Be All That You Can Be: Be A Research Mentor


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In Canada, there are very few schools that specialize in teaching the skill of market research at the undergraduate level. In fact, I only know one.

Now, there are many, many programs that inclde a couple courses in statistics, or research design, or marketing. These at least provide some fundamental knowledge so that when you hear a term later on, you at least recognize that it is a term. If you can’t find an MR program, the next best thing is to do a degree in psychology, sociology, geography, or marketing. I may be biased but I think the best option is a major in psychology with a minor in marketing. You can see though, that even if you create an optimal program, none of these focus on the art and science of MR as its own academic area.

Even those folks who go on to earn graduate degrees fall into the same bucket. Psychology graduate students do their research on psychology topics and probably never take a marketing course. Their research skills are top notch but an internalized perspective on marketing is lacking. And, marketers do their research in marketing and don’t have the background in social psychology to better understand why people buy the way they buy.

What it means is that most new market researchers come to the table with serious gaps in knowledge. They must resort to learning on the job. If they’re lucky, the person who trains them is a wonderful mentor with many years of experience. But those folks are few and not always readily available to the junior folk. What is more likely the case is that someone barely senior to them tells them just enough to get the job done because they are still trying to learn the skills themselves. In my case, the only mentor I had was an intro marketing textbook that I picked up at a used book store.

We are fortunate that our MR societies have ongoing training courses and certification. Unfortunately, these cost money and new graduates just don’t have that kind of cash. Nor do their employers have money to invest in a newbie. Which means a lot of people in the MR industry are not as skilled as they should be.

Maybe this is partly why our industry is struggling through data quality issues. Not enough people understand the psychology behind survey answering. Not enough people understand the myriad precise techniques of writing survey questions. This lack of MR skills leads to bad surveys which leads to bad survey experiences and results in declining response rates.

So, here’s my idea. It’s not new. If you work with newbies, be that missing link. Be a mentor. Teach them everything you can. Send them to conferences. Make the time to set up lunch and learns not because you have to, but because its the right thing to do. Invest in your company by financing their CMRP certification. This will lead to a better research product, happier employees, and a stronger company.

I thank you, and your newbies thank you too!

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