I began my life as an academic researcher, and the the skills and techniques that I acquired during that period have never left me - and I have found fresh uses for them in every role I have filled.
Often the value of (good) research is overlooked by commercial clients because it's deemed too "expensive" or a needless "luxury". I could not disagree more - and that's why I've consistently insisted upon (at least some form of) Discovery being the first part of any creative process that I'm involved with.
With the (somewhat belated) industry realisation of the importance of user-centered design in recent years - and the concomitant rise in experience modelling, personas, ethnography and the rest - this perception of research as an expensive and unnecessary add-on is changing, and the value of data is coming back to the fore.
And huzzah to that, I say.
I put my research skills to use for Sapient, helping one of their clients to understand and characterise their audience.