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American Association for Public Opinion Research

Empower the Leader and Influencer Within! Inspiration from Advanced Career AAPORites

by Mandy Sha
Leadership is the ability to influence, through action, role, or passion. What can early career researchers do to make a successful transition to become leaders and influencers in the survey and public opinion research community? I asked nine advanced career AAPORites about what propelled their own transition. Based on these conversations, I present three recommendations. Early career colleagues, use them to empower yourself to join the leadership pipeline!
 
Use AAPOR to Ignite Scientific Stature
Research accomplishments and peer-reviewed publications can accelerate the transition to becoming a leader and influencer. But it may not be feasible for early career researchers to lead a study or publish in top-tier journals. One answer is to leverage your AAPOR membership. Here are some practical tips:
  • Be a presence at the annual conference. Besides demonstrating your technical mastery by presenting your research, you can also gain stature by moderating a session, discussing papers, or simply asking good questions.
  • Volunteer! Start at your regional chapter where roles may be more available to early-career professionals. To join AAPOR committees, express your interest to the associate chair. If the chair has already filled existing vacancies, the associate chair can put you in line for future openings. Being proactive puts you in control because you can be clear on what you will contribute, which can increase your chance of being invited. And make sure you show up – committee members are natural collaborators for research projects and publications.
  • Create opportunities for yourself that offer visibility (after using the first two tips to establish your credibility). For example, volunteer to be a research assistant on an AAPOR task force that will allow you to contribute to a highly cited report and network with leaders and influencers in the field. Invite an established researcher to co-present a webinar or a conference short course. The collaboration will likely be viewed favorably in the selection process and AAPOR will publicize the course in multiple channels. Be specific about how you can to contribute because tasks that established researchers may view as burdens are opportunities for you to gain experience and build relationships.
 
Identify Your Strengths and Weaknesses to Reach Your Goals
A shared trait among this group of advanced career AAPORites is that they know their own strengths and weaknesses in relation to reaching their goals. To Lisa Thalji, clearly articulating her career goals fueled her drive. She gained confidence by developing the skills she needed while accentuating her strengths in project, quality, and client management, which are valued skills in contract research organizations. This self-awareness includes the willingness to be nimble and flexible. Lisa recommended developing “agility” -- an example would be to adapt your efforts to reach your goals because the environment may not always stay aligned to your current strengths. Paul Beatty put it this way: “keep developing [both hard and soft skills] and recognizing when it’s time to make a change [in research focus or affiliations]”. Ashley Hyon became one of the most successful account and research executives in survey sampling by continuously challenging herself. A self-described introvert, Ashley volunteered in many AAPOR conferences and her regional chapter, demonstrated her passion through problem solving for the client, and even got a new degree in survey research. A “big picture” thinker, Alisú Schoua-Glusberg groomed the success of her own business by leading a team with management and technical skills that reinforced her own. She also increased loyalty and cooperation by listening more, which she developed over time into a strength of hers.

“Accept” Your Mentors
Mentors illuminate the pathway to become leaders and influencers. Melissa Herrmann’s early mentor modeled how to finesse complex sampling concepts so even laypeople can appreciate them. Now president of a full-service firm, she builds client trust by making relevant information stick and not getting “down in the weeds.” David Wilson proposed that mentors must be accepted by mentees, they cannot simply be assigned. More importantly, he stated that mentoring is a two-way street, where mentees and mentors both contribute to the relationship and grow together. He gave a recent example -- he mentored an early-career researcher about navigating academia, and his mentee mentored him to be a better R programmer. Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses is crucial to initiating and sustaining a successful relationship with your mentors because this awareness helps you set rational goals about what you can contribute in the relationship and who you could “accept” as mentors (after all, mentors and mentees have more chemistry when they can connect on a personal level through shared background or interests). Going to the annual AAPOR conference, as David suggested, is a helpful way to find out where you are compared to others so you can develop an understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses and connect with potential mentors.
 
Finally, Mary Losch and Tim Johnson emphasized the importance of exhibiting veracity and character, which they considered to be integral to one’s scientific stature. Tim also pointed out that the transition process may take longer than you’d like, so perseverance is key - “just don’t give up!”
 

If you’ve got the will, you should have the confidence and place the bet on yourself and do what’s necessary for the next step… Be willing to take that next step: apply to graduate school, a job, or intimidating opportunities. Stretch yourself! - Courtney Kennedy

 
 
Acknowledgements
The author thanks the nine advanced career AAPORites who provided insights and reviewed the article:
  • Paul Beatty (government)
  • Melissa Herrmann (commercial)
  • Ashley Hyon (commercial)
  • Tim Johnson (academic)
  • Courtney Kennedy (private nonprofit)
  • Mary Losch (academic)
  • Alisú Schoua-Glusberg (commercial small business)
  • Lisa Thalji (large private nonprofit)
  • David Wilson (academic with commercial background)
Anna Wiencrot, David Wilson, Rich Morin, and Kristen Olson provided thoughtful comments that improved this article. This project was inspired by Mollyann Brodie’s 2016 AAPOR presidential address, the report to AAPOR Executive Council from Working Group on Long-Term Diversity, and the 2013 AAPOR conference panel Lessons In Leadership: AAPOR Women Leaders Share Their Insights. Before the start of this project, RTI International’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) determined that this project is not considered “research” for IRB purpose, while Mandy was senior survey methodologist and business development lead at RTI. I also acknowledge Jennifer Hunter Childs, Yazmín A. G. Trejo, Rob Santos, and the Diversity Initiative Coordinating Committee led by Diane Rucinski.
 
Transparency Initiative (TI) Compliant Methods Disclosure
Nine one-on-one interviews were conducted between July 28, 2017 and March 12, 2018 with six female and three male AAPORites who have (a) positional authority; (b) scientific stature; (c) reputation for mentoring early-career researchers; and (d) support for diversity. The interviewee selection rendered a mix of commercial and noncommercial, men and women, and White and non-White researchers. They did not receive remuneration for their participation and gave verbal consent for voluntary and identified participation. Each interview lasted no longer than 60 minutes and did not follow structured interview questions. Eight interviews were audio-recorded (one declined). Three interviews were conducted by telephone and six interviews were conducted in-person at the interviewee’s workplace or at a public location chosen by her or him. To analyze the results, the author listened to the audio recordings and reviewed interview notes, and then looked for salient themes in the content that best informed the project objectives. Click here to view the 1-page project abstract and interview topics that was sent as an invite to the interviewees and a list of references. This project was funded by Mandy Sha who also conducted the interviews.