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August SPSPotlight: Beyond the Ivory Tower


By Erin Burgoon, Facebook Quantitative User Experience Researcher

When I pursued a career outside of the academy, I had one mission: use social psychology to have a meaningful impact on the world. Being a Quantitative User Experience Researcher at Facebook allows me to do that on a massive scale. Every day, I get to ask (and answer) really important questions about how people connect with people, businesses connect with people, and businesses connect with businesses all across the world. My deep methods and statistics knowledge allows me to translate vague questions that product teams (product managers, designers and engineers) pose into clear and actionable research. By “actionable”, I mean that the research leads to concrete recommendations for what features/products Facebook should improve or build as a result of the insights gained. As an example, one research project helped a product team decide to call off the launch of a new product and redesign it completely over the next 6 months. My research then showed that the redesign was a massive improvement over the previous version.

My social psychology knowledge also allows me to influence decisions within product teams. For instance, I cited judgment and decision-making (JDM) research in order to convince several teams about the best way to roll out new versions of our ads products to advertisers. More recently, I drew on basic concepts like the mere exposure effect to help those teams decide when and how to get accurate measures of sentiment towards the updated ads products.  

When I joined Facebook, I wanted to impact the world, but what I didn’t know was that I would also be evangelizing social psychology within the technology industry. In many ways, that is a sweeter reward, as I know that it paves the way for even more social psychologists to make their mark in industry careers!