Cheeky Logo
Ready To Get Hired?
Apply To Book A Free Call With Our Transition Specialist Team

Why PhDs Are Dominating User Experience Researcher Positions In Industry

Most PhDs start to plan their transition journey with a narrow view of their possibilities.

Many of them think they can only transition into research scientist jobs, or that they can only find a fulfilling career if they go into the pharma or biotech industries.

This narrow view ends up being especially limiting for PhDs with interdisciplinary backgrounds who think that only STEM PhDs can be successful in industry.

As a consequence, they end up missing out on exciting opportunities or end up stuck in academia because they are afraid to go after an industry career.

You can have a fulfilling industry career, no matter your PhD background. Industry is not like academia. Your research niche doesn’t define you.

But to ensure that you find the right position that matches your desired lifestyle, you need to know your options.

User experience, or UX, is an exciting field where PhDs of all backgrounds are highly valuable. 

I was talking with a member who got hired into a user experience researcher position and they shared the following story about their new role.

I got a job as a User Experience Researcher, more than doubled my income, and have lived to tell the tale.

I’m one of the few humanities people here, and worse, my PhD requires explanation because it is from an interdisciplinary program. I say American Studies, but it’s closer to Cultural Anthropology + Archival History + Experimental Writing + Comparative Literature.

After I joined CSA, I focused my search on networking, going to events, conferences, and reaching out hard on LinkedIn. That’s how I was introduced to a guy who works at my current company as a type of tech consultant, and he offered to pass my resume along to the head of User Experience there.

I got a call from HR the next week, a phone interview two days afterwards, a case interview the following Monday, and a marathon onsite interview at the end of the week. Then, came the offer.

Today, I want to discuss why all PhDs should at least consider user experience as a career path when planning their transition.

What Is User Experience (UX) And Why It’s Exploding In Popularity

Everyday more companies realize that developing a good product doesn’t guarantee a loyal clientele.

Customers become loyal to companies that offer great products, but also experiences that they love.

This has caused companies to shift their focus from the products themselves to the experience that a user has when interacting with the product.

This shift led to the emergence of a new field called user experience (UX)

UX professionals focus on improving the experience that customers have with a given product.

Keep in mind that a product can be just about anything, a device, a software, a service, etc. So, the relevance of UX spans across industries.

Most companies are currently conducting user experience studies and 73% those that aren’t plan to do so in the next 12 months.

As a consequence, UX is one of the fastest growing markets right now. It is expected to grow at a compound annual of 11% by 2028, which is huge for industry standards.

A lot of UX-related positions are currently open and more will become available in the following years.

Among those positions, there is one that is of especial interest to PhDs, it is generally called user experience researcher or analyst although the exact name can change from company to company.

UX researchers are the bridge between the products designed by a company and their users.

They help the design, product development, customer service, and sales teams to understand the product through the lens of the users. Thus helping companies create products that reflect the needs of their consumers.

Outstanding UX researchers have expertise in conducting research, interpreting the data, and communicating the results of their research to a general audience.

PhDs excel at all of those things and that’s why companies prefer PhD candidates when it comes to filling UX researcher positions.

4 Reasons Why PhDs Of All Backgrounds Should Transition Into UX Researcher Positions

If the term “User Experience” is new to you, I hope that the last section of this blog was enough to make you curious about this field and the UX researcher position.

User experience researcher is among the top 10 paying PhD-level positions, the number of open positions increases every year, and many companies are specifically looking for PhD candidates.

However, you might be thinking that you don’t have what it takes to succeed in this role or that you are not sure that this will be a good fit for you.

To ease up your doubts, I want to explore 4 reasons that will convince you that you can find a fulfilling career in UX and that you are fully qualified to be an excellent UX researcher.

1. UX roles are based on qualitative and quantitative research

Most PhDs go to grad school because they want to have a positive impact in the world.

But if you are looking for an industry position, you probably already realized that you will never have that impact if you stay in academia.

You will especially not have that impact if you spend years on end as a postdoc or unemployed having to worry about how you are going to pay your bills.

But if you transition into a UX researcher position, you can use your knowledge of qualitative and quantitative research to help create a product that impacts people.

You will work closely with designers, product managers, and other professionals, serving as the voice of the customer.

You will help them determine where this product is going next and ensure that the vision for the product is aligned with what the customer actually wants or needs.

As a PhD working in UX, you will get to analyze lots of data and see how the results of your analysis have an impact in the real world and on real people. 

You will see how your work influences the users of your product in a matter of years or months. Not decades as is usually the case in academia.

As a UX researcher, your work will strongly influence how customers view a company’s products compared to its competitors’. These views often determine whether a product succeeds or fails.

