The non-clinical spotlight series exists to shed light on all of the interesting paths that physical, occupational, and speech therapy professionals have taken. Today’s spotlight focuses on Bethany Riebock, SLP, who went from speech-language pathologist to UX Researcher. Want to be featured on The Non-Clinical PT? Know of someone who’d be a great person to interview? Please reach out today!
What is your full name and title?
My name is Bethany Riebock, SLP. I’m a User Experience Researcher (or UX Researcher, sometimes shortened even further to just UXR), and I’m currently contracting at Google.
Where did you go to SLP school, and what year did you graduate?
I graduated with my MA in speech pathology from Northwestern University a decade ago.
What did you do when you first graduated, and for how long?
While surviving the grind of grad school, I encountered some personal life changes. I was burned out by graduation, so I gave myself the gift of taking a break. I decided to continue my longtime Arabic studies in Cairo, Egypt, and spent several weeks there.
I then came back to the States at the middle of the recession. I was fortunate to have many interviews waiting for me. I eventually took a full-time position with a company that served skilled nursing facilities (SNFs).
At what point did you become a program director?
I became a program director about seven months into my clinical fellowship year (CFY).
What did being a program director or program manager entail, and how were the duties different from those of a staff SLP?
For the most part in my career, being a director or manager was the same position with a different name.
I was responsible for:
- Planning treatment minutes
- Setting schedule assignments for all staff
- Conducting multidisciplinary screenings
- Attending administrative meetings
- Reporting back to my regional manager when things went wrong
Oftentimes, I had to carry a small caseload to account for some billable productivity, especially when I oversaw smaller teams.
What did you like about those roles, and what did you dislike?
For better or for worse, I’ve always gravitated toward leadership roles. I’m gifted at “making sure the trains run on time.” I also really enjoy removing barriers for my staff so they can do their jobs better and more efficiently.
I had many dislikes about program management. Although for most of my roles I was hourly, I was constantly being texted and called when I was not on the clock. That’s a reality of the job. There was also a ton of pressure to make multiple people happy, including the nursing home administrator, director of nursing, executives, and of course your own boss.
As a speech pathologist, I enjoyed being an influence in changing people’s lives for the positive or helping them come to terms with impending decline.
There were many aspects that I disliked, such as having to travel to four buildings and drive 180 miles in one day to maintain a full-time paycheck and benefits.
I didn’t graduate debt-free, and so my student loan debt was always hanging over my head. Speech pathology is also very misunderstood and often seen as the “least important” discipline. We’re often seen as an “add on” service and are often really only taken seriously when a swallowing disorder is involved.
Did you have to do anything special with your resume or cover letter to get noticed?
What I learned recently about resumes is be conventional. Be boring. Cover letters can be a little more creative, but they’re also relatively boring.
What’s been most important for me as a career-changer is my network and portfolio. Resumes and cover letters are just formalities of the process.
At what point did you realize you wanted to try something totally new?
I think I knew immediately when I started working after grad school that it wasn’t a good long-term fit. However, since I had a ton of student debt and felt I needed to “do the thing” that I went to school for, I stuck with it. And I did a good job. Patients and caregivers consistently reported back to my supervisors with how pleased they were.
After breaking out twice and working for myself in home health and accent modification, I applied to law school. I was accepted to the schools I applied to and later enrolled as a health law scholar in anticipation of earning a JD (juris doctor) to practice law. I started class and then had to withdraw due to relocation.
After relocating to the west coast, I had the opportunity to completely re-evaluate my trajectory as I worked per diem for four different home health agencies.
How did you land on user experience research?
Since I now live in Silicon Valley, I was inspired to research different coding bootcamps. Through that research process, I discovered user experience (UX) design.
After taking some free online coding courses, I decided that my love of language and linguistics didn’t necessarily translate into a love of full-time coding (a little bit is fun and useful). With that, I pursued UX.
Did you have to take any special coursework to make your move?
To try to balance finances, I enrolled in an online remote program for UX/UI fundamentals while working four PRN home health jobs. I was disappointed by my student experience and withdrew after several weeks.
I went back to the drawing board and decided I needed the rug ripped out from under me. A few months later, I enrolled in a full-time product design program based in San Francisco.
What did you do to get that first UX researcher job? Did you need to do anything spiffy with your resume/cover letter?
