Amy Wilkins is a sociology Ph.D. with over 15 years of experience leading high impact qualitative research teams. After spending a good deal of her formative years in Asia, Amy completed her studies and went on to spend the first part of her career as a professor. While teaching, she also published prolifically, including an award winning book and over 20 peer-reviewed academic papers.
Upon leaving the scholarly world, Amy began conducting product research for small startups. She also gained volunteer experience by working with Hack for LA, the Los Angeles branch of Code for America, which is a civic tech organization that applies tech skills to government organizations and other civic problems. She then took a position as the Director of Insight at an integrated advertising agency. In that role, she managed and planned a portfolio of seven market research and brand strategy accounts across the tourism, finance, utility, non-profit, and healthcare verticals. She worked across the agency to conduct, interpret, and apply consumer and market research insights to develop strategic business insights.
Amy’s overarching professional passion is research, and she actively seeks positions that allow her to conduct as much research as possible. In this vein, her strengths are in-depth interviews, focus groups, and contextual inquiry/ethnography, but she boasts a wide range of experience, including usability testing. Currently, she and her cousin own a real estate company. She is also conducting independent research.
When not working, Amy Wilkins enjoys hiking, paddle boarding, traveling, and spending time with her friends and family, as well as designing and renovating her beloved Florida condo, which she and her cousin use as a short-term rental.
How have you achieved success?
I have always been an extremely driven person, and I believe that my success can be attributed to my commitment to the goals that I’ve set for myself. I had an extraordinary mentor during graduate school who was extremely helpful to me. He was immensely gifted, but the thing that made him so wonderful was that he allowed me to find and develop my own creative voice as a sociologist. I think that helped me to become very successful because it allowed me to explore the subject thoroughly and be really innovative. So, I think it was a combination of being really committed, driven, and encouraged to do excellent and innovative work that helped me to succeed.
What are some of the obstacles you’ve overcome to reach the level of success that you’re particularly proud of?
I was a single mother throughout graduate school, and I struggled financially, so that was a major obstacle that I had to overcome. I considered dropping out but my mom really pushed me to stay in school and finish my degree. And I managed to do a complex dissertation, which then turned into an exciting research position. I’m very proud of that.
Can you share a bit about your early days in research and sociology, and what made you fall in love with it?
I moved around a lot throughout Asia when I was growing up and went to three different high schools. I was an outsider, and my experiences in those countries left me really curious about social belonging, inequality, and identities. It took me until graduate school to find sociology, but when I did, I realized that it was the discipline that asked all the right questions and answered them in a way that I found very compelling.
My first study on my own involved asking a lot of questions of high schoolers, and at the time, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to discover. I’ve always focused my studies on young adults because I find the problems specific to that age group so interesting. I take them and their dilemmas seriously, and I use the research I gather to help others understand their lives and hopefully make their lives more livable. It’s such an exciting, life-changing mission, and I knew that it was what I wanted to do with my career as soon as I began doing it.
I was not only able to compile the data I collected about these people’s lives, but also listen to them, and honor their stories. I was then able to then take those stories and piece them together, figuring out the puzzle as I went, and ultimately developing a new kind of analysis that nobody had seen before. It was an amazing and exciting experience, and it brought me a great deal of joy.
What drives you to succeed?
I’m driven by the integrity of the work. I have an innate compulsion to produce good work and make contributions that matter. That’s what drives me. I try to do work that will have a real impact on people’s lives for the better; work that will make a difference in the world. And of course, I want to be able to support my family in the process.
How has your definition of success changed over the years?
I care much less about what other people think now, as well as how other people perceive things, and about status. I now care much more about my intrinsic happiness and the happiness of those close to me and the people that have touched my life.
What has achieving success meant to you?
I don’t put much stock into ‘success’ as it’s defined, really. Success by the traditional definition is often ephemeral. Rather, I care much more about leading a meaningful life surrounded by people I value and appreciate. Now, the things I value most in life are my personal relationships.
Do you have any advice for others who are aspiring to become successful?
First, define success for yourself. You need to figure out what it means for you, because if you don’t, life and career can quickly become very unwieldy as you try to accomplish all manner of disparate things. There’s a lot of pressure in society to become successful in specific sorts of ways, and it’s often hard to get rid of all that noise, but you need to gain a clear sense of what you want and decide what your purpose is.
How do you feel a person reaching their definition of success affects their outlook?
I think it has a significant impact on your goals and what you put your energy into. It’s something a lot of people don’t think much about—what they’ll do once they’ve reached the goals they set out for themselves. But continuously setting new goals for yourself once you attain older ones is critical in order to keep moving forward.
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