“Can Business Ethics Change Academia?” – Minke ten Berge
During the first session within the Transmission in Motion Seminar of 2021/2022, Marta Zarzycka spoke about her transition from academia to being a User Experience (UX) Researcher in the commercial tech industry, specifically at Google Cloud. There are some profound differences between academia and the tech industry, but what spoke most to me during this session, is the way she talked about ethics in relation to the work she does.
This was brought up in overlapping ways, mainly connecting to the business environment. Within tech, there is no time, as time is money. A result of this is that research has to be done fast. Another aspect is that UX research is mostly focused on the product and on reaching a wide audience, which creates an atmosphere in which ethics concerning privacy might be forgotten while doing research. Another way is how Zarzycka’s UX research aims at making Google’s products more accessible to various users. In this short blog, I focus on the fastness of the research. This is something she specifically juxtaposed with academic research.
At the beginning of the session, Zarzycka laid out some of the mental transitions she had to make when entering the tech world. She said that she has to be very careful in the way she communicates the results of her research, as her audience consists of co-workers who are people like leaders and designers who are not part of the research field. As stated before, in the tech world there is no time. When she presents her results, she has to summarize them to fit into a 20-minute meeting. It also means that she herself doesn’t have much time to carry out the research. In academia, researchers are sometimes working for years on their research, while she has to do her research within several weeks. She calls this ‘just enough’ research: you just want to get your insights and maybe verify them later.
This makes me wonder how reliable and carefully carried out Zarzycka’s research actually is. The output is often specifically focused on a certain product and does not have long-term public influence. But it is also not verified by other researchers and it is made into an infographic by a designer that might not completely catch the point she wants to make. This can diminish the value of the research done and of the research itself.
However, Zarzycka does have a point that the research she does is directly applicable and that research done within academia is very slow. So I think that academia could take the best of both worlds and offer research that is better applicable to the real world, is carried out slightly faster, but does not lose its core ethical principles out of sight, like reliability, verifiability, and precision.