Additionally, you will be valued as a researcher, a problem solver, and an expert. You will get to answer some of the most difficult questions faced by a company to ensure that the product is successful and the customers are satisfied.

In other words, as a UX researcher you will get to have a real, measurable impact. Something that academia is very unlikely to offer.

2. Any PhD with any PhD background can be trained in UX

UX is a multidisciplinary field. it doesn’t matter what your background is as a PhD, you can find a fulfilling career as a UX researcher.

It doesn’t matter if your background is STEM, non STEM. If your PhD is in the humanities, social sciences, life sciences, chemistry, physical sciences, or other.

In fact, UX researcher is currently the number 1 PhD-level position for non-STEM PhDs because of their experience with qualitative research and their ability to empathize with the needs of the customer.

Employers will hire you for your ability to understand and perform quantitative and qualitative research and your knowledge of data analysis. This is something that all PhDs excel at.

Of course, you might have an advantage if you apply to positions where you will be working with products you are already familiar with. But this is not a limiting factor because virtually all industries are currently hiring UX researchers.

This includes technology, software, banking, insurance, media, education, web

development, marketing, retail, telecommunications, advertising, entertainment, e-commerce, automotive, government, hospitality, and military.

And the types of companies that hire UX researchers continue to expand every day as more companies understand the impact of UX on profitability.

Don’t let your background become a limiting factor when it comes to finding the right industry career for you.

3. PhDs already have the transferable skills required for UX roles

Most of the skills you need to excel as a UX researcher are things that you have extensively trained during grad school.

We already mentioned the ability to perform qualitative and quantitative research and the ability to analyze data. This is the basis of any PhD program. All PhDs excel at research and analysis and you are not the exception.

Outstanding UX researchers also need communication and collaboration skills. These are also things you trained during your PhD.

As a PhD, you had to present your data and collaborate with others within and outside your research group to complete your project.

The main catch here is that as a UX researcher, you will work in a cross-functional environment.

You will have to interact with designers, engineers, and products managers, among others.

You will have to communicate the results of your research to stakeholders and help them understand why you are recommending one action over another.

This might require you to use a language that is different from what you are used to in academia. But you already have the basics covered. 

You just need to do some networking with industry professionals and other PhDs who have already transitioned into UX to adapt your communication and collaboration style to the needs of the position.
As long as you commit to executing an industry job search strategy, this shouldn’t be a problem.

4. UX professionals are highly valuable (and highly paid) in industry

The reason why UX researchers are paid so much is because they don’t just get the technical data or understand these technical concepts. They have to translate everything they do into business concepts and be able to explain it to a non-technical audience.

This position gives a great opportunity to work at the intersection of research and business.

You get to do the research and interact with the design and product development teams, but you also get to interact with stakeholders and decision makers. You get to influence the most relevant decisions pertaining to your products.

An outstanding UX researcher will save time and money for their company and as a consequence, will be one of the most valuable employees of that company.

So, this position will also open many doors for career progression.

Concluding Remarks

User Experience (UX) researcher is currently one of the top-paying and most sought after careers for PhDs. You should consider pursuing a career as a UX researcher because it will allow you to make a real impact in the world, you can excel at this position no matter your PhD background, you already have the most relevant skills necessary for the role, and because UX researchers are among the most valued employees at different companies across industries. Transitioning into UX research will ensure that you get a fulfilling career where you are valued as a PhD.

If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

Book a Transition Call
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly

ABOUT ISAIAH HANKEL, PHD

CEO, CHEEKY SCIENTIST & SUCCESS MENTOR TO PHDS

Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by millions of PhDs and other professionals in hundreds of different countries. He has helped PhDs transition into top companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Intel, Dow Chemical, BASF, Merck, Genentech, Home Depot, Nestle, Hilton, SpaceX, Tesla, Syngenta, the CDC, UN and Ford Foundation.

Dr. Hankel has published 3X bestselling books and his latest book, The Power of a PhD, debuted on the Barnes & Noble bestseller list. His methods for getting PhDs hired have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Nature, Forbes, The Guardian, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine.

