Cybernetic brain
Careers and professional development, Digital and technology

Careers in cyberpsychology – in conversation with Dr. Georgia Crossland

This article was written by Dr. Georgia Crossland, a User Experience Researcher at Meta (previously Facebook) and edited by Dr. John Blythe, industry representative for the BPS Cyberpsychology Section.

03 February 2023

Can you tell us about your educational and professional background?

My undergraduate degree was in psychology, which I did at Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL). Like many psychology students, my original plan was to become a clinical psychologist. So, after my undergraduate degree I went to do an MSc at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King's College London. Alongside my MSc I did a number of research assistant roles, and worked as an assistant psychologist for the South London and Maudsley NHS trust.

As much as I enjoyed my MSc and working with patients in the NHS, I quickly realized I was not personally cut out for this role - I missed doing research and I took the intense emotions of the job home with me too much. After finishing my MSc, I was approached to do some contract research for an organization using psychology to understand employee cyber security behaviors, as well as help them develop awareness and training mechanisms. I found I loved this work; applying research to everyday problems. I also developed an interest in cyber security.

I then decided to apply for a PhD position at the Centre for Doctoral Training in Cyber Security at RHUL. This Doctoral Training Programme develops cohorts of multidisciplinary researchers to research cyber security, and the interplay between technical and social issues. During my time on the PhD, I did a number of consulting and research roles outside of academia, including an internship as a User Experience Researcher (UXR) at (what was then) Facebook.

How did you become interested in your current field of work?

My PhD in cyber security made me realize how much I enjoy understanding how human behavior interacts with technology. My PhD focussed on understanding usable security, and helped me understand the necessity of centering technology around people, not the other way around. Whilst I love doing research, I realized that the academic culture wasn't a good fit for me.

I then decided to try and get an internship in User Experience Research, and (after many applications and conversations with people already in the field) managed to land one of the biggest tech companies in the world. I loved my internship at Meta, I thoroughly enjoyed working on a diverse product team with designers, engineers, data scientists and product experts. I also felt this industry was a better fit for me. I managed to get a returning offer the following year as a full-time User Experience Researcher.

What does a User Experience Researcher do?

UXRs work collaboratively in product teams to contribute new ideas to products, or highlight issues that impact the experiences of the product's users. At Meta, we have billions of people globally using our products. We employ a variety of qualitative and/or quantitative methods (I'm a qual researcher), including surveys, focus groups, field studies, usability tests, concept testing, ethnography and one-on-one interviews.

Can you discuss a project or accomplishment you consider the most significant in your career?

Getting my PhD is my most significant accomplishment so far. Although you by no means need a PhD to get into UX research, the PhD developed my research skills and project management abilities, and helped me realize my passion for UX.

What do you see as the key skills or qualities needed to be successful in your field?

There are many different types of UX Researchers - some are qualitative and others are quantitative. However, either way you need to have proven research skills. UX research is a critical component of the product development lifecycle at tech companies, and therefore you need to be able to work with a wide range of colleagues, from engineers to designers. For research and for collaboration, you need to have good people skills!

How have your degrees in psychology prepared you for your role?

Psychology is the study of the human mind and behavior - studying psychology and understanding people has helped me work not only with participants in research, but also with a wide variety of colleagues.

Secondly (as I know all psychology undergraduates will be pleased to hear), the 'hard' research skills I learned and developed while studying psychology have been invaluable to me (yes, even stats!). I also often rely on psychological mental model theories in my research.

What do you wish you'd known when you started your career?

Clinical psychology isn't for everyone, and that's okay! I wish I had heard about UX research, and other career paths, a little earlier - it's one of the reasons I wanted to write this article.

In what ways can the field of cyberpsychology assist in user experience (UX) research?

Cyberpsychology at its core, is an intersection of psychology and cyber (digital technology), seeking to look at how humans interact with technology (largely focussed on the internet). It therefore directly maps to UX research (which gives a voice to users of a tech product), by conducting research into what they need and want, then employing those insights to enhance the product. Most research skills in cyberpsychology map directly to the skills you need for UX work.

How can cyberpsychology research contribute to the advancement of technology and society?

There are so many answers to this as cyberpsychology research has such a broad context. The area can contribute in many ways - from creating technology to help treat people (such as mental health and therapy apps), to helping with understanding of privacy, to helping understand and protect people from cyber criminals.

What is the future outlook for the field of cyberpsychology?

In comparison to pure psychology, cyberpsychology is a relatively new discipline. I see cyberpsychology becoming more refined, and breaking out into smaller sub-categories to really focus areas moving forward. As we become an ever more technology-reliant society and integrate technology across more of society, the cyberpsychology discipline will increase in scope and importance.

What is your advice for someone interested in a career in UX research?

Firstly, be open to opportunities during your studies - intern as a UXR if possible, volunteer for extra research projects if you have time, connect with people in the industry through events, projects or social media. Secondly, get used to translating research into product recommendations. This is very important, and quite different from academic research, but UX research is used to directly inform product decisions and so needs to have clear actions.

What does a typical day look like as UXR?

This is another thing I like about UX research - there is no typical day! Our work goes in stages, working with product teams to change problems into research questions, writing proposals, conducting research (with a variety of methods), writing up and presenting research and providing product recommendations (repeat). At Meta, we also have freedom to decide what research is important, and prioritize ourselves.


Georgia Crossland

About the author

Dr. Georgia Crossland is a User Experience Researcher at Meta (previously Facebook).

She completed a PhD in cyber security (focussed on usable security and human factors), after studying psychology at undergraduate and masters level.