About Neda Kerimi

Scientist

Research Heroes: Barbara Summers

barbara%20summersBarbara Summers is a Senior Lecturer in Decision Making at Leeds University Business School, UK, where she also serves as co-Director of the Centre for Decision Research. She has recently been elected to serve as President Elect of the European Association for Decision Making (EADM), and currently serves on the Society’s Board as Member at Large. Her research focuses on individual decision making from both cognitive and emotional perspectives, with application areas in health, marketing and pensions. Her work benefits from her previous commercial experience as Head of Systems Development at Equifax Europe UK.

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career…… the advantages of walking and patience. Sometimes projects take a while to get going; you have an idea, but investigating it leads into slightly unfamiliar territory so you feel there is a lot of literature to get through. Or you might feel you have lots of bits of the puzzle but can’t see how they fit together. It’s human nature to want results quickly and to feel disheartened in these situations, but don’t – this sort of project can be the most interesting in the long run, so it’s worth being patient and working through it. I find the best way to trigger the “eureka” moment when the bits click into place is to stop thinking. Walking while not focusing on your thoughts or sleeping are really good ways to do this. The idea of sleeping on a problem usually works for me (and recharges your batteries).

I most admire academically… because…There are a lot of people, but the work of Kahneman and Tversky on Prospect Theory had the biggest effect on me. I had been doing work in another field and realized that this theory gave a better explanation of some data I had than the traditional explanations in the literature. I was converted and decided to investigate the area further – well worth it! There are many others as I explore different aspects of decision making, but this was the first.

The best research project I have worked on during my career…/the project that I am most proud of/ that has inspired me most….There are so many different ways a project can be best – and I have been lucky enough to have quite a range of experiences. Some projects broaden your ideas of how the world works (I feel this about the work I’m doing now on emotion), while others can produce real world impacts that are satisfying to see (I did work on a project producing decision aids for patients, for example, and another project helped a company predict and respond to customer needs better). Some projects can just be a good experience in terms of getting to know others. I try to see the best in all of them.

The worst research project I have worked on during my career…/the one project that I should never had done…If you are doing research then some projects are not going to work. You might not get the results you want, you might even get results that prove you wrong. It’s frustrating, but most projects have some value in the longer term. The bad ones are ones you don’t enjoy working on.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research….… is always the bit where the predicted results happen – I get a real buzz every time, because you now understand the world a little better.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance…I used to be involved in organizing a professional conference (while an academic) and there was a project that needed real managers to take part in the research. I suggested we might use the future delegates for the conference, and we could give a talk on the results in my session in exchange for their participation. The project was trying to identify ways in which professional managers’ decisions in a particular field (to do with corporate failure/ creditworthiness) demonstrated expertise, and to make it more interesting we also got groups of lecturers who taught techniques for making similar decisions, and their students, along with a group of lay people to provide a comparison. The professional society helped us distribute the questionnaires and we put the talk in the program. Then the results came in. Lecturers and students generally performed better than the professional managers on the tasks, and in fact the managers were barely better than lay people (who really knew nothing about the subject area). Welcome to the conference talk from Hell – we had to stand up and tell people (who paid to be there) that they were hopeless at a job related task!

In the end things were not so bad. The obvious “How can this have happened?” response gave way to an investigation of how the task (which the managers thought was important) fitted into their role as a whole, and led to an understanding that their real expertise was not in getting the right answer in the first place, but in managing the relationship with the company they assessed for credit as it developed (so these skills made more difference). We even managed to get a laugh when we gave the talk! I probably have told this to some people, so apologies if you heard it before…

