New Member Interview: Debbie Katz, Hoboken, NJ
Mike Courtney, firstname.lastname@example.org
Please tell us a little bit about you.
I live in the suburbs of New York City in a town called Westfield, in NJ with my husband and two kids, a boy and a girl, ages 14 and 10. Unfortunately, NJ gets a really bad rap; it’s actually a beautiful place to live.
We moved here about 11 years ago from the city for the same reason so many families do: to get more space! It was an awful adjustment for me. I had wanted to stay [in the city] but it really didn't make sense financially. I hated having to get in the car to do everything, and I hated the intense quiet at night and the sense of isolation, but now I love it all and would never move back. Although I still love spending time in the city, I’m so happy to come home at night to the quiet, for which I am now thankful!
I'm guessing you were born young. What is your earliest memory? Any childhood nicknames we should be aware of?
My earliest memory, I think, is from preschool. I was playing with a friend and she fell and hurt her knee. She blamed me for it even though I had nothing to do with it, and her mother said I had to go home.
Who were you and what did you do before you got into marketing research?
I was a hospital social worker for many years. I helped people who were going through the process of liver transplantation: ensuring they had a good support system, were not actively using drugs or drinking any longer, were in counseling or rehab if needed, and connecting them with whatever services they needed post-transplant. I also led a liver transplant support group and family meetings when there were issues to address or concerns with support systems.
What drew you to qualitative research? Did you stumble into the field or was it your childhood dream to moderate?
I definitely stumbled into it — had no idea this field even existed. I was at a July Fourth BBQ and met a woman who co-owned a small marketing research firm in Philadelphia. She and I hit it off and she thought my skills at moderating groups were transferable to marketing research, and she was right. I was a pretty natural moderator right off the bat, and she taught me the rest. Twelve years later I'm still doing it!
Debbie with her 10-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son
Company- and Work-related:
Please tell us about your company. What brought you to this company? What is your role within the organization?
After 10 years with one company and two years on my own, I just joined a global, full service marketing research company called SKIM. Based in Holland, they are most known for their quantitative research. SKIM is looking to increase its qualitative presence in the US, so that's where I fit in. I loved being on my own but the work was too inconsistent and I felt limited in my learning and growth potential.
Is there a story behind your company name?
I think it has to do with gleaning the key insights from all the rest of the fat, but now I'm going to find out for sure!
What’s it like in your office? What do your co-workers talk about around the water cooler? (Do you have a water cooler?) Co-workers? Pets, etc?
I'm lucky enough to work from home, but there is an office in Hoboken, NJ, that I go to every once in a while and yes, there is a water cooler — but no pets. It’s a great team of people. Everyone is incredibly smart and nice and willing to pitch in and help another.
Tell us about your typical day.
I've only been here for a couple of months, but so far I've spent my time helping with developing methodology sections for proposal writing, business development, and attending webinars.
Do you remember your first few moderating sessions? If we were able to watch a video of that first session what would we see?
I do! It was phone interviews with physicians for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Although I had a good, conversational style, I remember feeling unsure of whether I sounded knowledgeable, whether I was asking the right follow-up questions, and whether I was probing often enough and intelligently. Definitely, it was easier to have my first interviews take place over the phone; it was a lot less intimidating. I think my first in-person interviews were in the diabetes space, and I definitely did not do enough prep on the disease itself. I definitely asked some very naive follow-up questions, and often I didn't know what to probe on at all. It was very uncomfortable!!
What is the biggest challenge you’ve encountered thus far as a qualitative researcher? How have you managed (or overcome) this challenge?
Writing reports was tough for me in the beginning, and sometimes it still is. They used to take me forever. I would make sure I had every answer to every question included because I thought everything was important to include and didn't want to miss anything. I learned to use the information to tell a story, rather than just trying to cram in as much as I could. There were always key themes that rose to the top, so I learned to focus on those and use all the rest to support it. I'm still working on getting better using visuals and turning some of the output into creative diagrams. That's my goal for this year.
Imagine the government has given you access to the NSA database of consumer information to help you recruit the perfect respondents for an upcoming study. How would you use that information?
Well, that's hard to answer, because it depends what type of consumer you're looking for — but I guess I would look for the demographics that were pertinent to my study, buying habits, internet buying vs. in-store buying, major purchases vs. little ones, age-related purchasing habits (buying mostly for kids or adults)…there are just too many factors to list!
