from software to soft skills: A UXR internship reflection

If you’re new here, I did a summer internship at Meta where I worked as a Qualitative UXR on an internal mixed-methods research project. I had a lot of fun, but at least once a week someone on my team asked me if I was stressed. Possibly because my resting face gives off stressed girl energy, but maybe other interns expressed feeling overwhelmed and they wanted to check in. Who knows? 

I don’t really think there was a time during my internship where I felt stressed about my project. Meta has a really great on-boarding plan and my intern manager was very diligent in preparing my project materials. When it came to actually planning and executing my project I felt that I had all the skills I needed to be successful. 

I waited for the imposter syndrome to show up and it never did? After a chat with another UXR about these check-ins and feelings, it became apparent that I wasn’t feeling overwhelmed because I knew how to do research. It was a weird lightbulb moment. I’ve been doing research since I was a sophomore in undergrad, that’s 6 years of research experience. Maybe I hadn’t done formal qualitative research but I’ve sent surveys to grads in my department and assembled a key findings document to share with faculty. I had relevant experience and I knew how to apply it. 

From software to softskills, here’s what prepared me for this internship:

  1. Jamovi – I have a decent background in statistics. Enough to know what I don’t know. I didn’t need any statistical knowledge in this role more than ANOVAs and linear regressions. My team recommended just using SPSS for analysis but getting an SPSS license was a headache. Jamovi is a free version of SPSS that I picked up as a research methods TA. It also can be integrated with R and you can add packages to suit what you need. It’s pretty user friendly and I used it a fair amount for quick data exploration. 

  2. R (kind of) – I’m well versed in R. I learned it throughout my first year of grad school and refined that learning by forcing myself to use it to clean, analyze, and visualize my own research projects. A majority of people on my UX team didn’t know R and I totally could have done fine without it but it was helpful for data visualizations and cleaning.

  3. Qualtrics – Knowing about branch logic and embedded data was a savior. I didn’t waste a week taking a Qualtrics bootcamp and figuring out how to navigate all its features and so I was able to hit the ground running. If you don’t know how to use Qualtrics try setting up an account and messing around with the features and survey builder. 

  4. Google Drive – Don’t laugh! Everything I ever did at my internship was on the internal Google Drive. If you know how much I love Keynote then you can imagine how quickly my nose wrinkled at the thought of using Google slides. Despite the initial horror, it made sense. Teams in industry are collaborative, way more than anything I’ve done before. They share slide decks and notes/blog posts with everyone. The most user friendly way to do that is Google Drive. It’s grown on me, now that I’ve learned about Templates and add-on packages. In general, I do use Google Drive for most of my projects so knowing about doc, sheets, and jam-board functionalities was useful.

  5. Graphic design skills – If you’ve never taken a graphic design class, you should! Even if you’re not interested in industry, being able to design an aesthetically pleasing talk or figure is useful. From high school to college, I designed yearbooks with my now husband. He’s really the visual aesthetics person as a video editor but I can hold my own in font and graphic conversations. Some of graphic design is personal style, but a lot of it is learning to leverage techniques that can be taught. Being able to convey a takeaway using statement text or a well crafted figure is a useful skill in either workplace. Something like this course!

  6. Individual development plan (IDP) creation – I created an IDP based off Barbara Sarnecka’s suggestions in the Writing Workshop my first month of graduate school. I use it all the time to make sure my projects are progressing and I’m meeting milestones. My PI has access to it for accountability, but it’s really just for me. This summer, having a place to keep track of my deliverables, impact, and projects was key. My intern manager had created a Gantt chart for me before I arrived, and we used it every day to stay on top of my progress. 

  7. Preregistration/Research Plan – I didn’t start using preregistrations until graduate school, and at Meta they take the form of research plans. I worked with my team to plan my project and before I could do any data collection I had to submit the entire research plan to the internal IRB. Knowing how to construct a well thought out research plan stemmed from my experience writing preregistrations. 

  8. Blog posts – Writing blog posts helped me write my research summaries and literature reviews at Meta. They don’t want academic jargon; they want an easy read with some visuals. Even when I thought I had eliminated all the academic jargon, I still got comments about how my writing was too academic (which I took as a weird compliment). Anyway, making things consumable for general audiences is a skill that serves everyone. 

  9. Project Briefs – Each week my UXR team met to deliver project updates and being able to quickly summarize where I was on my project and any blockers was a skill I came in with. As a graduate mentor to undergrads, I make my RAs practice this every other week in our team meeting. Each RA and myself is assigned a project that they deliver an update on. Other RAs can ask them questions and they can ask for support on recruitment, coding, data, etc. When I was away this summer, I had them continue this in the form of updates to our Slack project channel. 

  10. Asking for help – I’m pretty good at knowing when I’m blocked. I’m worse at knowing when I should ask someone or when I should keep troubleshooting on my own, but my general rule of thumb is one day of troubleshooting if it’s something I’m relatively familiar with and an hour if it’s new or if I know someone who’s better at it than I am. Using this rule made it easy to know when to ping someone on my team for help.

There were probably lots of other skills I came in with that made my internship easier, but all of them were likely products of being a lab manager and a graduate student. Of course, this internship was still a learning experience! 

Here are some things I learned during my internship:

  1. SQL – If I wanted an already existing dataset I had to query it using SQL logic. I still don’t really know all the intricacies of SQL but I acquired enough knowledge to be able to find what I need. This, I learned, is the perfect middle ground. My team has data scientists whose job it was to pull these queries for me, but if I wanted something right away, knowing how to pull it myself was useful. I didn’t try and do anything fancy when someone else was an expert. It’s important to know when to play to your strengths versus someone else’s.

  2. Lookback for Interviews – I conducted a two part research project. Part 1 was a large scale Qualtrics survey and Part 2 was an unmoderated interview. Lookback was super intuitive to use for the interviews, but other folks on my team also used UserTesting and good ole Zoom as their interview platform. I don’t know if I’ll ever use this platform again but having knowledge of tools that may be useful in the future is always nice. 

  3. Share early and often – This was a phrase that occurred throughout my internship. When I had any sort of early finding or working project design, I got feedback from my immediate team. In general, never let early stage feedback be what holds you up. Getting feedback early and often actually makes you iterate faster in the long run because you’re not going back at the end and finding out you made a step 1 mistake. It saves lots of time. 

Overall, this internship taught me a lot about project management and how to lead a team through a project while balancing many perspectives. I felt confident that graduate school and my research experiences prepared me to succeed in this internship and that I came away from this experience a stronger researcher because I tried something new.

Alexis Smith-Flores
Alexis Smith-Flores
PhD student in Experimental Psychology

My research interests include infant social cognition, emotion reasoning, and object representation.