The 10 dont’s if you want to be successful

IMG_0642-small-filteredIn 2011, one of our research heroes, prof. Robin Hogarth, gave a fascinating and inspiring talk at the early career event of SPUDM23. At IndecisionBlog, we thought it would be useful to publish his talk on “the 10 dont’s” if you  want to succeed as a researcher.

General point: Enjoy life because you’re long dead (Scottish proverb).

10 important DON’Ts

1. Work on topics you are not really interested in.

2. Choose colleagues/advisors based just on status.

3. Ignore comments/advice of senior colleagues.

4. “Take your eye off the ball.

5. Ignore teaching.

6. Over-teach (the rewards are immediate).

7. Ignore refereeing duties (always answer quickly and particularly if you cannot do the review)

8. Fail to keep your CV and web-site up-to-date.

9. Miss important conferences.

10. Ignore the network.

Some points to emphasize:

1. You have two bosses: your university and the profession. Demands can conflict.

2. In teaching rewards are immediate and frequent; this is not the case for research.

3. Always remember that “every talk is a job talk.

Research Heroes: Ellen Peters


This week’s Research Hero is Prof. Ellen Peters. Prof. Peters received her M.S. and Ph.D. from the Department of Psychology, University of Oregon in 1994 and 1998, respectively. She is currently a professor in the Psychology Department at The Ohio State University. She works extensively with the National Cancer Institute and the Food and Drug Administration to advance the science of human decision making. Prof. Peters’ research focuses on how affective, intuitive, and deliberative processes help people to make decisions in an increasingly complex world. She studies numeracy and number processing, how affect and emotion influence information processing and decisions, and how information processing and decision making change across the adult life span. Prof. Peters has received over 10 academic awards, been on the editorial board of various academic journals, published numerous articles and continues to be one of the experts in medical decision making. 

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career… how much fun research can be. It is serious business in some ways, but the process of discovering something new about the human mind is simply fascinating. What we study is so much more complex than other “hard” sciences that it continues to amaze me that we can and do find some order in the chaos.

I most admire academically… I most admire people who combine great scientific rigor with a desire (and actions) to do some good in the world because we only get one life time to try to make a difference.  There are many examples including Paul Slovic, Elke Weber, Baruch Fischhoff, Eric Johnson, Laura Carstensen, Karen Emmons, and countless others (my apologies if I forgot to name you).

The best research project I have worked on during my career… is about something we called evaluative categories and how they influence judgments and choices about health insurance plans and hospitals. It started off as a topic that looked really boring (sorry Judy Hibbard!); it ended up being a great blend of basic and applied research. Although it’s among my favorite projects, it took the longest to publish!

The worst research project I have worked on during my career… I’ve learned something from all of them.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research… This experience is my most memorable but also the saddest. It also taught me a lot about the research process. We were doing a study for HCFA (Medicare) with older adults subjects.  I was doing cognitive interviews with some materials in a senior center. One of my participants was having some surprising difficulty with a relatively easy task. As we talked about it, she suddenly broke down crying.  It turned out that her husband had died about a year ago and he had always made these kinds of insurance and other money decisions for them. What I thought was a simply comprehension task was filled with grief and powerful narrative for her. The “decision” she faced was completely different from the one that I thought I had given her.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance… I think I’ve told them!

A research project I wish I had done… Any time I have wanted to do a research project, I have done it. We’ve gone to Africa and Peru, worked with older adults and younger, and have studied theoretical topics from affect and emotion to numeracy and applied topics from health-plan choices to donation behaviors to climate change.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be…Writing fiction or running a restaurant with my husband.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years… Be relevant. Develop theory because this is what is needed. At the same time, the theory needs to matter to “something that matters.”

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is… Pay attention to opportunities and take some risks.  Whether the opportunities you find actually benefit you is probabilistic (just like everything else in life), but taking a chance is often worth it.

Do what you enjoy or feel is important to society, hopefully both.  If you’re lucky, you’ll get to enjoy doing most of it. I’ve been really lucky.

It’s good to have your own money – spend time writing and rewriting grant proposals.

Departmental website

APS 2013- Top Tweets, Moments, and Advice

flash mobThe Association for Psychological Science (APS) had its 25th birthday in Washington, DC this weekend. And to celebrate they pulled out all the stops including a flash mob, a fancy hotel across from the zoo, a concert, a huge line up of top notch invited speakers,  and APS branded merchandise.

