We interviewed Nilam Shukla who currently works at OnePoll as a Senior Research Executive. Nilam is responsible for seeing UK, US and international research projects through from brief to delivery.
Take us through your industry journey so far? How did you arrive at this point?
From a young age, I had an inquisitive mind, keen to conduct science experiments at home with my parents to find out more about what was currently the unknown to me. I began to grow closer to wanting to understand human behaviour specifically, through watching programmes and reading snippets of research from psychology books that summarised findings in a snappy and fun way. Some of my favourites were Derren Brown programmes and the ‘30-Second Psychology’ book.
I was happy to hear my high school offered Psychology as a GCSE, as I didn’t have to wait to get stuck in to a subject that I knew already started to excite me. Moving through A-Level Psychology and achieving full marks in one of my exams, I knew this passion couldn’t be stopped here, so went on to study a BSc in Psychology at the University of Southampton. At undergrad level, I was specifically curious about social psychology, learning about the science behind intergroup human relations, interpersonal influence and advertising. Just learning about the research on the delivery/results end didn’t feel like enough for me, I wanted to dig deeper and understand which methods and analysis tools were being used. I loved my statistics modules and learning about the vast range of quantitative and qualitative methods, some of which I now use on a day-to-day basis. I achieved 84% in my final year ‘Advanced Quantitative Research Skills’ module. I spent some summers as a Research Assistant, supporting PhD projects. This prepped me for organising research materials, conducting data entry and spotting patterns/uncovering interesting insights from data – something that led to my keen eye for detail that I am proud to use every day in my current role at OnePoll.
My excitement and passion for learning about human behaviour led me on to study a master’s degree in social influence at the University of Amsterdam. This was a great experience for moving forward my academic and research career; it also enabled me to soak up the culture of the beautiful city, make a lovely group of friends and pushed me to learn to balance work and fun. I enjoyed conducting my master’s thesis into the role ‘social exclusion’ plays in radicalisation, and tested this by creating a manipulated fictitious laboratory environment for participants.
Doing my master’s abroad gave me the opportunity to understand what the world of work would look like. My passion for learning about human behaviour could be translated into a full-time job. I worked as an intern at Robocopy in Amsterdam (now Conversation Design Institute), where I put my knowledge built over the years into practice, whilst creating a lovely rapport with my colleagues. My internship involved being part of the marketing team, where some of my responsibilities were conducting customer insight and creating promotional materials with the principles of social psychology in mind. It gave me confidence that a role in research was the one for me.
I began my research career at a wonderful events-based market research company called Explori. I then felt it was time for me to move on and was honoured to accept the position of Senior Research Executive at OnePoll. OnePoll is a unique and exciting company to work for, with our connection to sister companies 72Point and SWNS, we strive to deliver a high standard of research both for PR and research-only projects. I am so excited every day to take on the range of projects I am faced with.
Moving from junior to senior level is a big step up in any case, let alone starting during a global pandemic and compulsory home working. At times, working from home on my own presented mental health challenges, but I was able to overcome these with a wonderful support network of friends, family and colleagues. Despite not being able to communicate with colleagues to train in person, I was eager to not let the lack of the office environment prevent me from learning. I delved into asking questions, reading training material and not being afraid to liaise with clients independently from home. My confidence has built a lot over the past year. I was keen to initially sit in on, then independently carry out client calls. This is something I am proud of, as I previously felt quite nervous about doing this. I now feel confident to not only face client liaison alone, but feel as though I am giving logical advice that will ensure their research is MRS compliant and will provide them with insightful stats.
Outside of project work, I’ve also attended various MRS talks, webinars and training sessions (including the &more researchers conference, intro to survey weighting and ‘halting the effect of the pandemic on career progression’ webinar). I’ve also supported the OnePoll stand at the Quirks event this year with my colleagues – a space for research professionals to share more about their companies. My future career goals are to study the MRS Certificate in market research. I’m honoured to work at such a lovely company, and have the privilege and confidence placed in me to work with important clients, on valuable projects.
So, what’s so inspiring about our industry?
The market research industry enables people to marry their passion for learning with working. The diverse range of projects involved in my particular research role means that I study a range of different demographics within society – from polls about the general British population, to women, to the LGBTQIA+ community, to decision makers. Market research is an inclusive industry, who wants to hear from people of all backgrounds. I’m truly learning something new about human behaviour each day, which satisfies my inquisitive mind. What’s more, it is rewarding when the projects we work on will have positive impacts on people’s lives and do good within society. For example, those surrounding sustainability, climate change, hygiene poverty, the rise of electric vehicles, veterans in civilian employment and so on.
If you feel as though there are knowledge gaps, our industry encourages you to be questioning, and pursue your interests in the form of research. It also allows you to step up to new challenges regardless of your age. I feel like my voice is heard and it’s not just the people at the top that make all the decisions.
For me, I loved conducting research at an academic level, however, the process behind that can be slow, and over the course of many months. My role in market research (that specialises in online quantitative methods) enables one to reach a wide audience, but involves working at a faster pace, and on a range of different projects at once. As mentioned, this enables you to be swimming at the deep end – learning quickly and developing your skills every day.
What message do you have for anyone considering a career in our industry?
This is an exciting industry to work within, with friendly faces and people who want to see you succeed! There is no other similar industry which can feed research to businesses that are going to make changes that are valuable. You’ll be proud to work in an industry that others want to work in, and clients want to work with.
I would recommend noting down any nice comments/positive feedback from your colleagues or clients. When you are having a stressful day, reading through these can motivate you, allow you to take a step back and realise how far you’ve come, and that you’ve got this! When you are having a busier day (which happens!), reach to your team and ask for a hand, conversely when you are less busy reach out to them and offer the same. It’s the best when you feel as though you can be there for one another.
Finally, I go back to the ‘being inquisitive’. If you are someone who is good at pulling out key insights from a piece of research and subsequently being able to tell an interesting story from it – then market research is the career for you.
How do very junior researchers stand out?
Junior researchers have the benefit of seeing the industry for the first time, they come with a fresh level of passion and enthusiasm which they should push through their company. Their unique stances will enable them to apply creative research methodology that they perhaps learnt at an academic level, within their company. This is beneficial as it can steer a long-standing way of doing research in a new direction, and make a positive impact for themselves, their company and the clients they work with.
They should also have a strong work ethic – be organised, ask questions and take in the information from your fellow colleagues and seniors. Ensure that you store the information in a way that means you will be able to reproduce when you might need it again, so that you are covered from all bases. Something I’ve learned is that you won’t get everything right first time and you will make mistakes, but that’s okay, and it’s about figuring out what went wrong and how you deal with the mistake that shapes you up and prepares you for something bigger! You should make sure your work environment is the right fit for you as well, and not feel afraid to voice your opinion on something if you have an idea or a question.
If you want to do a particular training course or attend a webinar, ask your manager and they can usually make it happen! They are there to help develop your skillset and ensure that you are enjoying your role, learning new things and standing out.