As I mentioned previously, resumes and cover letters are formalities in tech. I was fortunate to get my first UX job from a client whom I had impressed during my product design program.
What does your current role entail?
As a user experience researcher, I ask a lot of questions. I wrote about a lot of the similarities between being an SLP and a UXR. Here are some of the things I do:
- Collaborate with stakeholders (e.g., product managers, designers, etc.)
- Plan research
- Conduct research
- Deliver my findings
Some examples of what I do include expert interviews, usability testing, surveys, and more.
What are some of the pros and cons to the role?
The pros of being a UXR is that I feel it’s a better fit for my personality, career aspirations, and financial goals.
One con, similar to SLP, is that sometimes we’re seen as less or non-essential. It’s critical to find a team with a strong culture that values integrating research into design and product development.
Do you feel like your background in SLP helps you?
Definitely. Working in healthcare has helped me with my empathy skills, critical thinking, and interdisciplinary (a.k.a. “cross functional”) communication.
Hustling for so many years as an SLP also prepared me well for the fast-paced environment often experienced in tech.
Do you ever still see patients or identify with being in the SLP world?
No. I typically identify as a UXR and “former SLP.”
However, I’m continuing to keep up with my state licenses and CCC as an emergency backup. We never know what surprises life brings.
What is a day in the life like for you?
Between meetings, I’m typically shifting between projects to plan research, execute research, and report back on research. Recently, I’ve been conducting a lot of expert interviews out in the field.
What is an average user experience researcher salary?
Taking into account salary and benefits, I’m earning roughly two times the average SLP pay in my region.
And how are the growth opportunities comparatively?
There’s definitely room for rapid growth as a UX professional. There are positions for lead, senior, manager, director, and so on. The field itself is also exploding as technologies continue to develop and change.
What prompted you to start the alternative careers Facebook group?
I started Alternative Careers for SLP (and now Alternative Careers for Rehabilitation Professionals) mostly because I was lonely and curious if there were others out there who felt similarly about feeling stuck with their career decisions. Extra motivation to found the SLP group came when I was admitted to law school.
When I started getting the word out in other Facebook groups about Alternative Careers to SLP, hoards of occupational therapists were sad that we wouldn’t admit them to the group. After several months of pondering, I then founded the second group for the three rehab disciplines, inviting both evaluators and assistants to join.
What do you hope to get from it?
My hopes for the groups have shifted. At first, it was about connecting with others and seeking support with a challenging (and at times controversial) feeling about my career. Once I was able to take steps away from SLP, I was able to shift my focus on helping others.
Although I’m extremely busy with my second career path, I still like to find time where I can help others who are struggling with their careers decisions. We were lucky to be chosen to try out the Facebook mentorship program in the Alternative Careers to SLP group, and as of today, we have at least 10 mentees and mentors matched. I’m hoping Facebook allows us to do the same soon with Alternative Careers for Rehabilitation Professionals.
What’s next for you in your career? Where do you see yourself going?
My hope is that I continue to grow my expertise as a UXR and potentially return to a leadership role. I’m not quite sure if that will mean that I climb a corporate ladder or if I start my own company. Stay tuned!
Do you have any special advice for PT, OT, or SLP professionals interested in user experience research?
Certainly. Do as much online research as you can. Take some free courses through edX or other online course providers. After you complete some basic research, reach out to UX professionals to ask specific questions related to their experience.
Sometimes it’s scary to ask strangers for help and advice. As long as you’re well-prepared and don’t present a nebulous question like, “Should I become a UX designer?,” you’ll be fine.
The worst that happens is people don’t respond or they say they’re too busy. Find the next person who’s available and willing to help.
Meetup groups and Eventbrite events can also be a great resource to get out into the community and learn from the pros.
Editor’s note: informational interviews are also extremely helpful when you’re in the information-gathering stage of planning your next career move!
Any books or podcasts you recommend?
I don’t have any podcast recommendations, as they typically lull me to sleep. Instead, I read transcripts where they’re available.
There are a ton of amazing free resources online to learn more about yourself in determining a new career path or learning about UX. Medium is my favorite reading place (and also where I publish).
Make use of your local library and see what ebooks you can download for free or what books can be shipped from your greater metro or university systems. It doesn’t have to be complicated!
Thanks for your insight, Bethany!