APS also was the first conference this author has ever visited that successfully and widely  got attendees to use twitter. This allowed both science and general advice on research to go public immediately. At Indecision Blog, we love how the internet opens up scientific communication, so we were excited by how Internet-heavy APS was this year.

Below we have aggregated the top moments, pieces of advice, and general tweets from #APS2013DC. We recommend you go through the #APS2013DC on twitter itself but given the number of tweets we warn you that is quite an undertaking. So start off with our summary below.

Advice and Thoughts on Research Process

meeting people

Funny and Witty Tweets

party image

The Actual Science

The APS website did a fantastic job of summarizing many talks, moments, and even posting videos on their Daily Observation blog. Check out all the entries between May 23rd and May 26th. You can even watch the entire Molecules and Mind address.

Also make sure to just search #APS2013DC for the top tweets about the science.

Here are a few of our random favorites.


Did you hear a piece of advice at APS we missed? Was there a great talk people should make sure to check out either via the Daily Observation blog or a paper? Was there a new interesting perspective you gained from the conference? Do you want to share your poster or slides to promote your research? Tell us in the comments and be sure to include any applicable links.

Also amen to this tweet praising APS’s biggest live tweeter:

Viewpoint: Why social science grad students make great product managers

A couple of months ago we featured Paul Litvak from Google in our Outside the Matrix series. After his interview, his inbox was inundated with questions from readers and he recently wrote a response on his own blog which we thought was so fantastic we wanted to republished it on InDecision as well. So, this week Paul shares his views on why social science grad students make excellent product managers. Note: even if you’re not a grad student yourself, it’s worth reading Paul’s views in case you’re ever in a position to hire one! 

After my interview with InDecision Blog, a number of graduate students emailed asking me about careers in technology (hey, I asked for it). They were a very impressive lot from top universities, but their programming skills varied quite a bit. Some less technically minded folks were looking at careers in technology aside from data scientist. Enough of them asked specifically about product management, so I thought I would combine my answers for others who might be interested.

What does a product manager do?
Brings the donuts. The nice thing about social science grad students for whom reading about product managers is news is that we can skip over the aggrandized misconceptions about product management that many more familiar with the technology space might harbor. The product manager is the person (or persons) that stands at the interface between an engineering team building a product and the outside world (here includes not only the customers/users of the product, but also the other teams within a given company who might be working on related products). The product manager is in charge of protecting the “vision” of the product. Sometimes they come up with that vision, but more often than not, the scope of what the product should be and what features it needs to have today, next week, or next year is something that emerges out of interactions between the engineers, the engineers’ manager, the product manager, company executives, etc etc. The product manager is really just the locus of where that battle plays out. So obviously there is a great need for politicking at times as well.

But wait, there’s more! Once the product is actually launched, it is typically still worked on and improved (or fixed). So the product manager is also the person that gets to figure out how to prioritize the various additional work that could be done. But how do they figure out what needs to be changed or fixed? This is one of the places where research comes in! So someone like me might do analysis on the data of people’s actual usage of the product (the product manager prioritized getting the recording of people’s actions properly instrumented, right? RIGHT?). Or a qualitative researcher might conduct interviews of users in the field and try and abstract an understanding from that. Either way, the product manager has to make sense of all this incoming information and figure out how to allocate resources accordingly.

Why would social science graduate students be good at that?
Perhaps you can see where I’m going with this. Products are increasing in scope. Even a simple app has potentially tens of thousands of users. Quantitative methods are becoming increasingly important for understanding what customers do. In such an environment, being savvy about data is hugely advantageous. In the same way that many product managers benefit from computer science degrees without coding on a daily basis, product managers will benefit from knowing statistics, along with domain expertise in psychology, sociology, anthropology even if they aren’t the ones collecting and analyzing the data themselves. It will help them ask the right questions and to when to trust results, and when to be more skeptical. It will help them operationalize their measures of success more intelligently.

The soft skills of graduate school also translate more nicely. Replace “crazy advisor” with “manager” (hopefully a good one) and replace “fellow graduate students” with “other product managers” and many of the lessons apply. Many graduate social scientists will have plenty of experience with being part of a lab and engaging in large-scale collaborative projects. Just like in graduate school, a typical product manager will spend hours fine tuning slide decks and giving high stakes presentations meant to convince skeptical elders of the merit of a certain course of research (replace with: feature, product, or strategy).

