Design Researcher, Idea Couture

Michael Cao.

From academia to industry: A career in innovation and discovery


Like many students, Michael (MSc ’18) did not know what he wanted to do after his master’s degree. He had interests in human behaviour and technology and has always enjoyed the pursuit of knowledge and innovation. Little did Michael know; he would find a job where these interests would all intersect. Today, he is a Design Researcher at Idea Couture, a strategic innovation and design firm. 

The beginning 

As an undergraduate student in the Kinesiology co-op program at Waterloo, Michael had his sights set on medical school. It was not until an informal chat with professor Ewa Niechwiej-Szwedo that his eyes were opened to the field of neuroscience and the possibility of doing a master’s degree. The prospect of creating new knowledge and making discoveries fueled Michael’s decision to pursue his Master of Science in Kinesiology with a specialization in neuroscience.

Into the field

Now, two years after graduating with his MSc, Michael works in consulting where he is the human experience expert for his project team. From his master’s research in information processing, attention and behaviour – to his undergraduate co-op experience in ergonomics – Michael draws on all of his Waterloo experiences to inform his professional work. In his role, he is responsible for analyzing human behaviour and making recommendations for product innovation and design. Since Idea Couture works with clients in a wide-range of industries, Michael’s role is ever-changing and he is constantly faced with new and exciting challenges.

Looking back

Of the many things gained from his graduate degree, Michael’s experience shaped him personally and professionally. Not only did he hone his expertise, he also strengthened his skills in project and time management, organization and resilience, presentations and public speaking, and stakeholder engagement. In fact, it was Michael’s bumpy experience during his thesis proposal that he credits for his preparedness for meetings and presentations.

“A master’s teaches you a way to think and organize your thoughts and to come up with a program or strategy to test things. I think that’s important not only in the scientific field, but it’s also important in business, it’s important as a manager, it’s important as a policy maker.”

-Michael Cao, MSc Kinesiology Alumnus

Michael’s graduate experience was both challenging and rewarding, and it helped shape him into who he is today. By working hard, pursuing his passion and being open to new opportunities, Michael has landed himself some amazing gigs and now, an exciting career.

Affiliation: 
University of Waterloo