After a long stint in academia–including one year as a research assistant at Stanford University doing user-centered research for Netflix–Yipeng Wang decided it was time to land a job in the “real world.” Before, her goal was to obtain her Ph.D. and become a tenured professor of psychology, but with dozens of universities pausing Ph.D. programs during the pandemic, she was unable to land any offers.
Now, she’s a UX researcher at Google, where she does usability testing and user research for Google Workspace products including Google Docs, Google Slides, and Google Sheets. Doing UX research in the industry is very different from academia, said Yipeng, where you start with a hypothesis and your goal is to prove or disprove it using a set of established research methods. UX research, on the other hand, is much more open-ended.
“In the industry, it’s a different story because you know nothing before you start the research,” she said. “For example, before I reach out to my research participants, I don't know what I’m going to get from the research or what kind of answers they might provide. Everything is uncertain and sometimes you get nothing from the study so you have to go back and change the survey questions.”
I have a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in psychology. For a long time, my plan was to get a Ph.D., enter the world of academia and become a professor at a university.
After I finished my master’s degree, I applied for a Ph.D. program and l didn't get any offers, probably due to the COVID situation. Lots of programs have been cut and certain professors are no longer accepting new Ph.D. students. So I decided to choose another path to see what else I can do.
After all my Ph.D. applications were rejected, I started desperately searching online about what you can do with a master’s degree in psychology. I found a list of 50 jobs and I saw something at the very bottom of the list about the UX field. That was the first time I had ever heard about user experience. I thought this looks interesting. Maybe I can give it a try.
I chose the UX research path, which relies heavily on your research abilities. This kind of task might be a little bit hard for a bachelor’s student, but if you have a master’s degree, you have much more experience with research, which helps you stand out.
I’m on the Google Workspace team, which is a very large team. We basically work on products like Google Docs, Google Slides and Google Sheets--all the Google products people use for work. My job is to conduct user research to understand how our users feel about our product. Is there any way we can improve certain features? How do our users feel about new features or redesigns? Most of what I do is usability testing but also more fundamental research to understand who our users are, their background, and their needs.
I love it. All the participants I interview are very pleasant and very eager to share their opinions on how we can improve the products, especially because so many people use Google Workspace these days.
Before I took the Springboard bootcamp, I had already started to look for jobs. I submitted lots of applications, but I didn’t get any feedback or interviews, so that was very disappointing. After that experience, I realized there must be a gap between the academic world, where I had spent most of my time, and the real world.
Then I found Springboard. I enrolled in the bootcamp and I realized there was a difference between academia and the industry. So I changed the way I thought about the job search and how I wrote my resume, and that’s when I started to land interviews.
I compared lots of different bootcamps, but Springboard was the only one that provides you with an opportunity to work with a real company through the Industry Design Project. Since I have a strong academic background, the only thing I needed was industry experience. Overall, I really loved the Springboard experience because my mentor is also a UX researcher like me, which is pretty rare, and he also had a master’s degree in social science.
He was just so nice and he always encouraged me to keep doing what I'm doing. When I first started at Springboard, I was kind of disenchanted by the job search and I was feeling sad. He was there to say, “Look, you have all these skills. It just takes time for you to understand how to apply them to the industry, and for the market to understand your value.”
To me, fitness in general seems to be more of a female thing. When my male friends talk about fitness, they talk about gaining muscle, not about losing weight. So there’s a different focus between males and females when it comes to fitness. Women often think they’re overweight or their bodies don’t look good, and there’s a lot of shame associated with it. So I wanted to build a female-only community so people could share their true feelings.
I worked with a company called Appetizer Mobile for just over two months. They are an agency that creates design and does user research for their clients. I dabbled in a bit of UI/UX, but for the most part, I focused on UX research. The company was very flexible about letting you choose which kinds of projects you want to do.
I chose a project related to games because I really love playing video games. So I conducted user research to evaluate their existing game designs based on whether it meets the user’s goals.
I would say my mentor, but besides that, I also loved the Industry Design Project. I worked with a startup, but with help from me and the other Springboard students, they’ll be launching some new projects later this year. It’s the first time I actually saw my research make an impact on a real-world project and I can see how many users are already using the product.
Just be patient because the job market is crazy right now and it’s very hard for entry-level and junior-level designers to get a job. But as long as you complete the bootcamp, create a good capstone project and do everything you can to build your skills, you will be ready to enter the job market when the time comes, and you will get an offer that you really love.