A research project I wish I had done… And why did I not do it…I’ve not given up yet on any project I wish I’d done yet. If I still wish I’d done it, I still hope to manage it. Sometimes things drop off the list because I realise they won’t do what I want, but that’s it.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be……probably back (or still) in the commercial world. I spent a lot of time in Business Analyst type roles doing quite a lot of greenfield development projects, where the company was moving into new territory or the client wanted to do something but didn’t have anything in place. These have quite a lot in common with research, certainly in the thinking process, so are fun. Some of the ones I was involved in were international joint ventures, so I got some chance to travel and see other perspectives. Not quite as much fun as academia, but still fun.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years…Getting the real world more widely engaged. We’ve had a burst of interest in behavioral work in the UK, with the government setting up a Nudge unit. There are however a lot of fields where more behavioral aspects could give real benefits in solving real world problems (like helping people make informed decisions), and in benefitting business too. Students who’ve taken the Management Decision Making course run by our centre regularly report how useful it is in their careers from interview stage on, giving them a perspective on avoiding pitfalls in decision making (I wish I had done it before being a manager myself!). I see many opportunities, but we need to keep up momentum to get there.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is…Enjoy what you do – you do better on projects that catch your imagination. Make contacts and work with others – ideas develop faster with more than one person thinking about them. Establish what you need to get to where you want to be. When I got my first lecturing post the Dean of my School gave me a list of promotion criteria for the next grade up and told me to start ticking them off as soon as possible. I found this really helpful in getting established, as someone moving across from industry, but I think it would have helped anyway. If you’re in this position, I wish you all the success in the world and have great time – academia is a great job.

Departmental website

Research Heroes: Ralph Hertwig

Hertwig_Ralph_RGB_WEB[1]This week’s Research Hero is Ralph Hertwig, the Director of the Center of Adaptive Rationality at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. He received his PhD from the University of Konstanz in 1995. Before being recruited to take the prestigious role as a director at the Max Planck Institute, he was professor for cognitive and decision sciences and dean at the Department of Psychology, University of Basel. He has received many grants and awards such as Fellow of APS, and won the teacher of the year award for the Department of Psychology two years in a row. His research focuses on models of bounded rationality such as simple heuristics and on decisions from experience. He has co-authored two books, and written numerous articles in journals such as Psychological Science, Psychological Review and many more.

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career…That to make it in academia you need more than the obvious skills—you also need the ability to juggle lots of projects, to multitask constantly, and to delay gratification. Not to mention plenty of perseverance and a thick skin for weathering all the rejections, which keep on coming no matter how advanced you are in your career…

I most admire academically… because…People whose writing I love, such as William James, Stephen Jay Gould, and Steven Pinker. For me, Egon Brunswik was also an extraordinary writer. Many people tell me his writing is difficult to decipher. But I have the feeling he thought very hard about each of his sentences and that each one conveys exactly what he wanted to express.

The best research project I have worked on during my career…/the project that I am most proud of/ that has inspired me most….I’m most proud of the research projects where I teamed up with somebody from another field or another school of thought and we were able to produce something I could never have come up with on my own. Those sorts of collaborations have resulted in papers that I still find interesting when I peruse them today—for instance, work on the different experimental cultures in psychology and economics (with Andreas Ortmann); how to link the ACT-R architecture and simple heuristics (with Lael Schooler), and how to model parental investment with a single heuristic (with Frank Sulloway and Jennifer Davis). I enjoy starting a project in an area about which I know little and going home every evening with the feeling of having learned something new.

The worst research project I have worked on during my career…/the one project that I should never had done…I can’t think of a “worst” project. But I have a most difficult one. It was an “adversarial” collaboration with Danny Kahneman (and Barbara Mellers as arbiter). With the explicit goal of agreeing on designs that, no matter the results, would settle our disagreements, we exchanged many, many e-mails to hammer out the details of our joint studies—to no avail. The fickle deity of data thwarted all our plans: we just couldn’t agree on how to interpret the results. It was a painful process, but I’m glad that we could cordially agree to disagree and gained respect for one another along the way.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research….My most amazing research experience was as a student, when I was doing an internship at a psychiatric research hospital. I had the idea of applying signal detection theory, which I’d just learned in class, to analyze an existing data set. It was the first time I wrote little statistical programs, and I was amazed that they worked and I could get the computer to do what I wanted… well, after a lot of trial-and-error and cursing. It made me so happy. Even more so when my advisor told me my fledgling analyses had produced some new findings. They led to my first published paper.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance…If I ever had one, I’ve already forgotten it, so it can’t have been that great a story.

