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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Career Path: Behavioural Sciences

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    04 Feb

    During university, I knew I was interested in human behaviour and healthcare, and was open to a range of career options that would help me combine the two. For a long time, I thought this would limit me to clinical or academic settings. This changed in the final year when I took a paper on Psychology and Social Issues, where we delved into the real-world applications of behavioural science. I was lucky to be lectured by Dr. Helena Rubinstein who founded the behavioural science team here at Innovia Technology. 

    I quickly realised that working in behavioural science consulting would allow me to apply the research skills I had learned during university, and work on exciting projects (including those in healthcare) with global clients. So I applied after graduating and was delighted when I got the job. At Innovia, we use behavioural science to solve challenges in the front end of innovation. This often means our clients come to us for help in developing a new product/service, or improving an existing one. We don’t work in silos - most of our projects involve working with designers, life scientists, physicists and engineers to create holistic, multi-disciplinary solutions. I love this aspect of my work as it means I’m always learning something new - since joining, I’ve learned about the physics that makes a potato crisp crispy, the physiology of pain, and the biochemistry of faster wound healing. 

    Behavioural science is a fast-growing field. Many companies around the world are just starting to set up behavioural science teams, and it is very exciting to work in a field that is ever changing (if a bit tedious to keep up with all the new literature!). It has applications in lots of different sectors ranging from fast-moving consumer goods, technology, food, apparel, and sustainability. There is a lot of variety in the type of work we do - one of my projects involved carrying out qualitative research to help a client understand ways to make consumers feel more comfortable programming robots (the answer is complicated but adding a human element like humour helps). Another involved creating communication concepts to help consumers understand complex forest-management practices. 

    I’ve also had the chance to work on several healthcare projects, some even allowing me to directly work with patients, caregivers, and healthcare practitioners. We use a range of research skills in our daily work; most projects typically start with building a research hypothesis and gaining an understanding of existing research through literature reviews. For projects where we do our own research, we go through a series of steps: preparing for primary research (e.g., designing questionnaires or interview discussion guides), data collection (running surveys and interviews), and data analysis. Throughout this process, we use behavioural models such as COM-B and TDF to shape our understanding of behaviour (sometimes creating our own models if needed). The final (and in my opinion, most exciting) stage is using our insights and findings to create recommendations that we present to the client. 

    My advice to female scientists interested in research but not sure where to start: reach out to people who work in areas you are interested in – lots of people would be more than happy to help you and are often only a Linkedin message/email away. Use internships and placements to get a feel for different settings: academic labs, think-tanks, and consultancies all offer research-heavy jobs that can vary widely in the day-to-day tasks you’ll be doing (some pre-uni schemes like the Nuffield Research Placements are a great way of doing this). This should give you an idea of the pace and type of tasks you enjoy. Most importantly, keep exploring! It’s okay to not have all the answers about what type of work you want to do for the rest of your life.

    Bushra Zafar
    Psychological and Behavioural Sciences, Cambridge Alumna
    Innovation Consultant (Behavioural Science) at Innovia Technology