How I became a researcher

The following is the story about how I became a researcher. I first wrote this story in lieu of a cover letter, so it may sound a bit too resume-like.

I was 16 when I got into research

I got my first job at 16 as a survey interviewer and was promoted to field supervisor one year later. As an interviewer I learnt the importance of obtaining the right answers and having appropriate instrument. I also learned that treating interviewees with respect is paramount to obtain high quality answers.

So not your regular McDonald’s job (though I’m sure working at McDonald’s also awakes a lot of skills). While I learnt a lot, I could have never imagined that this was just the beginning in my research journey. Instead, I went to university to become an actuary.

An actuary with a passion for Statistics and Mathematics

Being an actuary student was a lot of fun. I got excellent grades in my math and stats courses. I loved the courses on probability and statistic: linear regression, my multivariate analysis, stochastic processes, etc. Really the only thing I found uninteresting was taking insurance related courses (life insurance, liability insurance, insurance policies, etc).

When I found an opportunity to become an intern at a public opinion research institute, I jumped in with both feet.

From intern to senior data analyst and sample designer

Having done field work in the past, I was impressed by the amount of work needed before and after field work. Starting as an intern, I obtained a full time position six months later. Two years later I was promoted as Lead of Quantitative Research. I was involved in the whole process: talking to the client, creating research questions, determining the type of research (quantitative, qualitative), establishing quotas, designing instruments, overseeing field work, processing field work, writing technical excerpts and reports, and delivering presentation.

My forte was quantitative research: designing probabilistic samples, analysing data using Excel (pivot tables, macros), SPSS and other specialized software. As part of a multidisciplinary team I saw the importance and uses of qualitative research. In fact, this multidisciplinary team trained me to conduct qualitative research.

This was my first real job, and the last one I would have in Mexico.

A cultural explorer with mathematical inclinations on the move

Research taught me that to really experience a place you have to talk to locals, live like locals: From talking to a local trout farmer in rural Mexico to experiencing -35C in Montreal.

Actually, being able to endure and enjoy cold weather convinced me to move to Canada. That, and my desire to advance my credentials made me pursue a MSc in Mathematics at the University of Alberta. Aside from learning more math, my grad student experience awoke my passion for teaching and my ability to explain complex matters in plain words (while still being precise and rigorous).

Two years later I was back into research when, after attending a conference on entrepreneurship in Alberta I reached out to the principal investigator and together we started designing an entrepreneurship and happiness survey in Alberta. That was a short project which helped me obtain a research position at ECO Canada in Calgary.

An LMI researcher in Calgary

At ECO Canada I conduct Labour Market Information. Through the design of primary research (surveys, interviews, expert panel) and by subcontracting big data (web scraping) analysis I have been able to advance ECO’s research by measuring the environmental labour force at a granular level, and matching these measurements to Statistics Canada framework.

What’s next?

I moved to Canada 5 years ago and have loved it. From attending at the symphony in Toronto, tubing in Montreal, paddleboarding at Kootenay Lake, seeing the northern lights in Whitehorse, or going to the rodeo in Calgary, the opportunities are endless.

My professional experience in market research and my need for interaction have driven me to become involved with the local communities, currently holding many volunteering positions.

What’s next? Only time can tell, but one thing I want is to keep exploring and to keep finding challenges to my creative, research-minded being.


5 reasons to learn math

Save money, read a book, exercise regularly, all good advises. But, what about learning math? Keeping our math skills sharp benefits our professional and personal lives even after our formal education is over.

riding a bike

1. Math makes us better at analytical thinking

A math problem needs to be split into smaller problems to be solved. The idea is that we do know the solution to those smaller problems, so we can apply previously known solutions.

Analytical thinking, on the other hand, lets us process complex information by splitting the complex info into small pieces, each one easy to digest. Similar to solving a math problem.

Improving analytical thinking means we can undertake more complex processes, and our analytical brain can be exercised through improving our math skills.

2. Math facilitates problem solving

Math teachers and books are famous for presenting a topic, a couple of easy examples and let students work on more complicated cases. The main objective is that students learn to generalize previously acquired knowledge.

In fact, generalization is something we use all the time. A simple example is learning to cross a street. When we grow up we are trained to cross the streets that were close to home. As adults we use that knowledge to cross streets everywhere we go.

The better we are at math, the easier it is to identify similar patterns and to apply previously acquired knowledge in new situations.

3. Math is used every day

Math helps us understand the world around us.  Three simple examples are,

  • Counting quantities, like counting money, or the number of pizza slices we want to eat.
  • Understanding relations, like the relation between the number of days (rotational movement) and how often seasons repeat themselves (translation movement).
  • Having access to safe online banking, which is possible thanks to cryptography.

4. Math helps keep our brain healthy

Harvard Medical School currently lists solving math problems as the number one activity to reduce the risk of mental decline, cognitive impairment, and age-related memory loss.

In fact, solving math problems requires mental effort akin to exercising, and just as exercise keeps our bodies healthy, learning more math helps keep our brains sharp and healthy.

5. Math is fun

Learning math can be a really gratifying activity. All that mental effort, all that struggle pay off when we realize we can solve a math problem!

Perhaps the best thing about learning math is when we say wow, I was able to solve that. When you solve a math problem the solution is yours, and nothing can be more exciting than creating your own solutions.