A research project I wish I had done… And why did I not do it…That would be a case study of Monica Lewinsky that never got off the ground. It was back in 2002. I was working at Columbia University (in Elke Weber’s lab), and a friend and I went to a public question-and-answer session that Monica Lewinsky gave at Cooper Union in Manhattan. I think we were all struck by how intelligent she seemed, how thoughtfully she related her experiences, and how plausible her answers appeared. In fact, we came away with the impression that there were two Monica Lewinskys—the one we’d just seen in person and the image the public had formed of her. And that got us thinking about research on the fundamental attribution error, which says we all tend to attribute other people’s behavior to personality while largely overlooking the situational factors. We thought Monica Lewinsky would make a fascinating case study of the fundamental attribution error, so we wrote her a letter—I recently came across it in my files—asking whether she’d be interested in talking to us….

Of course, the reason the case study never happened is that she never responded to our letter. We knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who was probably able to get the letter to her, so I do believe she received it. Who knows, if she had responded, the fundamental attribution effect might be known today as the Monica Lewinsky effect.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be…A political scientist. I can talk politics with friends and family for hours on end (ask my wife).

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years…If I had to pick only one—and I believe there are quite a number—then it’s to work together to integrate our theories. It’s been said that psychologists treat theories like toothbrushes (no self-respecting person wants to use someone else’s). I think there’s a lot to that, and we need to change this.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is…To read to the right and left of psychology, and to discuss your ideas with everyone around you. In my experience, new ideas don’t simply come to you but often arise in conversations, while attending a talk, or over coffee with colleagues.

Departmental page

Research Heroes: Jay Edward Russo

RussoThis week’s Research Hero is Prof. Jay Edward Russo. Prof. Russo received his PhD in Cognitive Psychology from University of Michigan. He has been working at Cornell University since 1985, and holds the S.C. Johnson Family Professor of Management at the business school. He has also been on the Faculty of the University of Chicago, the University of California, San Diego as well as holding visiting positions at Bocconi University (Milan), Carnegie-Mellon, and Duke, and Penn (The Wharton School). Prof. Russo’s research focuses on managerial and consumer decision making and one of his most important contributions is the work in information distortion and process tracing methods. Prof. Russo has published extensively in prestigious journals as well as co-authoring Winning Decisions (2002) and Decision Traps (1989). He has been on the editorial boards of leading journals such as Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, Journal of Consumer Psychology, Journal of Marketing, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Psychological Science, and many more. He has also done consulting work for National Bureau of Federal Trade Commission, GTE Laboratories and General Motors Research Laboratories. 

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career…Throughout your career, but especially prior to tenure, you will very likely be forced to make a tradeoff between good science and careerist tactics. A research topic that may contribute most to understanding J/DM may not be one that is currently well recognized and accepted by the field. The more novel the topic of one’s research, the more challenging will be its path to publication in journals, to grant support, and to other markers of acceptance by the field. The likelihood of lots of published papers is far greater if you work on currently accepted topics. You will need the publications, maybe many of them, to achieve careerist goals, especially tenure. The price to good science may be work that is incremental at best and “backfill” at worst.  I urge you to be fully aware of the tradeoffs that you make between better science and career advantage.

I most admire academically… because…
Herb Simon because he aimed so high as a scholar and as a citizen of his university and of the world at large– and because he was so successful as both scientist and a citizen.