Finally, building technology products is a kind of applied social science. You start with a hypothesis about a problem that people are having that you can solve. Of course, as a social scientist, the typical grad student understands just how fraught this is! Anthropologist readers of James Scott and Jane Jacobs and economists who love their Hayek will have a keen appreciation for spontaneous order (“look! users are using this feature in a totally unexpected way!”), as well as the difficulties of a priori theories of users’ problems or competencies. In fact, careful reading of social science should make a fledging PM pretty skeptical of grand theories. For instance–should interfaces be simpler or more complicated? How efficient should we make it to do some set of common actions? If everything is easily accessible from one click on the front page, will there be overload of too many buttons? Is that simpler or more complicated? These sorts of debates, much like debates about the function of particular social institutions or legal proscriptions, are not easily solved with simple bromides like “less is always better”, or “more clear rules, less discretion” (I am reading Simpler: The Future of Government by Cass Sunstein right now, and he makes this point very well with respect to regulations). The ethos of the empirical social scientist is to look for incremental improvements bringing all of our particularist knowledge to bear on a problem, not to solve everything with one sweeping gesture. This openness is exactly the right mentality for a product manager, in my opinion.

I hope I have at least partially convinced you that as an empirical social scientist, you would make a great product manager. Now the question is, how do I convince someone in technology of that? The short and most truthful answer is, I’m not 100% certain. It might take some work to break into project management, but I see lots of people with humanities background doing it, so it can’t be that hard (One of my favorite Google PMs is an English PhD). One thing I would suggest is carefully framing your resume to emphasize your PM-pertinent skills–things like, group project management, public speaking experience, making high stakes presentations, etc. You might also consider making a small persuasive deck to show as a portfolio example of a situation where you convinced someone of something (your dissertation proposal could work?). This would be a great start. Another thing is consider more junior PM roles initially–as a PhD coming out of grad school you are still going to make a fine salary as an entry-level product manager. If you apply these principles I have no doubt that you will quickly move up.

Read Paul’s original interview here.

Research Heroes: Robert B. Cialdini

CialdiniThis week’s Research Hero is Robert B. Cialdini, Regents’ Emeritus Professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University. Prof Cialdini’s research focuses on, but is not limited to, social influences and persuasion. He is the recipient of the Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award of the Society for Consumer Psychology, the Donald T. Campbell Award for Distinguished Contributions to Social Psychology, the (inaugural) Peitho Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Science of Social Influence, the Distinguished Scientist Award of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology, and has been elected president of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology. Professor Cialdini’s book Influence: Science and Practice, which was the result of a three-year program of study into the reasons that people comply with requests in everyday settings, has sold over two million copies while appearing in numerous editions and twenty-eight languages.

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career to avoid being overcommitted and, thereby, constantly rushed. In my experience, it is the single self-inflicted problem that, when left to expand, has most undermined the joy of doing research.

I most admire academically William McGuire because he was the consummate combination of big-picture theorist and precise-picture experimentalist.

The project that I am most proud of took me out of my comfort zone as a researcher predicting (mostly from theoretical formulations) the responses of experimental subjects (mostly college students) in controlled settings (mostly laboratories) and put me, as a kind of secret agent, in the training programs of the influence professionals of our society. There, I recorded the lessons taught to aspiring salespeople, marketers, advertisers, managers, fund-raisers, public relations specialists, and recruiters. My intent was to find out which practices were roundly judged to work powerfully time after time, figuring that thriving influence organizations would instruct their influence agents in those techniques. So I answered the organizations’ newspaper ads for trainees or otherwise arranged to be present in their classrooms, notebook in hand, ready to absorb the wisdom born of longstanding experience in the business of persuasion.  That experience of going to the field for evidence, rather than only to the laboratory, changed my perspective on the most productive ways to study the social influence process.

