When you meet someone new in the US, usually the second question out of their mouth is, “So, what do you do?” No matter what I say, 95% of the time I get a blank stare in return, and I’m tired of it! I’ve tried switching up my responses, gauging what the other person might know or care to know, and I miss almost every time. I’ve tried, “qualitative researcher.” Blank stare. Before I quit my job I would say, “Researcher for [big insurance company].” Still no one knew what I did, but at least they had a brand name to hold on to. Ethnographer. Design Researcher. Anthropologist that does research for design/that works with designers. Blank stare.
If I include a bit about “customer” or “consumer” research, people usually then ask, “Oh, like market research?” And if I don’t want to see you again or just don’t care, I’ll respond, “yes.” Because at that point I’ve given up. But it’s not an effin survey that I hand out, like those shitty polls taken at the end of a customer service interaction over the phone. Once people ask about surveys and I’m feeling rather cheeky, I’ll explain that I do interviews or focus groups, even observe people over the course of their day, understanding life from their perspective. Then I’ll use that information to help make products and services. Blank stare. By this point, it’s been about five minutes, and I’m sick of hearing myself, and this other person, this poor sap, this friend of a friend of a friend is really wishing they did not sit down next to me at dinner.
I guess none of us really understand the intricacies of each other’s day-to-day experiences on the job, but at least for some jobs we have caricatures of what the job is like, imagery that we can see in our minds. You tell me nurse, I picture baby blue scrubs, needles, banging doctors in the on-call room (because I love ER, and sshhh, Grey’s Anatomy). That’s not what nurses do (maybe), but it’s great imagery.
I really like what I do, and now that I’m freelancing I have to be better at how I talk about it. But I’m so tempted when someone asks me, “so, what do you do?” to say pilot, film producer, brain surgeon, detective, anything that main characters on TV shows do.