The best research project I have worked on during my career…/the project that I am most proud of/ that has inspired me most….I stumbled on the phenomenon of decision makers’ distorting new information to support the currently leading alternative. I investigated this predecisional distortion of information for a decade or so, revealing some of its manifestations, boundaries, and consequences. One strategy for good science is to try to identify the underlying causes that explain why a phenomenon occurs, in the hope that even one of those causes may be fundamental enough to explain other phenomena as well. The attempt to explain predecisional distortion led to work that identified the goal of cognitive consistency as the main driver. This work relied on multiple methods, including some new to me (semantic priming and a lexical decision task) or simply new (in-progress assessment of goal activation). The result was unexpected and quite clear: only cognitive consistency caused information distortion, with alternative goals like saving effort playing no role at all. Subsequent work has confirmed that the goal of cognitive consistency is at least one driver of several other J/DM phenomena, thus validating the scientist’s strategy of seeking depth of explanation.

The worst research project I have worked on during my career…/the one project that I should never had done…There is no one project that I regret. Rather my regret is working on too many projects, drawn to each one because it was so genuinely interesting. I probably should have focused on those that were both most interesting and most important.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research….After so many decades of research (five), there are many experiences; but it is more categories than individual events that come to mind in responding to this question. For instance, when I was younger, it was a great pleasure to have a senior scholar whom I respected proffer kind words about my work. Now I have the pleasure of supporting young researchers, reminding them that it may take several good ideas to find one both worthwhile and feasible and to remember in their enthusiasm and impatience that science is slow.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance…“There’s nothing new here.” These were the words of all three reviewers of one of the first submitted manuscripts on information distortion. Fortunately, each one identified a different well-known phenomenon of which information distortion was asserted to be merely another (unnecessary!) illustration. I do not recall the exact three, but early in this research stream the following were offered: attitude extremity/polarization, cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, the desirability bias (wishful thinking), the halo effect, and the prior belief effect. Fortunately, the editor was sensitive to the unusual combination of reviewers’ complete agreement (“reject this manuscript”) and complete disagreement (“just another example of [three distinctly different phenomena]”). As a result, he gave me and my co-authors the chance to explain why there was, in fact, something new in the phenomenon of information distortion. The subsequent explanation was accepted, along with the manuscript. The lesson I took from this experience was how reviewers (which means most of us) can so naturally filter our judgments through our own lenses. The question that I ask myself is whether I have applied that lesson consistently when I evaluate others’ work. The answer: probably not, but I do keep trying.

A research project I wish I had done… And why did I not do it…I cannot claim to have no regrets whatsoever (that would be hubris), but none of them involve a research project that I regret not attempting.

If I weren’t doing this, I would be…Likely retired, an unpleasant thought. There is still tread left, so please don’t retire me.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years…One challenge is to encompass the growing breadth of J/DM phenomena and methods. Among the phenomena are those that are nonconscious, emotional, and contextual. Among the methods are those of neuroscience and of process tracing. In considering the opportunities and barriers to adopting these newer research topics and methods, I recall the observation that so often seems best to characterize a field’s response to such a situation, “We love progress; it’s change we hate”. My belief is that J/DM researchers, senior as well as junior, can master new methods and solve new problems. My hope is that more than a few will.

A second challenge is paradigmatic. J/DM emerged as a field by testing the optimal models of economics and statistics, especially EU and Bayesian updating. Violations of these models engendered the anomalies paradigm that has characterized J/DM for the last four decades. Let me suggest a challenge in the form of a question: what would J/DM look like if studied the way other higher-order psychological phenomena are approached, such as problem solving/reasoning and language comprehension? That is, what if we built theories of cognitive (and other) processes from process (and other) data, but without specifying optimal performance? Indeed, if we view behavior as driven by multiple goals not all of which are even conscious, can we really specify optimal performance? What if, instead, we viewed our subjects as adapting to the task environment that we scientists create in order to perform sufficiently well rather than optimally?  Great progress has been achieved in understanding how people read without the use of an optimal model of language comprehension. Might similar progress occur in J/DM by focusing less on how our observations compare to optimality criteria and more on the complexity of decision makers’ attempt to achieve multiple goals simultaneously?

