The Many Pathways into Research Ops

Five years ago, Research Operations wasn’t really a thing — the average Research Operations professional has been in their role less than 2 years. The rise of User Research has led to more companies valuing and demanding User Research, an increase in User Research hires, and the need to develop processes that scale. And thus, the Research Ops profession was born 🐣. And with it, many questions:

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We did some LinkedIn scraping and sleuthing with a sample of 500 Research Ops professionals to answer some of these questions and shed more light on the growing field of Research Ops. 🕵️‍♂️ 🔬

Percentages are based on data scraped from 500 Research Ops roles on LinkedIn.

What are the most common Research Ops titles?

Maybe you’ve noticed, but there is not one universal title that describes the Research Ops role. This is because Research Ops actually comes in a LOT of flavors, something A’verria Martin, Head of Research Ops at ServiceNow, aptly detailed in a recent talk. Research Ops roles vary greatly — some focus just on participant management while others specialize in knowledge management.

Here are the top 5 titles for Research Ops roles. Hopefully this will give a better insight into who is doing Research Ops in your org or what to search for when trying to get a Research Ops role.

Top Five Titles:
  • Research Operations Manager
  • Research Operations Specialist
  • Research Operations Coordinator
  • Research Operations Lead
  • Research Operations Program Manager

What type of background do Research Ops professionals have?

Not every Research Ops professional comes from a UX Research background. There are backgrounds that are a natural fit for a Research Ops role and then there are some that are a total  180 pivot — like a paralegal or fitness instructor.

Of the Research Ops professionals we scraped, 19% had previously been in Program / Project Manager roles. The next most prominent background was UX Research. Other backgrounds we saw include Pharmacy Technician, HR, Librarian, Behavioral Science, Education, Design, and Communications. See the table below for more details.

We determined the categories above and which backgrounds fit where after examining the 500 Research Ops roles we scraped on LinkedIn.

Why the pivot?

You may be looking at some of those backgrounds and scratching your head. Us, too. So, we decided to ask some of these pivoters why they made the switch into Research Ops and if or how they’ve utilized their background in their new role.

Before transitioning into her current role as a UX Research Recruiting Coordinator, Regina Gettig was an SDR at Teachers Pay Teachers. “The ability to work with a smaller team, interact with a wide variety of users, and be more independent in my work,” were reasons why Regina made the transition.

Michelle Miles used to work in the Accessibility department for an art museum. During the pandemic, she began to explore other avenues. “The world of UX felt like the perfect space for me to continue pursuing one of my passions: to emphasize the opportunities for innovation that exist when we address barriers (specifically the barriers faced by disabled folks) creatively, and collaboratively.”

While exploring User Research, Michelle found herself drawn to Research Ops. “It felt relevant to my background in interfacing between an organization and its audience to ensure thoughtful communication and inclusive, ethical practices, and also because it aligned with my passion for making information accessible.” Now, Michelle is the Research Ops Manager at Square.

In her current Research Ops role, Regina similarly utilizes her background and the skills she gained as an SDR such as good communication, best practices when speaking to key stakeholders, efficient teamwork, and organization.

Agustina Di Clemente was in customer care before she entered her current Research Ops role. “I had no experience in the field, but loads of knowledge of our customer’s behavior and I was very happy to bring that expertise to the team.”

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Agustina said everything she learned in customer care was key to her success in Research Ops. “Having a holistic view of our users’ behavior helps me segment and recruit the correct users for each piece of research,” she said. “It’s also helped me have some tricks and tools to access data and be faster in my daily tasks.”

For those looking to pivot, Regina suggested learning as much as you can both before and after taking on the role. “Each organization conducts research a little differently, so be flexible and open to building relationships with people on different teams, not just the Research team.”

Agustina did the exactly what Regina suggested, taking Research courses to prep for interviews. “But I found that there were no specific courses focused on Research Ops,” she said.  Despite this, she realized that there are other things that can prepare you for a role in Research Ops. “This role goes with the flow of your personality — if you’re methodical, organized, creative, and like to collaborate with people, then you’re on the right path!”

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Through her transition into Research Ops, Michelle realized that any and all backgrounds are relevant. A former manager gave her this advice, “Your product is the Research Ops discipline in your org. You are a product team of 1, and your users are your stakeholders (Researchers, PMs, PMMs, Designers, etc) and research participants. You have to start by identifying your users’ needs, come up with solutions in response to them — don’t be afraid to test them out! — craft them with good UX, and implement effective marketing to bring people on board.”

Research Ops is about “taking the hassle of the admin stuff and enabling the Researchers (or non-researchers) to focus on their job” — something Agustina has discovered she’s super passionate about. Being flexible, open-minded, and creative when tackling challenges is important. “The most rewarding thing I like to hear is ‘Thanks, this has been super fast and helpful,’ when a piece of research is completed.”

Luckily, “people transition into this field from a ton of diverse backgrounds, and most are willing to chat with you about it,” Michelle said. The Research Ops community is a great resource for finding guidance when looking to transition, don’t be afraid to reach out.

What skills transfer well into Research Ops?

During her presentation, A’verria described her own path into Research Ops and skills she thinks translate well into Research Ops:

Based on A'verria's talk she gave at a Learner's conference in June 2022.

As you can see, there are MANY skills that you may already possess that can set you up for a successful career in Research Ops.

Which industries have the most Research Ops roles?

Some industries are ahead of others in having the desire and resources to add Research Ops roles to their team. From our scrape, we found that 34% of Research Ops roles are in Software Development, with 21% in Technology, Information, & Internet, and 14% in Financial Services.

Industry names are based on the database of industries found in LinkedIn.

Now you know the top industries for Research Ops roles, but it’s still worth mentioning the industries that had far less Research Ops professionals — we’re talking less than 5% and often only 1% of the total we scraped. Those industries include Accounting, Freight and Package Transportation, Primary and Secondary Education, Sporting Goods Manufacturing, Computer Games, Insurance, Food and Beverage Services, and Wellness and Fitness Services.

What size of organization has the most Research Ops roles?

Based on our scrape, 64% of Research Ops professionals are in companies with 1000+ employees and 41% are in companies with 10,000+ employees. About 25% of professionals are in companies of 1,000 or less.

Of the 500 Research Ops roles that we scraped, based on title, 47% were at companies of 10,000+ employees.

As the Research Ops profession continues to grow, we’re excited to follow along and see how this data and the answers to these questions change.

Curious to learn more about Research Ops?

Read highlights from our panel “Building Research Ops from the Ground Up” where Research Ops leaders Crystal Kubitsky from MongoDB and Tiffany Stanfield from Pendo discussed:

🛣 Their paths into Research Ops

🏆 How to show the value of Research Ops

💥 How to define the highest impact ReOps priorities

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