academia is a concern that industry confines their growth and creativity. Here at Marketing Sciences Unlimited this is not the case
“Andy (our neuroscience expert, and holder of a PhD in cognitive neuroscience) has a very varied and challenging role and has progressed up the organisation quickly. He has used neuroscience to test advertising, packaging and shopping behaviour. He is looking at new techniques all of the time. He shares this with our clients and at conferences. So I think you’ll find there are plenty of opportunities out there.”
FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NO DIRECT EXPERIENCE OF WORKING IN THE MARKET RESEARCH INDUSTRY, WE SAY TO YOU, “STILL APPLY”!
Although direct experience is desirable, there are opportunities for those wishing to enter the industry. My advice would be to still apply, making the most of your transferable skills on your CV. Transferable skills required for working in industry depend on the job role. Generally speaking, key transferable skills/qualities required for working in market research include:
- an enquiring mind
- ability to learn quickly
- ability to work in teams effectively
- ability to communicate clearly
- attention to detail
- ability to think laterally
Academic experience, papers etc. could be used to show evidence of this skills. If you encounter difficulty finding employment in industry, I would also suggest contacting some research agencies direct to ask for a mentoring session to get advice on what might be required. You can also read our Tips For Interview Success blog piece.
UNSURE ABOUT A MOVE FROM ACADEMIA TO THE RESEARCH INDUSTRY? GIVE IT A GO!
There are lots of careers in industry just as there are lots of careers in academia. If you give either role a try and find it is not for you remember that you can switch and learn from your previous role – whether it went well or not. Our employees with PhDs certainly make the most of their academic skills and have gained a new perspective and new skills by working in industry. They have lots of variety and working in a dynamic environment that they can influence. Examples include applying sensory science to reducing sugar in food products and using Neuroscience to help develop effective marketing communications.
If you would like to read the full discussion, please visit The Guardian webpage.
Jane Rudling is Managing Director of Marketing Sciences UnlimitedSubscribe