The one project that I should never had done, in keeping with my answer to question #1, was always the one that was so attractive that I agreed to it even though I already had too many projects on my plate to accept another. The consequence was that, invariably, all the projects suffered from my inability to give each the time, energy, and focus it deserved.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research occurred during one of a series of meetings with the local blood services organization to get their assistance with a research project investigating how to get citizens to give blood. Although we thought that we had made a compelling case for mutual benefit, the organization’s chief administrator hung back from authorizing our project. It wasn’t until a junior member of his staff quietly informed us of the reason for her boss’s reluctance that we understood what we had left out of our persuasive approach. “None of you has given blood yet,” she whispered during a break in the meeting. Mildly chastised but properly enlightened, we asked just before the meeting’s close how we might contribute to the organization’s important goals by donating a pint or two of blood ourselves. An opportunity was arranged, blood was drained, and full approval of our project followed within the week.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance doesn’t exist, as I am an inveterate story-teller.

A research project I wish I had done would have followed up empirically on a theoretical piece I wrote a few years ago in which I offered a rationale—beyond the traditional one based on the economic consequences of a damaged reputation—for why organizations should steer sharply away from unethical persuasive practices: Those practices will lend themselves to the attraction and retention of employees who find cheating personally acceptable and who will ultimately cheat the organization as a consequence. Fortunately along with a pair of brilliant collaborators, Jessica Li and Adriana Samper, I am finally beginning that project.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be looking for a way to do this.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years is demonstrating convincingly to individuals outside of the academic research community the value of our thinking, findings, and (research-based) approach to the problems they confront regularly.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is always have a foil. For maximum scholarly impact, never test your hypothesis just against the null. Always test it against at least one competing conceptual hypothesis.

I got interested in doing research on social influence because I was raised in an entirely Italian family, in a predominantly Polish neighborhood, in a historically German city (Milwaukee), in an otherwise rural state. I often ascribe my interest in the social influence process to an early recognition that the groups populating those settings had to be approached somewhat differently in order to obtain their assent, sometimes to the identical request. It also struck me that one reason for this complication was that the social norms—the characteristic tendencies and codes of conduct of the groups—differed. Therefore, if I wanted to maximize compliance with a request from a member of one or another of these groups, it would be wise to take into account the dominant social norms of that particular unit.

My recommendations for young researchers interested in studying social influence is get into the field. It’s possible to do soundly conducted, properly controlled studies and experiments in naturally-occurring settings. It might be substantially more inconvenient; but, provided the work is soundly conducted and properly controlled, the data will be more meaningful—and the effort consequently worth it.

Departmental website

Viewpoint: Raised on TED – The Inspirations

Last week Troy talked about the dangers of young researchers being raised on TED. However, it’s not all doom and gloom: there are a lot of good and inspiring elements that come out of TED, too. 

Inspiration #1: Do Stuff that Matters


TED inspires us to do things that matter. Every talk is proof that the ivory tower can make big changes far from campuses. If you have any doubts just watch TED talks by science advocates like Rory Sutherland and Daniel Pink.

Researchers have a tendency to think esoterically or on too small a scale. TED helps to remind us that even if we never reach that TED podium, our research can contribute to solutions on a worldwide stage.

New people to the field may not realize that before the days of TED, Malcolm Gladwell, and the Internet, the public and private organizations did not care as much about behavioral science or arguably about science in general. Behavioral scientists were fighting to matter – just ask Richard Thaler. Today we have the opportunity to see our work go global but it does not mean we should abandon basic science or only do micro-applied work. It means young researchers should keep an eye open for where research can matter and be consumed by the public and mangers.

Inspiration #2: Communication is Important

Layout 1

Science should be a service to others. Some science can serve others without ever being communicated on a wide scale. However, much behavioral science can serve others through mass communication. TED reminds us of the importance of communicating research beyond a 101 introductory class.

Though some often criticize scientists’ mad rush to the popular press, it is indisputable that a popular press filled with good behavioral science would be a good thing. Some scientific findings don’t belong in the public eye because the findings are unclear, complex, or not relevant.But every issue of a scientific journal (at least in fields like behavioral sciences) has at least one paper that deserves public attention. If that’s your paper, work on getting it out there. You’ll benefit and the world will benefit.

Inspiration #3: Scientists Should Communicate Science

Side note - has there ever been a cooler picture of scientist than this one?

Side note – has there ever been a cooler picture of scientist than this one? It’s like they hired J.J. Abrams to put the perfect lens flare on it.

Not everyone is able, should, or wants to communicate on a TED stage, but those who can should. Scientists should get a few hours of media training from their university and get in front of audiences. Journalists are wonderful, but they often mess our science up. If we want our science communicated properly, then we need to communicate it ourselves.