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Similar Articles

3 Entry-Level PhD Jobs Pay Six Figures A Year

3 Entry-Level PhD Jobs Pay Six Figures A Year

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I was determined to stay in academia… until I wasn’t.  It took almost six years for me to reach the conclusion that academia just wasn’t for me.  My PhD defense was just a few months away, and I can’t lie: I was literally willing myself to stick it out. But what about after that? Professorship had been the goal for me before I ever even enrolled in college. It had been my dream. I had absolutely no idea what to do if it wasn’t going to teach. I knew what I didn’t want: I didn’t want to be tethered to…

5 Positions In Biopharma Perfect For Any PhD

5 Positions In Biopharma Perfect For Any PhD

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

It was by chance that I even considered a career in biopharma.  As far as I was concerned, academia was all there was. The world of industry was a big question mark to me, and that was fine. I found myself working on a postdoc, waiting for a tenure-track position to open up.  At first, it was exciting: a real, paying job as a PhD-level scientist. I showed up early, stayed late, and was happy to do it.  But a change happened, gradually. There was so much repetition in my day, and so much emphasis on performing tasks that required…

Top 5 Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

Top 5 Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

From the time I started graduate school, there was only one point in the future that I could focus on: the finish line. I was swept up in my own expectations and also caught up in what I thought was expected of me. But something I hadn’t given much thought to was what I actually wanted to do. I was about six months away from defending my thesis. That’s when I started to give some serious thought to what would happen after I added the “Dr.” to my name. It’s when I began to admit to myself that academia was…

Spin The Hard Knocks Of Academia To Your Advantage To Get Hired

Spin The Hard Knocks Of Academia To Your Advantage To Get Hired

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Something that comes up a lot when I talk to new PhDs is that they think they don’t have enough on-the-job experience to apply for the high earning jobs they’re perfect for. I see this imposter syndrome prevent PhDs from even trying to apply for jobs – and puts a stop to their journey to getting hired in industry. So they settle.  For academia, where they don’t have job security.  For jobs that pay less and don’t value their abilities.  For a job they’re not interested in and don’t want, but they think it gets them “started” in industry when…

6 Rewarding Careers In Research Policy, Funding & Government

6 Rewarding Careers In Research Policy, Funding & Government

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

An indomitable spirit is a rare quality, but not among PhDs. Perseverance is a prerequisite that comes standard with every doctorate.  It seems like there’s no shortage of things that can stand in the way when you’re pursuing a terminal degree. Yet I’ve only met a handful of PhDs who weren’t cut out for the hardships of academia. They made it past the gauntlet of frustrating academic advisors, endless hours in the lab, and year upon year of compounding stress. But there are some things that arise that you simply can’t prepare yourself to push through. Sometimes life happens. PhDs…

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies January 7, 2023

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies January 7, 2023

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

4 Red-Hot Intellectual Property Positions For PhDs

4 Red-Hot Intellectual Property Positions For PhDs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I just got off the phone with an old friend of mine.  We were researchers at the same lab back in our university days. We had lost touch, but when he found me on LinkedIn I couldn’t wait to hear what he’s done since graduation.  He told me he had not wound up in chemistry, which had been his major. Biomolecular chemistry, he reminded me. Instead, he decided to pursue a career in patent law.  Here’s his transition story: I was in the process of earning my PhD in biomolecular chemistry. That’s where I learned that patents were unrecognized by…

4 Oddly Popular PhD Careers In Finance And Business

4 Oddly Popular PhD Careers In Finance And Business

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

PhDs in the sciences and humanities are not qualified to work in finance or business. At least that’s what I thought. That was until I started hearing more of my former colleagues talk about their transition into consulting and financial service roles. These were people who specialized in very niche areas of science. I was surprised to learn that their skills were needed in the financial and business sectors of industry. What can a PhD in the sciences or humanities possibly contribute to finance and business? As always, it comes down to your transferable skills. These sectors are seeking highly…

PhD Careers In Clinical, Medical, And Regulatory Affairs

PhD Careers In Clinical, Medical, And Regulatory Affairs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I was defending my PhD in 6 months, and I still had no idea what I wanted to do. What job did I want? Where did I see myself in 5 to 10 years? My goal was to get out of academia and into industry – and as quickly as possible. Beyond that, I hadn’t thoroughly considered my options. In fact, when I finally sat down to apply for jobs, I blindly searched for open positions using standard terms: “Researcher,” “Scientist,” “Biologist,” and so on. As a science PhD, that’s what I was qualified for, right? What I didn’t appreciate…

Here's What Others Are Saying

"I'm happy to share that I'm stating a new position as Medical Science Liaison at Celltrion Healthcare Co, Ltd.!"

Tammy Virdi

Tammy Virdi

MSL

at Celltrion Healthcare Co, Ltd

"I would like to express my appreciation and assure that your school was eye-openning, thanks! I registered on your course 2 months ago and from total ghosting I ended up with a dream job in biotech."

Petro Starokadomskyy

Petro Starokadomskyy

Senior Scientist

at Kyverna Therapeutics

"I'm happy to share that I will be starting a new position as MSL at Sanofi! I want to thank everyone that took the time to speak with me about their MSL experience and to help me land this position!"

