Why I jumped from instructional design to UX Research

I’ve been asked a lot about why I jumped from Instructional Design to UXR. I quite enjoyed ID and was happily in charge of building a new learning program. What happened? If you’re interested in career growth and change after a first pivot from academia, read on.

In my ID role, I became fascinated by our learners’ experiences. UXR is an opportunity to obsess about users’ pain points and needs without apology. Yes, ideally, that’s the case in ID, too. But let’s face it, even the best learning design approach cannot save some training from *being* the pain point…

Learning about business and product

ID let me try out my teaching skills in a business context. Now I wanted to explore other skill sets in tech. It was a delight to do research again and that enjoyment pulled me along to the next branch in my career.

The first advice I got from a senior leader on my team when I joined AWS Support was to “understand the business.” Two years later, I wanted to get closer to the actual product and experience a new side of that business.

Is customer support a cost-center or a revenue driver? What about learning programs? Ideally both drive revenue. But it’s frustratingly murky. Moving onto what is unambiguously the revenue side of the business has been eye opening — and added a certain jolt of excitement.

Career discovery and growth

After stasis in academia, learning a new role or field is *really* fun. Much like a hobbit pondering breakfast, I had had one career change. But why not two?

Let’s be transparent. Compensation. I’ll never make up for the lost lifetime earnings of grad school and the tenure track. However, UXR offers a career progression that lessens some of that sting. It makes life in the Seattle area more achievable (though buying a house may be forever out of reach...).

I simply found the discussions and debates within UXR to be more invigorating than those in ID. This isn’t a knock on ID. It’s about personal fit. When I began listening to UXR podcasts and reading UXR-related discussions, I felt like I had found a conversation that I wanted to be in the middle of.

In sum ...

Long story short? Curiosity, growth, compensation, and loving to learn about people. Academics shouldn't view their jump to industry as finding their one, true, "forever" calling. That will just repeat some of the negative cycles in academia.

Instead, approach a career pivot as a process of following multiple threads — such as learning and curiosity, career growth, and finding new, enjoyable challenges. The threads may lead you to surprising places.

About me:
I'm a UX researcher and former history professor. I write about UXR, career pivots out of academia, and life redesign.
My mission:
The question that stands behind my work:
How can we best empower others while also optimizing our own lives for flourishing?
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