A glimpse of working in the industry as a researcher through the Accelerating Business Collaboration (ABC) initiative and Code-Switch Consultants

Andrea Aparicio-Castro, Social Statistics, University of Manchester (2018 Cohort)

Last September, I started my final year of my PhD. As opposed to what I expected, being in my last year has brought a lot of uncertainty to me. When I commenced my PhD, I was sure that I wanted to be in academia. However, my time as a PhD candidate has taught me all the opportunities that exist after completing a PhD. One of them is to work outside academia. Therefore, I enrolled in the Accelerating Business Collaboration (ABC) initiative that the ESRC provides. This initiative focuses on Social Sciences researchers who want to collaborate with non-academic partners. This initiative has two separate programmes: a Research-Driven Programme and Industry-Driven Programme. I decided on the latter, in which Code-Switch Consultants delivers an intensive training programme and I could work on an industry-focused project.

The project in which I was involved aimed at conducting market research for Tabia Europe. Tabia is a producer and retailer of essential oils in Turkey that intends to expand into new markets in the UK and Spain. Tabia sought consumer and competitor’s insight (wholesale and retail) in both countries to assist in the decision-making concerning Tabia’s expansion plans. This not only involved researching the competition, supply, and demand of essential oils, but also encompassed a formative analysis of economic conditions in light of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.

My role in the project focused on collecting, manipulating, analysing and visualising quantitative data. Apart from collecting data, which I do not usually do in my research, because I usually work with secondary data, the rest of my role corresponded to what I usually do. I could implement statistical methods to understand Tabia’s competition and their relationship with the consumer trends in the UK and Spain.

Apart from my quantitative skills, I realised how useful other skills developed during my PhD are. For example, as a PhD candidate, I usually have to be flexible and a quick learner besides making decisions, solving problems and troubleshooting. In Tabia’s project, I could apply all these skills, given that we decided on working in an Agile approach. Assuming an Agile approach meant that, while certain elements of the project were planned at the beginning, it also involved a process of continuous update and feedback meetings with the client: rethinking, integrating and adapting to new circumstances as the project progressed.

In addition to the skills and competences I could apply, I learned how the industrial world works. It is interesting to understand all stakeholders that are involved in a business project and to know how to interact with them. The latter can be very challenging, given that you need to negotiate, for instance, with the client. In Tabia’s project, the client had an initial idea, which was very broad, considering the time limitations we had. Thus, we needed to reassess the aim and scope of the entire project, based on an initial exploration of the British and Spanish oil market. Furthermore, my team and I faced the fact that the client had little knowledge of the British and Spanish markets in relation to the competitiveness of Tabia’s products, and, therefore, the plausibility of successful trading. Thus, the client could not orient our work.

Overall, being involved in the Industry-Driven Programme with Code-Switch Consultants was an interesting experience not only to have a grasp of working outside academia but also to test and strengthen my skills, knowledge and competences.

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