What's it like to work at Prolific? Meet Zak, one of our Research Support Managers

Our team member Zak Evernden works for Prolific as a Research Support Manager and Consultant. He's joined Prolific in March 2018, initially in our Oxford office, but now works remotely from Canterbury (Kent). Zak is all ears when it comes to questions like “How can I best design my study?” or “How can I recruit these specific target demographics?”. Meet Zak!

Hannah: What did you do before joining Prolific?

Zak: Believe it or not, Prolific is actually my first employer! Before joining, I’d gone straight through studying two degrees at different universities, which took me up to the end of 2017.

My Undergraduate degree (University of Reading) was a joint honours in Mathematics & Psychology, a combination which is described as “interesting” by nearly every person that I tell. I think I chose this combination because it harnessed the skills I enjoyed practicing most (especially problem solving), and applied them to my primary subject of interest, which is of course psychology!

As it turned out, there was actually no direct overlap between these subjects on my course – it was just half mathematics, and half psychology (I don’t know what I was expecting). Nevertheless, I think the mathematical aspects of the course really enhanced my appreciation of the research side of psychology, which I think was a key moment to point me towards the path I’m currently following.

I decided to pursue my interest in psychological research further in a Master’s degree (University of Kent), in a field which I’ve always been morbidly curious about – Forensic Psychology (a.k.a. criminal psychology). The intensive one year course was a really enlightening and stimulating experience, in which I could apply broad psychological theories and studies to the purpose of understanding criminal motivations. Beyond this, it further enhanced my skills in formulating, running, and analysing the data from scientific research studies, which really laid the basis for the role I’m currently in at Prolific!

H: How did you come across Prolific as an employer?

Z: As part of my Master’s course, I was running an online research study to examine female attitudes towards sexual aggression (and any proclivity they had towards it). I had been attempting to collect data for this study using the methods any naïve psychology student is familiar with: bombarding Facebook friends with study advertisements.

Unsurprisingly, this turned out to be an extremely laborious and unreliable process. After spending around 3 months recruiting 120 participants using this method, and submitting this study for my dissertation, my supervisor saw promise in the theory behind the study but suggested we expand the sample using a faster service with more emphasis on data quality.

Prolific seemed to be the best fit for this, and indeed it turned out this way as we recruited an additional 250 participants for the study in less than 24 hours! I was highly impressed at the flexibility and speed of the service – and luckily, I consented to receive marketing emails 😉.

So it was that at the beginning of 2018, I received an email from Prolific with the subject line “Happy New Year 2018! (and pssst…we’re hiring!)”. The specification for the Researcher Support & Consultancy role was attached to this email, and everything about the description seemed to fit with my skills, values and where I want to go. Looking back, it’s funny how the pieces fell into place and led me to such a niche role, but I’m delighted with how things turned out!

H: And why did you choose this job? What do you like about it, does anything make you particularly content or excited?

Z: I really wanted a job role that gave me a more holistic perspective on the world of research. Being in an academic bubble for several years, in quite a specialised field for the later part of this, it would’ve been easy to stick to this and not attempt to seek out knowledge from elsewhere. However, the challenge of supporting researchers from all kinds of disciplines, and helping to contribute to a fast-growing startup (which I had already used and benefitted highly from), was very attractive to me.

As I alluded to earlier, problem solving and communicating solutions in a written format is something I always enjoy. This was probably the aspect that most excited me about the job description initially, and still satisfies me to this day as there is always a challenging issue to solve and accompanying response to communicate!

I’d say the aspect that satisfies me most, though, is just genuinely helping people out. When researchers are appreciative of the support that we always try our best to give them, it’s a very rewarding and motivating feeling. Of course, we’ve all been on the side of the unsatisfied customer, to whom dealing with support can understandably be a frustrating experience, but being in the role has made me realise how much is involved in balancing and prioritising certain issues in competition with the ongoing tasks of the company and its individual team members.

On a broader scale, being part of the Prolific journey and contributing to improving the product is so exciting, and I can’t wait to see where we are in 12 months (and the next 12 after that)! 🚀

H: How does a typical day as Prolific’s Research Support Manager and Consultant look like?

Z: Some of our team are more flexible with their working hours, but I try to work regular 9-5 patterns as much as possible to coincide with the peak times of demand with our customers. So usually, I login to our support systems and team communication software (Slack) at the start of my day, and have a quick browse for anything urgent that should be covered (usually from anything that happened overnight).

After this, I’ll balance working on some of the tasks assigned to me to improve the product as a whole (e.g. organising and writing content for our Help Centre) versus the real-time demands of our customers. My colleague Susan and I always try to respond to support requests within 24 hours, and we're in constant dialogue throughout the day so we can co-ordinate effectively. We try to respond as quickly as we can if the researcher’s request requires immediate attention, or otherwise raise the issue for discussion with our team.

Other responsibilities include preparing an agenda for and leading a weekly support meeting, also attended by our COO Jim, fellow Researcher Support Manager and Consultant Susan, Participant Support Manager Kendra, and People Operations Manager Allie. The purpose of this meeting is to ensure our sub-team (Prolific Support) is co-ordinated with respect to any product changes which might affect customers, as well as giving us some dedicated time to discuss important issues.

All of this is always more than enough to keep me busy! As a small team with limited resources, dealing with the incoming requests of our growing customer base is an ongoing process which can be difficult to stay on top of, but you can be assured that we will be trying to resolve any issues you raise and get back to you with a response as soon as we can. 🙂

H: How would you describe Prolific’s work climate and culture?

Z: Prolific provide such a positive environment to work in, and emphasise flexibility and everyone having a voice in discussions. I think Prolific’s hiring policy is key to this - working with such a small team could be an issue if some members were unmotivated or perhaps not the easiest to work with, but that couldn’t be further from the truth! Someone’s always willing to help you out if needed, and team discussions are always full of ideas from a range of different voices.

This promotes a culture of self-motivation, where you want to work even harder just to make the lives of your colleagues a bit easier, and because you really care about what the company as a whole is trying to achieve. I’m consistently impressed by the work of our team, so when researchers raise an issue or something goes wrong I’m always motivated to find out what caused the problem and find a resolution.

We’re at a very interesting point in the startup journey, where we’re looking to scale up much more quickly than we have been before. When I joined in March 2018, there were only 6 full-time employees (+ 2 freelancers), and now we're 13 employees plus 3 freelancers/contractors. This has changed how we operate quite considerably, and we’ve now created sub-teams, but I’m 100% confident that the overriding culture of sharing opinions will stay intact!

H: That was really interesting – thanks, Zak!

Z: My pleasure! 🙂

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