Star Track: Mandeep K. Dhami

mandeep-croppedThis week in Star Track we’re featuring Mandeep K. Dhami, PhD, who is Professor of Decision Psychology at Middlesex University. She received her PhD in Psychology from City University, London, UK. Her research focuses on human JDM and choice, and risk primarily in the criminal justice domain. Her previous academic posts include the University of Cambridge (UK), University of Maryland (USA), and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development (Germany). Mandeep has also worked outside academia for the Ministry of Defence and for two British prisons. Mandeep has also won several awards, including from Division 9 of the APA and EADM. Mandeep advises Government organizations nationally and internationally on criminal justice issues, and has helped to establish a Restorative Justice Program in the City of Victoria, Canada. Mandeep is Fellow of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI; Division 9 of the APA). She has authored over 80 scientific articles and book chapters, is the lead editor of the book Judgment and decision making as a skill: Learning, development, and evolution, and on the editorial board of prestigious journals such as Perspectives on Psychological Science. In her spare time, Mandeep is a competitive ballroom dancer, and has represented England in Latin formation.

I wanted to pursue an academic career in this field because… Well, actually, I hadn’t planned on an academic career in Decision Science…things just worked out that way, and I’m very pleased they did. I had worked in prisons as an assistant psychologist while doing my undergraduate degree, and had wanted to go into prison management afterwards. However, a head psychologist encouraged me to do a PhD – saying my career in prisons would benefit from having a solid research background. So, off I went to do a Masters in Criminology followed by a PhD in JDM – and although I never did return to work in prisons, I’ve been back behind bars many times in the UK, US and Canada to study prisoner decision-making. Decision Science affords researchers considerable opportunities to conduct studies in a variety of field settings.

I find the inspiration for my research mostly from the social world around me, and particularly from policy debates in the criminal justice arena. By starting with the problem first, I can be free to choose the most relevant theories and appropriate methods. Dogmatic adherence to theories and methods has blighted the development of social scientific fields, and doing research for the sake of doing research is a waste of opportunity. I want my research to ‘count’ – I want to change some aspects of the world I live in, and so I find myself conducting research to solve social problems.

When people ask me what I do, I say “I study how people think and make decisions, focusing often on people in the criminal justice system such as offenders, police officers and court judges.” There have been several occasions when this simple question and answer has led to extremely useful feedback on my research as well as new research opportunities.

The paper that has most influenced me is… Two books have influenced me hugely – Erving Goffman’s Asylums and Paul Meehl’s Clinical versus statistical prediction. Goffman taught me that to study people we need to see the world from their perspective,and Meehl taught me to question expertise rather than revere it.

The best research project I have worked on during my career… I’m not sure how to operationalize ‘best’ – there have been some projects that have been fun to work on and others that made my ‘head hurt’ – both types of projects produced publications I’m proud of. But, given that I have about 3 decades before retirement, I’d like to think the ‘best’ is yet to come….

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be… If I’d gone down the prison management route, I’d probably be a senior civil servant in the UK Ministry of Justice or Home Office by now.

The most important quality for a researcher to have is… In one word ‘resilience.’ Some of the most common phrases in academia include ‘rejected’, ‘declined’, and ‘unsuccessful’. What a lot of young academics don’t realise is that good researchers take this negative feedback and use it to improve their work – they don’t simply ignore it, and they certainly don’t just give up.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years… We have too many effects and not enough explanations. Our field needs to develop process models that integrate different theoretical approaches, and that are tested under representative task conditions. This can produce more robust findin gs, and those that translate to the world outside the laboratory.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is… Work on something you feel passionate about. This will hopefully mean you don’t give up when things get tough. Over time, you’ll learn to communicate the value of your work to others, and although they may not share your enthusiasm, they will come to appreciate your work, and you.

The one thing I’ve found most challenging is… The slow pace of academia; the time lag from having a research idea through conducting the research to publishing it can be several years; patience is not a virtue that I can say I have much of. Fortunately, the time lag has been reduced in recent years with e.g. the introduction of ‘online first’.

For more information on Mandeep, visit her page.

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