WIA One on Ones: A Conversation with Farrah Tek, PhD.

Farrah Tek just received her Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. She was a Fulbright scholar and National Science Foundation (NSF) recipient. As an academic transitioning to UXR, Farrah is striving to continue her DEI work and bring her research experience to transform technology and technological spaces (and all spaces!) for underrepresented and underserved communities.

RW: How did you become interested in UX research, qualitative, and mixed methods?  

FT: At their core, UX research and methods are all about using the right tools to figure out something, and especially for UX, it is something about human behavior. Ever since I was young, long before I knew what UX was, I have always been intrigued by why people do the things they do. As a Cambodian American growing up in the U.S., one of the first questions I struggled with in my formative years was why and how Cambodians could kill each other. In trying to understand the reasons behind the Cambodian Genocide that my family survived, I conducted primary and secondary research. Of course, as a 12-year-old I did not know I was doing that, but I constantly asked my family questions and even interviewed them for a school project. My first experience with research ethics was probably then because I quickly learned that not everyone wants to talk about the past, about their trauma so I scoured public libraries instead for information.

As I grew older and travelled more, I had more questions about the world so I decided to pursue a Ph.D. to understand the socio-political world around me. Although my former professions in international law and NGOs gave me a lot of hands-on research experience, my graduate training really helped me hone in my skills as a qualitative researcher. The multitude of courses and workshops as well as hundreds of hours in the field conducting research made me feel really empowered. I feel like Inspector Gadget and my qualitative tools are like his high-tech gadgets. If I have any questions or want to know more about something, I have the knowledge, expertise, and analytical skills to answer it myself.

RW: What are some common obstacles you face when applying survey and questionnaire design in your profession? How do you navigate those obstacles?

FT: Some common challenges I face when applying a survey or questionnaire is designing it in a way to keep participants engaged as much as possible and for accurate responses. As researchers, we want to know the most we can about something, but we don’t want the participants to burn out halfway through the survey. You can overcome survey fatigue by designing a survey so that there are not too many excessive open-ended questions, questions that are complex or ambiguous, or just too many questions in general. This means asking questions in different types of ways—include some open-ended questions because you want context to their drop-down menu responses. Changing up the type of question so it is not all multiple choice, for example, creates texture and I think more engagement to survey. A simple thing is to not start the survey with demographic questions, which if you have screened the participants, you should already have their responses to these questions ahead of time.

RW: If you could give your younger self any advice, what would it be?

FT: I feel like I can still tell myself this as traces of my childhood never leave me, but if I could actually go back in time so my younger self could see her older self, I would tell her to stop being so hard on herself.

Pictured: Farrah Tek, PhD


Ruhi White, MBA
Ruhi White, MBA is a business professional with over eight years of experience. She has worked hand in hand with state, local, and federal government agencies, military/veteran organizations, and non-profit organizations. She enjoys helping her clients reach their visions through realistic goal setting, risk management, research, analysis, and communicating with stakeholders to produce measurable results. Ruhi is currently a Data Analyst for NYSUT, and the founder of R. White Consultancy.