How did you get there? Sarah Kotva

Really enjoyed chatting with Sarah Kotva, Executive Vice President at Fieldwork Inc. We spoke at length about her 21 year career at Fieldwork Inc, so far. She has some priceless advice for junior researchers and for the vital in-person part of our industry as they continue to launch back post-pandemic.

Great to catch up Sarah and I’m so inspired by all your efforts to reach out and team up with the rest of the in-person research community as you all support each other out of this pandemic.

Let’s dive in. So, how did you get into the industry, and take us through how you got to this point?

Reflecting back on my journey into this industry, I really had no idea how fortunate I was to find Fieldwork and a job and industry that I have loved for the past 21 years and counting!  After I accepted the offer to join Fieldwork, my roommate actually had to remind me that I took a course in college called “Research Methods.” I started off in our Network division as a Project Manager fielding qualitative studies mostly within the United States but dabbling some in Europe as well.  My mentor calls me “naturally curious” – while that might be a nice way of saying I’m nosey, this quality really speaks to my enthusiasm for coordination, lobbying, and championing of the success of our facilities/vendors and our clients.  I love this organization and the constant learning opportunities from a huge built-in network.  Even when the pressure was thick (as we often know we experience in our industry with tight timelines and goals we’re working hard to achieve), we have a huge support system to do what we do best – exceed our clients’ expectations.  Fieldwork continued to grow and new opportunities continued to present themselves and I was given the opportunity to embrace my current business development and operational role.

And if you had to distil everything you’ve achieved right down, what would you say are three secrets to your success so far?

1. Participate. Get involved, attend that webinar, volunteer at the next local industry chapter event. I always offered to work the registration table so I could introduce myself to all the attendees and it made networking that much more fun.

2. Ask for help.  This is something I wish I would have done much earlier but it’s never too late.  There is nothing more fun to me than collaborating on a project with people that think differently, that challenge you, and that you can learn from.  Simply starting with the words, will you help me, is the easiest way to begin.

3. It is ok not to know the answer.  There is so much information floating around us, but there are so many resources. USE THEM.  If you don’t know something, try to research it and speak to people that have the insight.  I guarantee those are the answers moving forward you will always remember.

So, come on, if you’re allowed to say, what’s the most interesting, crazy, fun project you’ve ever worked on?

At this point, the crazy part is not the requests from the clients, it is the reality that we can find people willing to give showering on video a try.  More impactful than crazy was early on in my career as a project manager, I was working with a client who was fielding research for a frozen potato product targeted for kids. I remember there being a lot of back and forth about colours and how important it was that the children in the groups could articulate and process colours.  Several months after the project concluded, as I was grocery shopping and in the frozen food area, I saw purple smiley face French fries.  It really hit me in that moment how Fieldwork and my role specifically helps to impact the success of qualitative research.

What two things should junior researchers focus on as they progress in their careers?

I would challenge all researchers (regardless of tenure) to stop and think about what you want from your career.  Are you doing what you want to be doing?  Do you have a plan for growth?  I am a huge believer in the power of positive thinking, having a plan, putting it on paper and holding yourself accountable.  Because that can be hard to do, I also suggest finding yourself an accountability partner. Life is crazy, reserve the right to change your mind. If you tried something and it didn’t work that is ok, try something else.  I don’t go to bed on Sunday’s dreading the week ahead, Monday’s are my favourite day of the week. Find something that interests you, excites you and “play” work.

The pandemic has hit the in-person part of our industry especially hard. Do you have any advice for this vital part of our sector as they prepare to launch back post-pandemic?

Fieldwork is here to help. We are working daily to be innovative, transparent, and fully supportive of our clients’ research methodology goals but we want to stress that we can absolutely, successfully deliver in-person research methodologies. 

In fact, in-person research is happening and we are helping our clients successfully execute research, customizing a solution that works best for them.  Fieldwork has very spacious facilities, strong protocols in place at all of our facilities and, in fact, we’ve seen strong engagement and show rates from respondents participating in our facilities.  We’re committed to instilling confidence through the life of a project and we strongly believe that there is a magic that takes place in person that cannot be replaced.  Sure, you can ZOOM a coffee chat or cocktail hour but who would rather walk into a crowed lively bar right now? ME!

This sector has been hard hit and we want to give our clients a choice when it comes to conducting in-person qualitative when the time is right for them.

And you’ve created a group of data collection firms to rally around the brilliance that is face-to-face. What would you like to say to the rest of the industry as we begin to emerge from our lockdowns and get back to business?

Fieldwork has collaborated with our competitors to get the word out on social media, using the hashtag #facetofaceMRX, that in-person research is back!  We’re using this initiative and collaborating as a team to keep our clients informed as they make plans to get back to business.  We’re all ready and excited to help!

And do you have anyone who has helped your career so far that you’d like to acknowledge and say thanks or give a shout out to?

I am so thankful to say that list is long and continues to grow. Fieldwork is a very female leader dominated environment, strong women that are making things happen all day every day. It’s an advantage for all of us to bring something a little different to the table. Need someone to help proof or edit a blog? I know a lady! Need someone to work on architectural drawings for a new post-Covid facility featuring Usability Testing Labs? I know a lady! Need some advice on how technology and innovation will continue to be part of the hybrid qualitive approach? I know a lady! The insights industry also continues to impress with the support.  I have been overwhelmed with the amount of industry colleagues I have met in the last year and their willingness to share and make meaningful connections. If we are not already, I would love to connect!