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is…Learn how to select research problems, not just how to solve them.   Try to be strategic in how you approach your topics, colleagues, and journals.  Often I’ve seen a graduate student (or a credentialed researcher) happy just to find a candidate problem: “That would make a dissertation topic.” or “That could be publishable”. With my own students who are ready to find a dissertation problem, I ask them to identify three potential topics, to research each one for at least one week, and to evaluate their comparative merits. Then, and only then, do I want them to pick one.

Understand the J/DM paradigm in which you are working and think about whether a different one, maybe a newer one, might yield greater contributions to the field. Are input-output data sufficient, or would process data yield more insight? Is this the time or topic to bring in neuroscience? Should the analysis move from the attributes of the alternatives considered in a decision to the benefits that those attributes convey, or even to the goals that those benefits help to achieve? One of books that most influenced my graduate training is Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which focused on scientific paradigms. I still begin my doctoral seminar by asking students to read it.

Departmental page

Research Heroes: Karl Halvor Teigen

TeigenGraduated as a psychologist from the University of Oslo in 1966, where he is now an emeritus professor in general psychology. He also held positions in cognitive psychology at the universities of Bergen and Tromsø (Norway) where he was for some years the northernmost professor of psychology in the world (until a colleague beat him with half a mile). He is a past president of EADM, and has received an honorary doctorate from the University of Bergen. His main research interests concern probability judgments, including verbal probabilities, social cognition (counterfactual thinking), and the history of psychology.

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career… that I would have a career! I also wish I had been strongly encouraged to go abroad and to attend international conferences. Norwegian psychology at the time I graduated was quite provincial. In 1967 it was considered a big leap even to move from one Norwegian city (Oslo) to another (Bergen). It took me more than 15 years before I dared to step out on the international scene, so I now have to continue research far into senility to make up for those lost years.

I most admire academically … As a young student I came across “Chance, skill and luck” by John Cohen (Penguin books, 1960). I admired his studies of psychological probability which he combined with a rich historical perspective. In fact this was a book I would have liked to write myself. Later came Kahneman and Tversky who did similar studies even better, except leaving out the historical aspect. It is in such cases hard to distinguish between envy and admiration, but it has fortunately been shown that benign envy outperforms admiration (Van de Ven, Zeelenberg & Pieters, 2011), so I can confess my benign envy for a number of scholars inside and outside of our field. 

The best research project I have worked on during my career…/the project that I am most proud of/ that has inspired me most….Many years ago I became puzzled by the fact that newspaper articles about “lucky” people (with the exception of occasional lottery winners) almost invariably described accident victims. When I asked students to give autobiographical instances of their own luck, they produced similar, rather negative instances. Degrees of luck seemed to be almost completely determined by the discrepancy between what happened and what could have happened, that is, by close and worse counterfactuals. The closer and the worse they are, the luckier you feel. This issue has haunted me for years, partly because of its popular appeal (journalists love it), and partly because it can be linked to several other themes, like risk perception, counterfactual thinking, probability judgments, superstitions, and gratitude. But its main fascination resides in the observation that people seem to know it, through the stories they tell and the judgments they pass, yet our findings make them puzzled and surprised.

