Kathryn McLellan

Social Science Research


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Kathryn was born a social scientist; her first field research in toy and lunch boxes across lower Manhattan. Finding herself passionately interested in understanding how individuals, groups, and cultures create meaning and identity, she searched for answers, first from academia and then from the marketplace.  From these experiences, she solidly believes in letting people tell their own stories instead of forcing narratives on them; that devoted fans, not companies, own brands; and that vending machines are a great way of understanding cultural expectations of consumer experience in temporal locations.

Passions:  Combining rigorous academic training and a passion for ethnography to help companies think strategically about the value and meaning they can have for consumers. Serving as an expert and experienced analytical voice and field researcher for a wide variety of clients.

Short Compendium of Accomplishments:

Challenge:    Understanding why users of a prescription drug for weight loss are behaving differently than expected.
Solution:    In-depth, in-home ethnographies to understand how social support affects how the participant understands her own weight loss and medication use.
Insight:    Respondents rely on social media due to a sense of community but also a distrust of the overall medical system to provide solid advice even when they trust their own doctors.

Challenge:    Understanding how the presence of children affects family toy shopping.
Solution:    Combine parent-solo shop-alongs with child-centered ones wherever the family shops be it in store, online, or via app.
Insight:    Parents take longer to shop without children partially due to visualizations of their children’s enjoyment.

Challenge: Comprehending the internal processes of shoppers through observation.
Solution: Invite heavy shoppers to teach ethnographers how to shop in a particular retail environment and put the camera and other documentation materials into consumers’ hands.
Insight: Excluding sale signs, heavy shoppers completely filter out signs.  Thus signage should be aimed at less experienced shoppers.

Challenge: Creating a dataset of fifteen years of prisoner GED data unavailable to Nobel winning economist James Heckman for his influential research and upcoming book on education.
Solution: Go beyond traditional policy makers to education and prison employees, combining interviews with data from prison newsletters, educational leaflets, and other publications.
Insight: The importance of bringing anthropological perspectives to traditional economic research.

Challenge: Analyzing why bloggers/social media users would share personal information with and trust the word of people they’ve never met in person.
Solution: Develop new methodology to code and aggregate blog entries, supplemented by textual based interviewing.
Insight: Online actions and interactions count as much as offline ones; people known digitally are friends, not strangers.

Challenge: Seeing how traditional sexual education (schools, parents, churches) and non-traditional information sources (websites, TV, and magazines) affect young women’s sexual behavior, and their feelings about sexual identity.
Solution: Combine statistical data with guided self-written personal analyses on their sex lives
Insight: Non-traditional sources, e.g. Dawson’s Creek, Scarleteen, The Advocate, provide relevant and accessible narratives of female sexuality for young women.

Challenge: Understanding how love of Hello Kitty and kawaii (cute) spawned an entire subculture.
Solution: Supplement traditional methods and secondary source research with hands-on media and product interaction.
Insight: Through targeted consumption, women are able to create a subculture that protects them from socio-cultural pressures of Japanese society.


Experience and Education:

Ethnographer Consultant, Creative Medical Research, December 2016-current;

  • Conducted 5 in-home ethnographic studies including in-depth interviews and evaluations of prescription-drug taking and social networks
  • Provided feedback on project design (questionnaire, structure, how to code behaviors) from an ethnographic perspective
  • Contracted for a second project wave

Ethnographic Consultant, Smart Revenue, January 2010-current;

  • Worked with clients such as Hershey’s, Wal-Mart, Dr. Scholl’s, Galderma, and Samsung with a focus on display, product, and packaging design.
  • Co-created reports combining qualitative interviews and shop-alongs with insights from large quantitative data sets, providing insights from an ethnographic perspective
  • Created classification/coding schemas both on a conceptual level and also using software such as NVivo and Qda Miner
  • Performed over 100 shop and surf-alongs, IDIs, ethnographies, and in-store dyad interviews.
  • Gave feedback on study and questionnaire design based on extensive in-field experience.

Project Supervisor, Rabin Research, April 2010-September 2011; Providing the framework of market research from data coding to presentation

  • Supporting design and analysis of qualitative and quantitative research initiatives.
  • Compiling and interpreting data to support consumer and b2b insights.

Research Assistant, University of Chicago, June 2005-May 2009; Satisfying the curiosity and research questions of Nobel Prize winner James Heckman and his 30 person team

  • Project managed an upcoming book on the GED by Professor Heckman, including hiring and managing research suppliers.
  • Determined, designed, and undertook research protocol for collecting data on GED rates among prisoners, including interviewing state authorities and collating and coding data from state websites and prison newsletters.
  • Handled or supervised 80% of reference requests.

Independent Research:

  • Independently provided research professionals writing and editorial aid for over seventy papers, theses, reviews, and presentations.
  • Advised artists and small-businesses on market research solutions for their needs.
  • Collaborated with research team in the first stage of a longitudinal study on all incoming full-time MBA students in the 2006-2007 school year at the Booth School of Business.

Integrated Marketing Certificate, University of Chicago Graham School of General Studies, Chicago IL, June 2010

Master of Arts in the Social Sciences, University of Chicago, Chicago IL, August 2006

  • Focus: Anthropology and Human Development
  • Thesis:  ‘LiveJournal is a Conversation’:  An examination of the effects of interpersonal communication on personal blogging

Bachelor of Arts in Women and Gender Studies, Macalester College, St. Paul MN, June 2004

  • Focus: Anthropology, Sociology, and Psychology
  • Honors Thesis:  When Jane Grows Up:  A Look at How the Sexual Lessons of Girlhood Impact College-Aged Women
  • Recipient of Ford Foundation sub-grant for Feminist Graduate Study Mentoring