Tale of a bursary student
Andy Connor was a social science student – then he won AQR’s Bursary, went on the Foundation Course, and his world was turned upside down
Its not easy being a social science student venturing into the real world. I was the archetypal social scientist, crossing studies of psychology, sociology, politics and social anthropology. I was fascinated by these disciplines, how they deconstructed the social world around us, trying to make sense of it from the micro to the macro-levels and offering solutions and advice.
After completing my degree I spent a year studying in the US. As time went by, however, I began to question the worth of remaining in academia. What would I study when my interests were still so wide-ranging? What impact would my academic research actually have? Would I end up as just a thinker, but never a do-er? I was hungry to turn my thoughts into action, not get trapped in the cozy closet of intellectual navel gazing.
So I returned to the UK ready to hit the job market. But while I knew what stimulated me in academia, surely, I thought, no job is going to pay me to do this in the business world. So for a number of months I interviewed uncertainly for jobs, ones that vaguely interested but never excited me.
One lucky day though, I saw an advert for a qualitative market research agency. Id never heard of such an industry before, and it seemed just what I was looking for. My excitement and further research led me to the AQR website, and there I stumbled upon the thing that I can say — without any hyperbole — has launched my career: the AQR Bursary for the Foundation Course in Qualitative Research.
I applied and won it. So, on to the course. Spread over five separate Fridays, the aim was to introduce what qualitative market research is (the theory) and more importantly, how to go about conducting and presenting a qualitative research study (the practice).
Week 1 was an intensive introduction to key areas of market research. Although taught in a lecture format, numerous practical exercises pleasingly kept us on our toes. Firstly, we discussed the group dynamics that researchers must deal with when conducting interviews — types of respondents and ways of dealing with them. Secondly, sample design looked at how to effectively choose the desired respondents. Thirdly, stimulus material covered techniques and materials that can elicit the best responses for answering a clients questions. Finally, we covered how to explain all this planning successfully in a discussion guide.
Week 2 began with a more in-depth session on interviewing skills. The real highlight of the day, however, was the chance to watch a live group being moderated by a professional. Through one-way glass we observed an hour-long moderation with real respondents about coffee and the hypothetical launch of a new brand. It was fascinating to see all the teaching come to life at this point — the emergence of respondent types, the use of stimulus material and other interviewing techniques, the moderators skill in pacing the session, and so on.
Week 3 took things to the next level. Having heard about conducting interviews, and having seen an interview conducted, today was the day we undertook the task ourselves. We had earlier been split up into four teams, each tackling a separate hypothetical client brief. In my teams study, Del Monte wanted to explore the possibility of entering the smoothie market.
Using another team as our respondents, we spent the session acting as a research agency to answer Del Montes questions. Each team had a professional market researcher viewing the whole interview. Afterwards we got the chance to watch a recording and hear their thoughts on how well (or not!) our individual interview sessions had gone. The whole day was very memorable. Theres nothing like throwing yourself into the deep end to learn a valuable lesson.
Week 4 involved teaching us about analysing and interpreting data, and successful ways of presenting findings to clients. We covered how to find and create meaning from the data and, therefore, be meaningful in the response to the clients objectives. Then a superb interactive session taught us the art of good public speaking.
Week 5 was the final test — the presentations. Each team presented their findings to a panel of three professional researchers acting as clients. It was a nerve-wracking experience — applying what wed learnt from the earlier weeks to create it all into a digestible, actionable client presentation. The researchers provided more valuable feedback at the end before awards were handed out.
Applying for and being awarded the AQR Bursary has had a tangible impact for me. I learnt the necessities of qualitative research, and had the opportunity to speak to employees in the industry who gave me first-hand insights into working in this world.
Fundamentally though, the course helped me focus my job search, confirming for me this was exactly the career I would love. And moreover, it sent the same message to prospective employers. Shortly after the course I was offered a job by Flamingo International at its office in Singapore. I am certain that without this AQR course behind me I would not have been in such a strong position approaching firms.
So my thanks go out again to the AQR for choosing me and for providing such an excellent course. I whole-heartedly recommend it. I believe its set me up for a hopefully successful career in the industry, and I hope it will continue to do the same for others in the future.
This article was first published in InBrief magazine, May 2008
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2008