The worst research project I have worked on during my career…/the one project that I should never had done…I once had to conduct a research project with students and decided to spare them for background reading by finding a topic that had never been experimentally investigated before. It turned out that nobody had at that time studied “sighing” in healthy adults (it had been studied in patients with panic disorder and in rats), so we had to invent our own “sigh-cology”, for instance by observing participants working on insoluble puzzles. They had to give up every new attempt, and they sighed. I wrote a paper which, to my surprise, was accepted for publication, but did not exactly revolutionize the (nonexistent) field. It would have remained a forgotten oddity, when I suddenly received an invitation to receive the Ig Nobel prize in psychology from Improbable Research “for trying to understand why, in everyday life, people sigh”. So I had to go to Harvard for a parodical celebration of “research that makes people laugh and then think”. Or in our case: to make people think and then sigh.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research….There have been several such experiences. Doing research often feels like trying to force open a door that appears to be slightly ajar. You have an idea, a theory, an intuition that you feel could work, but the door proves surprisingly resistant to all applications of the foot-in-the-door technique.  Then there are moments where the door simply needs a gentle push before swinging wide open. Such moments, when you get more than you asked for, are the researcher’s peak events. I experienced one almost 40 years ago when I first “discovered” that people consistently violated the 100% limit when estimating probabilities for several mutually exclusive alternatives. Again when I found that most people have to be unlucky to feel lucky, as described above; that they attach more confidence to specific (fallible) rather than to general (true) statements, that they think that events are more unlikely when they happen than when they do not occur, that negative outcomes are less surprising than equivalent positive ones, and several other robust paradoxes that seemingly defy common sense.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance…Peter Ayton already told the story of the spider in Cambridge, which I can confirm (although we may disagree about the details).  I also experienced in Cambridge (same SPUDM meeting I believe) my most successful presentation; the audience seemed more attentive to what I had to say than ever before (or since), showing their keen interest with synchronized head movements to the right and to the left, following me like a bunch of hypnotized cobras. Only after the talk I discovered I had been standing in front of the projector, obstructing their view of the screen.

A research project I wish I had done… And why did I not do it…I am fascinated by the role chance plays in shaping our lives, from the small details that make our day amusing, to more momentous decisions about marriage and career. We once carried out a set of pilot interviews with colleagues, asking them about their choices of research themes. They seemed to believe in the idea of a recurrent theme, or common thread running through their professional life, but when we pushed it further back they typically responded: “It all began quite accidentally”.  We did not follow this up, for methodological, theoretical, and perhaps even philosophical reasons, but I wish there was a neat and tractable way to observe chance at work in real-life settings. Perhaps I will stumble over one, accidentally.

 If I wasn’t doing this, I would be…perhaps a historian – of ideas, or of art. But every time I have had a brief encounter with these fields I have thanked God that I belong to a discipline where one can do experimental work, not restrained by events already settled in a hazy past, and where hypotheses can actively be put to test. To indulge in my historical interests I have published quite a bit on the history of psychology.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years… To disentangle the psychology of judgment from the psychology of decision making. These are in my opinion two overlapping themes rather than a single field. And even if I am strongly in favor the cross-disciplinary applications of JDM in economics, management, political science, medicine, and law, I feel it extremely important that it should keep and perhaps expand its psychological roots.

 My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is… (1) Travel and seek new research environments; (2) realize that your freedom of choice concerning themes, ideas, theories, methods, and approaches is greater than you think; (3) listen to advice, so that you can disregard it on purpose, and have something to tell when Elina, Neda or their successor ask you, 20 years from now, what you had wished someone had told you at the beginning of your career (they did).

Departmental page

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

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

Viewpoint: Why social science grad students make great product managers

Litvak
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.

Conclusion
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: Max Bazerman

Bazerman_25aThis week’s Research Hero is Prof. Max Bazerman, Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. He is also affiliated with Harvard Kennedy School of Government, the Psychology Department, and the Program on Negotiation. Prof Bazerman’s research focuses on but is not limited to decision making, ethics, and negotiation. He has coedited more than 200 articles and 16 books, including Negotiation Genius, Predictable Surprises: The Disasters You Should Have Seen Coming, and How to Prevent Them, and the sixth edition of Judgment in Managerial Decision Making. He has international collaborations with over 25 countries and 50 companies in United States. Prof. Bazerman is also famous for being the one who introduced the science of negotiation in Business schools. He has received many awards, to name a few recent ones: honorary doctorate from the University of London (London Business School), being named as one of Ethisphere’s 100 Most Influential in Business Ethics, one of Daily Kos’ Heroes from the Bush Era for going public about how the Bush Administration corrupted the RICO Tobacco trial, and the 2008 Distinguished Educator Award from the Academy of Management.

