Sunday, August 25, 2013

From the Archives: This is NOT Advice about the Academic Job Search

It is job season again for academic psychologists everywhere! In that spirit, I thought it might be a good idea to re-post this piece on my experience searching for an academic job. Enjoy!

The annual job season always brings back my own memories of the two job searches I've attempted (one successful). I remember the anxiety a lot, the feeling that there may not actually be a job out there for you (this is a common concern). Then there is also the feeling that you may not, in fact, be as awesome as you thought you were. It's classic self-discrepancy theory as the ideal you (I'm a good researcher) comes into contact with the actual you (I'm not getting a job), and you are predictably left with a sense of dejection/depression (Higgins, 1999).

Now that I have a job as an assistant professor at the University of Illinois (And this year YOU CAN TOO!), many more people have been coming to me for academic career advice, and the lion's share of these career questions have to do with the academic job search. Questions like: How many jobs did you apply for? What did your research statement look like? What was the interview like? Were people hostile during the job talk? These are all great questions, and I think that when most people ask them they are looking for advice from me.

Let me be the first to disappoint you in that regard: I have no advice for successfully navigating the academic job market. Sure, I was successful in my second attempt at finding an academic job, but I couldn't tell you why that happened, or whether what I did would work for anyone but me in my unique circumstances. So, this is NOT an advice column. Instead, my hope is to shed some light on what the academic job search was like for me. In the immortal words of one G. I. Joe, "Knowing is half the battle."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

External Validity and Believability in Experiments

Imagine for a moment that you are an experiment participant in a dystopian future university thirty years from now. At birth, you were taken from your natural parents and assigned to two robotic parental unit alternatives. The first unit is cold and metal, it has a big frowny face, and all it's good for is dispensing the occasional hot meal through it's midriff. The second unit provides no food, but this unit is fashioned with a luxurious coat of fine fur that feels warm to the touch.

Months pass as you are raised by these two robotic parental units. As you descend further and further into madness, every move you make is video recorded by a pair of enterprising future psychologists who are seeking an answer to one question: Will you spend more time with the cold, metal, food-dispensing robot or the furry one? Surprisingly, though the metal robot fulfills your metabolic needs, the researchers are fascinated to find that you spend most of your time with the furry mother surrogate.

What do results from an experiment such as this (famously conducted by Harry Harlow on monkey's in the 1950's) tells us about the nature of social relationships, love, and survival? Do they tell us anything about the human/monkey experience? Or are the conditions of the experiment so artificial in nature, that they obscure our ability to draw insights about basic psychology? I consider these questions in today's post.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Psych-Your-Mind: Now (Facebook) Official!
Hello everyone! As many of you know, our blog has been plugging along for two years now. We've discussed all manner of psychology-related issues--from ESP to gaslighting, and everything in between. Most of you have arrived here because you know one of the bloggers at PYM, you love psychological SCIENCE, or you're my mom (Hi Mom!). Some may have even found their way here through our various social media posts on twitter (mwkraus, psychyourmind) or even on google+ (which is looking more like a wasteland of social media).

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Psychology of the "Psychology Isn't a Science" Argument

Tom knows a pseudoscience when he sees one! (
Every so often the internet is set ablaze with opinion pieces on a familiar question: Are "soft" sciences, like psychology, actually science? Most of the time the argument against psychology as a science comes from people from the so-called harder sciences (you know, people who don't know ish about psychology). Of course, every once in a while we throw ourselves under the bus by declaring that for our softer sciences to be taken seriously, we must be more like the real sciences. You're still reading this so most likely you are interested in my opinion on this topic. With a quick nod to others who have covered this topic herehere, here, and here, let's review some of the arguments for and against psychology as a science in what follows.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Why "Never Give Up" is a Bad Motto

“Never give up” has become one of the most popular pieces of advice in Western culture. It’s not popular with me, though. I do agree that persistence in the face of obstacles is necessary, important, and admirable. Many worthwhile goals require serious commitment and perseverance in order to achieve them. The problem with this advice is that at some point in our lives, we all have goals that are unattainable, and this is where “never give up” falls short. When faced with an unattainable goal, giving up and trying something else might be a better course of action than continuing to try again and again. We have a precious, limited amount of time, energy, and other resources, and there may be times when these are better directed at a new goal. 

In psychology, we refer to “giving up” as disengagement and to “trying something else” as reengagement. When a goal is unattainable, some of us have stronger tendencies than others to disengage and then reengage. It’s easy to think of people who have a tendency to give up as being weak or depressed. However, research shows that is not the case! When goals are unattainable, the tendencies to disengage and then reengage are actually associated with higher subjective well-being. Let’s take a look.