The Research Thing Meetup
An exclusive interview with Anja Maerz and Swetha Sethu-Jones, organisers of The Research Thing Meetup group…
We have recently partnered up with User Research Meetup group ‘The Research Thing’, led by Anja Maerz and Swetha Sethu-Jones. The Meetup group host events all year round, discussing a variety of topics based on human-centred research through activities, talks and workshops. The events are a great opportunity for guests to learn, share and network with like-minded individuals!
As digital recruiters, we believe in working together with groups such as The Research Thing to help add value to the industry we work in. We have therefore teamed up with Anja and Swetha this year and thought it would be good to dig a little deeper and find out how it all started with The Research Thing and their plans for the future.
Why did you decide to set up The Research Thing?
The Research Thing was originally set up in 2011 and we both got involved early on together with Beth Duddy and Jiri Jerebek. Now it’s just the two of us organising the events in London.
We wanted to give back to the community and as we’re both passionate about user research, we were excited to have the opportunity to curate events for this topic.
How long have the events been running for and how often do you hold them?
The Research Thing started with two events in 2011. The meetup had a break in 2012 and then we took over the following year in 2013.
We aim to host 3-4 events a year, depending on our schedules. Our events have always been popular so we always want to do more. We are doing this outside of our working hours, so we don’t have a particular rhythm and are organising on an ad-hoc basis.
Since 2013 we have run 22 events (so roughly 3 events per year)!
What are some of your stand-out topics that have previously been covered?
They are all our favourites! It’s tricky to say which of the topics stood out because we receive a lot of good feedback for all of them. We always aim to have a mixture of events based on case studies (for example, research in certain industries or with certain users) and strategic topics like leadership and impact of research.
We have run “User research and VR” twice because technology became much more common and moved from gaming into other industries, so it was worth picking that up twice.
It’s also worth pointing out our last event in 2019 – for the first time we ran a panel session about leading research. This event was quite popular because instead of presentations we had six women (leaders and individual contributors) share their perspectives on the topic, with the opportunity for the audience to ask questions as well. We will very likely use this format again for our events this year.
We’re always looking for new ideas and formats, to make things engaging and helpful for researchers.
What kind of topics would you look to cover at future events?
There are so many other topics we would love to address and we always leave some room for spontaneous changes in case a more current topic comes up.
Due to the pandemic and the fact that we usually only do four events a year, some topics might fall through the cracks. Some topics we are considering at this stage are: research in a B2B context, behaviour change, diversity in research, and storytelling. If you have an idea for a talk on any of these topics, you can reach out to us through a direct message on twitter @researchthing.
This year we might not manage 4 topics. Though we’re excited to start planning a virtual event – likely to happen at the end of June/beginning of July. Make sure you’ve signed up to our meetup to get updates and find out more!
What are the main aims and outcomes of each event?
We want to help people learn more about research, give them different viewpoints and inspire them. The networking aspect is also significant, as it is a good way of receiving advice from peers, finding your next job and catching up with other researchers.
What kind of challenges do you face when organising these types of events?
As it is just the two of us organising the events, sometimes life and work gets in the way and we can’t organise an event as often as we’d like to. We are always looking for volunteers to help us on the day of events with activities like tweeting, filming and sketchnoting. So if you are interested or know someone who is, do reach out to Zebra People or us!
What are your plans for the year ahead in terms of events?
We have many big plans for the future – starting with four events this year. With the current situation, we’ve had to pause for a while to let things settle. We are hoping to organise a virtual event and we’ve just started looking into our options on how we can proceed with this. Please do reach out to us on Twitter if you have any advice on virtual events (@researchthing).
We are also thinking about organising a Research Thing Un-Conference at some point in the future. That needs some further thought though and a venue that would sponsor and open for us on a weekend – get in touch if you want to be that sponsor!
Is there a specific target audience for the meet up group? Is it only for researchers?
It is mainly aimed at researchers, although we get a lot of designers attending as well. We welcome everyone as we think user research is an important discipline to understand, no matter what your job title is.
What is the most interesting piece of advice or knowledge you’ve learnt from one of your previous events?
Our community has a lot of ideas for other topics that we can explore and we always try to incorporate that, so it’s always a good idea to talk to people during the breaks. We’ve also learnt that panel events work well too and offer a different medium for learning and networking. They’re more informal and give an opportunity for attendees to directly interact with speakers and ask questions.
For those interested in joining the group and keeping up to date with future events, visit our meetup page: https://www.meetup.com/researchthing/