Transitioning from Academia to Industry: Becoming a UX Design Researcher

2021 Intern Cohort Spotlight:

We sat down (virtually) with Dr. Feras Klenk, our newest team member, and second-ever User Experience Research Intern as part of our first-ever peer-based Internship Cohort for 2021.

1. Where do you go to school and what did you study?

I went to the University of Arizona, School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies in Tucson, Arizona to obtain my doctorate in Socio-Cultural Studies of the Contemporary Middle East. 

2. Why did you choose that major?

I have always been fascinated by people and their dynamic inter-relationship with broader socio-cultural, political, and economic structures and environments. Building on my earlier training in international studies and political science, I pivoted toward the socio-cultural track because I became interested in the interconnections between questions of power, culture, representation and the economy as it pertained in the Gulf and only an ethnographic analysis would do. 

3.What’s been your favorite college course so far?

During the course of my doctoral training I have taken a variety of courses both within my major but also outside in the history, anthropology, and geography departments. Among my favorite classes during that period of my life was Ethnography of the Middle East: Issues and Methods. This class provided me with practical training in ethnographic and qualitative methodologies in addition to grant writing skills necessary to carry out long-term fieldwork. 

 4. Do you have any secret talents?

When I was a Phd student, I was part of a department based think-tank that regularly wrote think pieces and op-eds on a host of Middle East related issues.  I was among the cohort of writers. Also, I helped organize several academic conferences in person and virtual. Hence, I think I have an organizational and logistical background that academics are not known for. 

5. What is your dream job? 

My dream job would be to be part of a multi-disciplinary/cross-functional team that asks interesting questions, solves challenging problems, and is empathetic toward users when designing impactful solutions. Put another way, I want to be part of a collaborative research and design process that provides meaningful experiences to users via digital or physical products. 

6. What would you like to learn during your internship?

Design Thinking Skills 

Although I have been trained in social theory to apprehend and unpack different socio-cultural phenomena, to become successful in UX, it takes a different approach and mindset. Here, it is about designing impact and relevant experiences for users from an emphatic perspective. During the course of my internship, I want to improve and strengthen my understanding of design thinking through different iterative projects here at Key Medium.

Design Strategy Skills

In line with different mindset and purpose, it is important to remember that good design does not exist apart from the business world. It is critical to recall and place design within the context and needs of the business. I have a wonderful opportunity to see how the collaboration process unfolds, how design strategies are actually made and implemented, and improve my own design decisions. 

UX Research and Design Skills

Despite substantial overlap in ethnographic and UX research methodologies qualitative and quantitative there is still a gap between the two in terms of terminology, practice, and purpose. I earlier took a designlab course on UX research to begin my journey away from academia. In my internship at Key Medium, I want to continue that journey while deepening and solidifying my knowledge base on all things UX and gain hands-on experience with projects so I can share my story with others.

Project Management Skills

Working on my dissertation from a certain perspective was an exercise in project management. I had to plan ahead on which chapters to work on, their deadlines, and so forth. I am also a believer in continuous learning and at Key Medium, I can bridge the gap between them. During the course of my internship I want to hone my project management skills using software programs like Jira and Confluence while working with others. 

Communication Skills

I see communication as a field that encompasses a variety of styles, techniques, and mediums that reflects status, job occupation, personality, among others. In academia, at least in the United States it is very common to work individually on one’s own project so working with others on a collective project is a different but not unwelcome experience for me. During the course of my internship I want to improve my communication style from the interpersonal to work presentations so I can clearly and effectively express my ideas and thoughts while working with fellow employees, partners, and consultants. 

7. How was your onboarding experience? What did you think of our partners?

My onboarding experience was smooth, professional, and accommodating which I certainly appreciated. And I enjoyed meeting and brainstorming with our partners and look forward to working with them. 

Feras Klenk

Dr. Feras Klenk is a design researcher and ethnographer with over six years of fieldwork experience conducting international research in Europe and the Middle East. He has the proven expertise in translating human experience into actionable insights for design and innovation. He holds a PhD in the Social Sciences and is interested in the questions of economic development, entrepreneurship, and labor precarity.