A lot of people contact me about being an analyst or wanting to get into the research profession, and almost universally they start by telling me that they are a great analyst or that they want to be an analyst.

Here’s the thing, just because you are a smart person who is decent at math doesn’t mean that your only option is to be an analyst. There are other research roles that are just as challenging and they are all important to the process.

Here are a few roles that you may not know know about that may be a better fit.

Data Visualization Expert – there is a lot of data in the world that needs to be understood and consumed, and one of the most efficient methods for making data easy to consume is making it visual. This can be through well-designed charts, graphs, tables, dashboards, interactive graphics, etc. There are several factors that must be optimized to make a high-quality visualization, and frankly, there are very few people who do it well. In my experience, this position requires a unique combination of design skills, coding skills, and data interpretation skills. There aren’t a lot of people with that combination, but if that is you, then focusing on DV may be more rewarding than being an analyst.

Research Study Coordinator – there are other names for this position including data collections coordinator, and some companies call this position a traffic cop. This position is less about analysis and more about coordination of the components utilized at the beginning of the research process. This could be programming the survey into a data collection platform, or connecting and coordinating with vendors in the research process. This position is integral to ensuring that the initial phases of the research process are conducted effectively and accurately. This person is also the first one to see if something might be going astray that could lead to an unusual or inaccurate interpretation of the data. Further, this person is often the first one to spot anomalies coming in from the field.

Account Manager – these positions are typically held by analytically minded people and they do have a role in synthesizing data. However, they typically get involved after some level of initial analysis has already been performed. Maybe they are taking some initial calculations and interpreting their meaning, or maybe they are trying to create the “story of the data” that will be shared with the client. This person typically has the responsibility of making sure the analysis that was performed answers all of the client’s needs and requests.

Database Administrator – this person is responsible for ensuring the quality of the information stored in a system, network, or database. While this role may seem easy, they are typically tasked with resolving challenges of conflicting data due to labels, format, structure, or other factors that make data assimilation and importation an issue. In their role, they have to make sure that when users access data from the database that it is accurate and in a usable format. When data are being pulled from varying sources or across large organizations, the challenge can be quite large.

There are also myriad research roles that are qualitative in nature. These can include focus group moderator, interviewer, recruiter, etc. Now, several math-centric people I know have expressed disparaging views about qualitative research, but I disagree. I have often found that qualitative research adds a level of depth and nuance to quantitative findings that can be difficult to obtain through quant alone. If the researcher is skilled in qualitative techniques then the information obtained can be highly valuable.

The point is this, if you are still in school, it is less important that you pick a job title and more important that you pick a set of skills. Math will always serve a person well, the same can also be said for writing, reading, sports, arts, and pretty much any other subject taught in school. Continue to grow your skillset, and don’t feel forced to lock yourself into a specific role.

And if you are an existing professional wanting to move into the research world, don’t feel the need to pigeonhole yourself into being an analyst. That may be the best fit for you, but there are plenty of other roles that also need smart people.

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