Qualitative Research: From Academia to Market Research


Anyone who knows me well agrees: I was in school a long time. I’m certainly not complaining because I loved it. Hiding from the real world until I was approaching my late 20s? Perhaps. But I had some great ¬†formative experiences and the skills I learned have proved invaluable as I’ve embarked on my professional career, not to mention a pair of graduate degrees that perhaps no one else in the world has!

Once I wrapped up my second graduate program in the humanities and had decided I didn’t want to teach, I knew I had to figure out what the heck I was going to do professionally with the qualitative research, writing and deep analysis/synthesis skills I had honed in undergraduate and graduate school. Not to mention that I needed to find a field that would help me pay off the mounting stack of student loan debt from five years of graduate school!

Enter fate. One of my PhD advisors at Indiana University dropped me a tip in class one day that was to become the basis for my future career. He casually mentioned that there were plenty of professional opportunities for we social scientist and humanities types trained in qualitative research methods outside of academia. A ha! I knew I had to find out more about this, so I set an appointment with my advisor to discuss. The first field he mentioned that I should explore was market research. So, I did. I had taken whole courses devoted to qualitative research methods, so when I began to self-educate on market research, concepts like “focus groups,” “subjects” and “surveys” were very familiar. This whole new world of research outside of academia had been opened up to me, and this was getting very exciting indeed! I could continue to do what I loved–design, execute and analyze research–and not have to deal with teaching bratty 19-year-olds.

My first real exposure into market research was when my mom introduced me to a woman whose New Jersey-based market research company had previously done projects in collaboration with my mom’s team at work. They had an upcoming food and beverage new product development project, and they needed someone to write the report deck for the focus group research being conducted on the East Coast. I chatted with the woman (who was the President of the company) briefly, and she kindly decided to give me a shot! I signed the necessary NDAs and tax paper work, and she sent me over the project details and focus group recordings and transcripts soon thereafter. The project went well, and within a couple weeks I delivered my first market research report deck to the client!