On the brink of a key milestone in my career, I’ve been spending some time reflecting on my professional experiences to date – what I thought was important as a young graduate versus what I know now. What wisdom and advice could I possibly impart on someone on the flip side, or what would I tell a past-me.
I remember the first box of business cards arriving on my desk and thinking ‘this is it, I’m a researcher now’, being pretty chuffed the first time I got contacted by a company who wanted me, and the absolute devastation I felt landing a job that didn’t work out and questioning my fundamental value as a result.
So what really does matter? Here’s my advice for the younger me – and those starting out in the research industry.
Work hard: This one really is a no-brainer. It doesn’t matter what you do, hard work pays off. Be reliable, be curious, ask questions, understand the expectations for each task you do and take ownership.
Be a team player: Good research is grounded in teamwork – with colleagues, suppliers and clients. Enjoy successes as a team, and similarly wear the shared responsibility when things don’t go to plan.
Keep a work-life balance: Our industry will always require some flexibility around work hours, but it’s important to understand the time you spend in the office doesn’t quantify your value. Learn to manage your time, scope what you can realistically fit into a working week and deliver quality over quantity.
Find your people: Now this is an important one, and something that took me a while to figure out. Not everyone is going to like you, and not everywhere will equate your value to a job offer, job title or figure on a payslip. Guess what? It’s ok. Focus on finding someone or somewhere that does. This isn’t about quitting at the first crossroad, it’s about taking constructive feedback, assessing it in context and learning from it but not letting it undermine your confidence in your own ability.
Work for a business you can get behind: It’s really hard to stay passionate and motivated when you fundamentally don’t believe in what you do. Find a business that aligns with what matters to you and what you believe in, and that can encompass many forms – from the work environment through to knowing that you are offering your clients – or stakeholders if you are client-side – the best solution possible to meet their objectives.
Embrace your weaknesses: Very few people are great at all areas of the research process, and that’s ok too. Leverage your strengths and work hard to get to a level of competency in the areas that don’t come naturally to you.
Never have all the answers: Ask questions and surround yourself with people who know more than you. Research is about solving problems, so assuming you have all the answers will do nothing but prevent you from getting the best result.