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career…

a) All good papers find homes

b) If the reviewer is being “stupid”, it is probably your writing that allows them to be “stupid”.  The solutions isn’t hoping for smart reviewers, but taking the perspective of the reviewer, and writing so that they see the brilliance in your work.  (and, if you don’t have those writing skills, find an editor)

I most admire academically… because…


a) Kahneman and Tversky, for outlining the most influential research direction in the social sciences

b) Thaler and Sunstein, for nudging us to how to put this brilliance into practice to make the world a better place

The best research project I have worked on during my career...the project that I am most proud of/ that has inspired me most….
The next project, which I do not even know about as I write this, that one of my brilliant doctoral students lures me into joining.

The worst research project I have worked on during my career…the one project that I should never had done…
My empirical work has co-authors, so I am going to refuse to answer this one.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research….The common occurrence of a brilliant doctoral student coming into my office to inform me about how wrong I am – again!

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance…
I have told all my stories worth telling

A research project I wish I had done… And why did I not do it…Kern, M. and Chugh, D. (2009).  Bounded ethicality: The perils of loss framing.  Psychological Science, 20(3), 378-384. The paper is brilliant, simple, and important.  And, it is about things I know about.  I can’t figure out why I didn’t do this before Kern and Chugh.  I love this paper!

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be...less happy.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years…Changing our methods to cope with the insightful and important work of John, Leslie K., George Loewenstein, and Drazen Prelec. Measuring the Prevalence of Questionable Research Practices with Incentives for Truth-telling. Psychological Science (2012). Simmons, Joseph P.,  Leif D. Nelson and Uri Simonsohn.  False-Positive Psychology : Undisclosed Flexibility in Data Collection and Analysis Allows Presenting. Psychological Science (2011). My generation messed up, and led to the acceptance of bad practices with too many cute false positives.  We need to clean up our act, and the faster the better.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is… Don’t p-hack (see Simmons et al., 2011).  The world is changing, detecting p-hacking is easy, and the value on integrity in research is going up very quickly.

Prof. Bazerman’s Wikipedia page

Research Heroes: Barry Schwartz

This week’s research hero is prof. Barry Schwartz of Swarthmore College. schwartzProf. Schwartz received his PhD from University of Pennsylvania and his research addresses morality, decision making, and reasoning. He has published a number of books, among other the praised “Paradox of Choice”. He is also active in publishing in scientific journals and editorials in the New York Times where he applies research in psychology to current events. 

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career…To take more math.  I spent my undergraduate days taking every psych course there was. Then I twiddled my thumbs in grad school while other students caught up.  I should have done lots more math.

I most admire academically… I won’t mention names, but the people I most admire academically are people who are willing to be wrong in public.  Everyone seems to think that the worst thing you can do is be wrong.  I think the worst thing you can do is be trivial.  This is reflected in journal submission reviews, tenure reviews and grant reviews. It’s a pity. People willing to make mistakes in public are the people who really move the field forward.

The best research project I have worked on during my career… I think the best paper I ever wrote was not an empirical paper, but the result of a collaboration with two philosopher colleagues.  We wrote a paper that tried to embed the work of B.F. Skinner in the historical context of the growth of the factory, and of “scientific management” in the U.S.  It’s an old paper (1978), and in those days my empirical work was focused on identifying the limits of Skinner’s view of the world.  This project made me appreciate that there was no guarantee that claims that were empirically false would die–of “natural causes.”  They could live if society believed them and then shaped its institutions in the image of these claims.  Many years later I published a paper in Psych Science, prompted by the book, “The Bell Curve,” that made a similar point and called the phenomenon “ideology,” after Karl Marx’s notion of “false consciousness.”  Working on this paper changed the way I think about psychological phenomena in general.  It actually contributed to two of my books, “The Battle for Human Nature,” and “The Costs of Living.”

