Graeme Trayner began his career as an intern for Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and is now a Vice President of the company, running their New York office and international corporate practice. In between, he has worked for a number of other companies, including a stint as a Partner in the London office of Brunswick Group where he set up its global opinion research practice. He also worked closely with consumer research pioneer Wendy Gordon and British Labour Party pollsters Philip Gould and Deborah Mattinson. Graeme writes and speaks frequently on the convergence of business and politics, and social psychology and corporate reputation. His paper on rethinking reputation research was Highly Commended at the 2012 MRS Annual Conference and in 2014 he won the Best Conference Chair Award. He is a past AQR Board Member and a certified member of MRS.

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career that it's a marathon, not a sprint. Looking back, I was in too much of a rush, and you need time and experience to turn into a fully rounded advisor. Also, to make sure you don't burn the candle at both ends – it's not good for anyone!

I most admire the researchers I was lucky to train with. Stan Greenberg and Jeremy Rosner have been mentors since I started out, and the late Philip Gould was an inspiration – particularly on understanding people's aspirations. I feel very fortunate to have worked with the wonderful Wendy Gordon, who taught me a lot about the role of emotion and context. Deborah Mattinson and Viki Cooke gave me incredible opportunities, and Roy Langmaid and Bob Deutsch have inspired me in recent years. At Brunswick, I was also fortunate enough to work with Nick Claydon and Susan Gilchrist – I learned a huge amount from them about communications and business.

The best research project I have worked on during my career was Labour's 2001 election campaign, and seeing first-hand how research informs a race. Conducting focus groups in Kosovo, only a few years after the end of the conflict, was fascinating too, and at times, very moving.

The tongue-lashing I got from Phillip Gould when I forgot a lot of stimulus for crucial focus groups still makes me shudder. Think Sir Alex Ferguson and the hairdryer treatment…

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research was conducting focus groups in New York a few weeks after 9/11. Listening to how people were starting to grapple with the enormity of the loss, and how it impacted on how they looked at their lives, families and community, was very revealing, and in many ways, humbling. Since moving to New York, I've often found myself thinking back to those sessions.

You do end up in some surreal situations in this job. Back in my early twenties, I did some fieldwork which involved sitting in women's bathrooms, and asking them about their use of shower gel and body lotion. Truly odd in retrospect.

I've probably watched too much Mad Men, but I am sure it would have been fun to have been around when the generation of European refugees brought psychoanalytic thinking to Madison Avenue – the likes of Ernest Dichter, Paul Lazarsfeld and Herta Herzog. I also think it must have been wonderful to work at Bill Schlackman's firm back in the day, particularly as his alumni list is a who's who of qualitative research greats.

If I wasn't doing this, I would be a psychotherapist, or at least, attempting to be one.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years is, in the words of Roy Langmaid, to make sure we put people before process and products. As an industry, we often get dazzled by the new new thing, or are lured into technique-mania or some neuro-marketing nonsense. We need to make sure we don't lose the human element in research, and give people the space to open up and talk about their lives.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is read, read, and read more. We are lucky to work at the intersection between organisations and society, and to be focused on understanding what makes people tick. To do this job properly, you need to understand what is going on across a whole gamut of issues and debates, and to be able draw on a range of academic disciplines. You can never read too much, and I often feel I haven't read enough.

Young researchers who want to take Graeme's advice and read more can access opinions from some of the sector's leading thinkers for free via IJMR Viewpoint articles.

This blog post was originally published on the Market Research Society website.