Many universities want professors and graduate students to write opinion pieces and articles to get science out in the public. Contact your university’s Press office and you could have an article in a respectable paper within weeks. It won’t be the New York Times, but you’ll get experience, writer credits, and you’ll be educating readers. Additionally, many local groups, departments, and meet-up clubs are always on the lookout for speakers. You can go give your own TED-like talk to these groups in your area.

Finally, many professors recommend writing blogs and popular press articles because writing constantly helps to refine one’s scientific communication skills. Writing and presenting for the public forces one to complete a full argument on regular basis—something we don’t get with academic writing. In addition, science journals (even journals like Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) are more and more looking for concisely written articles, so public writing can be good practice.

Concluding Thoughts

So is TED a danger or inspiration? Like any modern intervention it is what you draw it that matters. TED encourages us to get public and real-world with our work, but it does not  mean abandon theory for entertaining real-world results. Every TED speaker from our field is a great theoretician and that’s what that person got on that stage, keep that up but with an eye on the real world.

Research Heroes: Gerd Gigerenzer

gigerenzer_gerd_rgb_2006_webThis week on Research Heroes we’re featuring professor Gerd Gigerenzer who is Director at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin and former Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago. He has won the AAAS Prize for the best article in the behavioral sciences and the Association of American Publishers Prize for the best book in the social and behavioral sciences. His award-winning popular books Calculated Risks: How To Know When Numbers Deceive You, and Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious have been translated into 18 languages and his academic books include The Empire of Chance,Simple Heuristics That Make Us Smart, Rationality for Mortals, and Bounded Rationality: The Adaptive Toolbox (with Reinhard Selten, a Nobel Laureate in economics). Together with the Bank of England, he works on the project “Simple heuristics for a safer world.” He has trained managers, U.S. Federal Judges and German physicians in decision-making and understanding risk and uncertainty. 

I wish that someone had told me at the beginning that research and writing is more fun than playing Jazz and Dixieland (my previous career).

I most admire academically Herbert Simon, because he was no respecter of disciplinary boundaries. There are two ways to do research: one is to identify with a discipline, and to research whatever topics others do; the other is to identify with a problem, and use the knowledge and methods from various disciplines to solve it. Real innovation almost always comes from problem-oriented research.

Asking about the best research project I have worked is like asking me to single out a Wagner opera as my favorite – like the operas, the projects mostly build on each other and form a single body of work.

The worst research project I was involved in: In the early phases of discovering cognitive heuristics, some researchers at my center were overly enthusiastic about the predictive accuracy of a particular heuristic in forecasting sports results. Fortunately for us, the press followed its usual pattern of announcing a dramatic result and just as quickly forgetting it.

The most memorable experience when I was doing research was Ulrich Hoffrage’s and my totally unexpected discovery of the “less-is-more” effect. Initially we were dismayed by this counter-intuitive result, which ruined the experiment in question, but answering the question of how it could be so led to the fast-and-frugal heuristics program.

The one story I always wanted to tell: Up to now my audiences have been kind enough to listen to all of my stories. My books Rationality for Mortals and Gut Feelings are full of stories about research.

A research project I wish I had done: Hmm. When I trained about 1,000 physicians as part of a Continuing Medical Education program to understand risk und uncertainty, I learned that about 80% of physicians are statistically illiterate. I always wondered why medical schools don’t teach medical students to understand evidence, and why most patients, including academics, nevertheless blindly trust their doctors. And why so few psychologists are willing to leave their labs and go out and teach doctors. That would be an important research project I always wanted to do. And probably will.

If I weren’t doing this, I would be a guitar or piano player with my former jazz band.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years lies in studying how one should rationally deal with unknown risks (“uncertainty”), as opposed to known risks (“risk”). Uncertainty means that not all alternatives, consequences and probabilities are known – as in most of our decisions. Under uncertainty, one cannot optimize and has to rely on smart heuristics. Probability theory and logic are the tools for known risks; heuristics and intuition are those for uncertainty. This distinction is not always respected, and there are still many who believe that subjective probability theory would be the only tool that is needed to make good decisions.

My advice: If you are average and unimaginative, do what the others do and pursue a decent career. If you are brilliant and smart, try to think deep, be bold and take professional risks. 

Departmental website