The worst research project I have worked on during my career… I did a whole bunch of pretty trivial things in my days working from within the Skinnerian worldview.  Happily, they were pretty trivial even at the time, so no one was led on wild goose chases.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research….In my paper on “maximizing” (JPSP, 2002), we did a study of the ultimatum game that I thought had no chance of working.  It worked!  It was quite clever, borrowing a methodology developed by Marcel Zeelenberg and Jane Beatty.  Alas, this is a part of the paper that nobody writes about.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance…Well, I have told this story.  I taught a course in “motivation” almost 40 years ago.  I gave everyone a B and they knew this on day 1.  There was still a midterm, a final and a term paper, all of them graded, but people got a B no matter what.  This was designed to have students scrutinize their own motives in being students. For the first five weeks, everything was great.  But then midterms in other courses rolled around, students in my course fell behind, and they never caught up, growing increasingly embarrassed as the semester wore on.  I think I ended up with three (quite good) papers in a class of 40.  It was not a successful experiment.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be… Well, I’d be a writer.  In the last 25 years, what I have found most satisfying, by far, is writing books (and the occasional article) for non-professional audiences.  My aim is to make the mysterious world of psychological research comprehensible and to show readers why it matters.  I’ve written four such books thus far and plan to start a fifth this summer.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years…

This will seem iconoclastic, but I think there are four challenges:

1. Too much data.  I think it would be good to declare a moratorium on new data until we understand the data we already have.  Five years, let’s say (I told you I’d be iconoclastic).

2.  Far too much worship of neuroscience.

3. People whose education is far too specialized and who then perpetuate this specialization in the students they train.

4. An incentive structure for success that is close to a disaster.  It’s all about having publication lists as long as your arms and about publishing papers that are “flawless.”  As long as this persists, all the concern about “p-hacking” in the world will not induce people to do research that matters and do it honestly and openly.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is…Take lots of math, be willing to make mistakes in public, and work on things that matter.  I certainly can’t guarantee that this will lead to a successful career.  But if it does, it will be a career worth having.

Website

Research Heroes: Robin Hogarth

This week’s research hero is prof. Robin Hogarth. Prof. Hogarth has a MBA from INSEADhogarth and received his PhD from University of Chicago.  He is currently an emeritus professor at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, where the next SPUDM is being held. Prof. Hogarth is well-known for conducting interdisciplinary research within judgment and decision making. He has held positions at prestigious academic institutions such as INSEAD, University of Chicago and London Business School. He has been and is still very active in publishing and has authored a large number of articles and books. He has been deputy dean, Director of the Center for Decision Research, and responsible for setting up the University of Chicago’s executive MBA program in Europe.

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career…only work on what really interests you.

I most admire academically…researchers who have a well-developed aesthetic sense of beauty and simplicity for both theory and methods. Hillel Einhorn was one of these people.

The best research project I have worked on during my career…was the process of writing my book Educating intuition.  It allowed me to synthesize a lot of what I had learned over many years.  However, my most fun – and best – projects were when working intensely with Hillel Einhorn in the 1970s and 1980s.

The worst research project I have worked on during my career…was a project about evaluating management education programs. I undertook this for all the wrong reasons and should never have started it.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research….was when I first found that people were actually citing my work.  This made me realize how important it is to get things “right”.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance…I really hated being a PhD student at the University of Chicago. That stimulated me to complete my PhD in a short time in order to move onto the next stage of the academic ladder.

A research project I wish I had done…There are too many!

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be…an unhappy (but probably rich) retired accountant!

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years…Improving our methodological practices so that our theories can lead to results that can be generalized better.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is…Follow your interests and “keep your eye on the ball.”

Personal homepage of Prof. Hogarth