John Crawford

John Crawford

MSL-Vaccines

at Sanofi

"I'm excited to share that I am starting a new position as Senior Research and Development Engineer at CORMETECH!"

Carlos Garcia

Carlos Garcia

Senior Research And Development Enginee

at CORMETECH

"Hi Isaiah - I just want to inform you that I've accepted a job offer from Sandoz, Inc. I want to say a special thank you to you and your dedicated staff for all your help and support throughout the job search stage."

Odeniel Sertil

Odeniel Sertil

Manager, Regulatory Affairs Biosimilars

at Sandoz, Inc.

"Thrilled to announce that I have joined a new role as a Research Associate at HJF to work at the WRAIR. Very excited to join a dedicated and brilliant team working to eradicate HIV. Thanks to my family, friends, and fellow Cheeky associates for their support in my job hunt journey.""

 Lakshmi Rani Iyer

Lakshmi Rani Iyer

Research Associate

at HJF

"I'm happy to share that I'm starting a new position as Device and Date Scientist at Intel Corporation!"

Darpan Verma

Darpan Verma

Device & Data Scientist

at Intel Corporation

"I am delighted to announce that I have accepted the role of Research Scientist with a base salary of 90k. The cheeky scientist resources have helped me immensely and I am really grateful."

Amninder Singh Sekhon

Amninder Singh Sekhon

Research Scientist

"I got an offer at Estée Lauder! I accepted the offer since it is a great company and less than 15 min away. I don't have to worry about relocating."

Ivan Peran

Ivan Peran

at Estée Lauder

"The decision is final - it is Cormetech!"

Carlos Vargas Garcia

Carlos Vargas Garcia

at Cormetech

"I proceeded with the offer we were discussing and i signed the contract a few days ago. I would like to thank you so much for your support throughout this process. it was really helpful and beneficial!"

Samir Tohme

Samir Tohme

Project Engineer, Optical Development & Simulation Expert

at EDL Rethschulte GmbH (FEV Group)

"Thanks to Cheeky Scientist, I now have an offer letter in my hand and a new career in the industry, which makes me incredibly happy and excited for the future. The training Cheeky Scientist provided was successful since it helped me to carefully consider my skills and improve how I approached my job search. I gained more confidence talking to recruiters and engaging in on-site interviews thanks to the many training modules and live sessions Cheeky Scientist offered. I had a lot of back-and-forth interactions with prospective employers as offers came in, and Cheeky Scientist helped me be a good negotiator. Through Cheeky Scientist, I could ultimately search for, negotiate, and select my best career route."

Vishnu Modur

Vishnu Modur

Clinical Trial Associate/Manager

at Medspace

"I am happy to share I am starting a new position! Excited to start this position with excellent colleagues!"

Tanumoy Mondul

Tanumoy Mondul

Senior Scientist

at Sanofi

"I’m excited to share that i am starting my new job as a technical support engineer at lumencor, inc. the ultimate goal is to grow potatoes on mars by 2050 and make other advaces for mankind."

 Andrii Repula

Andrii Repula

Technical Support Engineer

at Lumencor, Inc.

"I started working with you all back in October 2022 and it took me about four months to secure my new role. I actually had two six figure salary offers in the learning and development arena! One was from a prestigious HBCU and the other one was with a scientific research organization. I signed my six figure offer letter for a Head of Talent Development role with the scientific research organization on March 1st. I negotiated and received a $7,500 increase in salary and I also received an increase in my relocation package. I cannot thank you all enough!"

Dr. Rhonda Anderson

Dr. Rhonda Anderson

Head of Talent Development

at Southern Research

Top Industry Career eBooks

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the best 63 industry careers for PhDs (regardless of your academic background). In this eBook, you will gain insight into the most popular, highest-paying jobs for PhDs – all of which will allow you to do meaningful work AND get paid well for it.

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Learn how to craft the perfect industry resume to attract employers. In this eBook for PhDs, you will get access to proven resume templates, learn how to structure your bullet points, and discover which keywords industry employers want to see most on PhD resumes.

AI & ATS Resume Filters

AI & ATS Resume Filters

Isaiah Hankel

In today's competitive job market, understanding the impact of AI is crucial for career success. This involves ensuring your resume stands out in the digital realm, mastering your online presence, and being aware of how AI assigns reputation scores. Discovering how to leverage AI to your advantage is essential, as it plays a pivotal role in shaping professional opportunities.

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel

The LinkedIn tips & strategies within have helped PhDs from every background get hired into top industry careers.