Imagine someone has created a look-alike clone of you. The only thing left is to program the clone to act like you act. What are the most important habits and attributes your clone needs to master?
Being very down to earth, easy going, want to talk about life/issues/emotions and not just my kids or my shopping trip from the other day, having little patience for nonsense or people that are too self-absorbed, or people that only talk about themselves and ask you no questions.
What is the one thing that would tip off friends that it’s not really you?
If I started being really type A, ultra-organized, making big deals out of little things.
What motivated you to join the QRCA? What do you hope to gain from your membership?
I wanted to attend the QRCA conference in New Orleans. When I started looking at what the QRCA is and what it does, it seemed like a great organization of which to be a part.
What advice would you give others in the research industry who might be thinking about joining QRCA?
To go ahead, and join. It's a great place to share ideas, to learn, and to meet people that are doing amazing, creative and innovative work. It makes me feel good about my profession!
What topics would you like to see discussed in upcoming chapter and conference programming?
Overall, I think basing a seminar in case studies is always the best way to relay information. This approach allows the audience to learn the most. Additionally, perhaps some tips on report-writing, or how members approach report writing; things they have found worked well over the years. That would be great. Again, using an example case study, albeit with everything blinded, would be key.
Many industries including qualitative research have experienced significant changes over these last few years. What do you imagine qualitative research and/or QRCA will look like in the year 2020? Any predictions?
Just an extension of what it is now — more focus on online/mobile research.
For you, the ice bucket challenge...
… was a great idea in theory but turned out to be a little silly with everyone racing to put their videos on YouTube just to show they did it. It lost its meaning.
We locked you in a room and told you to watch YouTube videos for an hour. Tell us what you would do.
I love to laugh so would probably spend most of the hour watching clips from Jimmy Fallon, and the Seinfeld Internet show, Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee…and then some political stuff, to make me feel like I was being productive!!
We are both in your favorite city with a day between groups. What do we do? Where do you stay? Eat? Etc.
The day would start with a nice run in a local park or around the city. Then it would continue with walking through cool neighborhoods and finding all the great places to eat. That is my passion. I would definitely have researched all the best places: they wouldn’t be fancy ones — really more like holes in the wall or cafés that have something really special.
What do your family and friends think about your career?
They think it's pretty interesting — something different that they have not heard much about. I'm usually the only person they know of who’s doing this.
Do you find yourself moderating the family dinner discussion?
I do find myself asking a lot of questions, but I think that's just how I am…and I make sure that everyone has a chance to talk. Honestly, when it's just my family, I'm just trying to distract my kids from fighting with each other!
What would your family be like in a focus group?
I'd like to think we'd be really fun to talk to. My kids are not shy and they like to come up with new ideas.
A new phone app coming out helps you double your brainpower for seven hours each week. What do you use your “super brain time” for?
To find a way to help victims of child abuse and domestic violence.
Its 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday. What are you doing?
Sleeping, for sure. I can't remember the last time I was up so early! Luckily my whole family likes to sleep late.
Its 6:00 p.m. on a Saturday. What are you doing?
Hopefully, getting ready to go out somewhere fun with friends!
What books are you reading right now? (Real printed paper book or e-books?)
“The Distant Land of My Father.” I'm such an old lady — I actually read real books that I take out from the library! It’s sort of a waste of money for me to pay for books because I never read them twice, and I read so much that I would be spending a fortune on books. I haven't found a need to use the Kindle yet. I really like holding a real book.
Your approach to technology would best be described as...
…Totally into it. Willing to learn and use anything new but don't want it to take over my life.
Which means you are a master at...
…Using my iPhone.
And still trying to completely figure out...
… Making a really cool online photo album from my son's bar mitzvah!
Mac or PC? iPhone or Android?
Hypnotism and brain reprogramming are becoming useful tools; what bad habit or subconscious trait would you most like to change?
My sugar craving!
You have just been invited on an all-expense paid trip to speak at a (non-research) conference. Who is in the audience, and what do you talk about?
Teens and adults who want to get into exercise.
Your thanksgiving dinner was...
… Really nice this year. My mom and my brother's family came over early. We hung out, played some games — had a good day. But the food was way too rich and too fattening. Next year I'm cooking all healthy stuff.
The Final Question:
A client tells you they'll triple your project fee if you can beat them fair and square in a game. You get to choose the game. What game do you play and how likely are you to win?
Spit [a card game] — and, very likely!!
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