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.

Star Track: Peter McGraw

Following on the success of our Research Heroes interviews, we’re launching a new interview series: Star Track. In this series, we turn the spotlight on researchers who will play an important role in shaping the future of the field. These people have already made a significant contribution with their ground breaking research and engagement in the research community –  you might know about them or might not, but you should definitely listen to what they have to say – enjoy!
First in our new series is Peter McGraw, an DSC_0667-1associate professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Colorado Boulder, who is an expert in the interdisciplinary fields of emotion and behavioral decision theory. His research examines the interrelationship of judgment, emotion, and choice, with a focus on consumer behavior and public policy. Lately, McGraw has been investigating what makes things funny. He directs at the Humor Research Lab (aka HuRL), a laboratory dedicated to the experimental study of humor, its antecedents, and consequences. He has co-authored The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, which hit the bookstores on 4/1/2014. Of recent note, McGraw made the 2013 Stylish Scientist List – probably because he likes to rock a sweater vest.

I wanted to pursue an academic career in this field because… I thought that pursuing an academic career would yield a stimulating yet leisurely intellectual life. (I was half right.) While researching grad programs, I read Tom Gilovich’s book: How We Know What Isn’t So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life. By the end of chapter 2, I was hooked on the idea of studying judgment and decision making.

I find the inspiration for my research mostly from… Entrepreneurs and artists. Scientists don’t often think of their research as a creative endeavor that is important to share broadly with the world. I believe that the process of creating and disseminating scientific insights is enhanced by emulating people who have a different perspective and a broader array of tools. Also, behaving like an artist or an entrepreneur is much more fun than just trying to please peer reviewers.

When people ask me what I do, I say…. I study what makes things funny.

The best research project I have worked on during my career… In the summer of 2008, Caleb Warren and I set out to answer the question of why people laugh at moral violations. That project changed my life, as it spurred a quest to crack the humor code (something that behavioral decision theory’s “emotional revolution” had overlooked). The resulting paper, which published in Psychological Science in 2010, brought together my two main research areas at the time: moral judgment and mixed emotions. Caleb and I introduce the benign violation theory of humor and showed that moral violations can be a source of pleasure (something every good comic knows).

Everything came together just right; the paper was accepted with no requested changes – something that I never expect to happen again.

The paper that has most influenced me is… When Caleb and I were examining the research on humor, the theories didn’t seem quite right. Fortunately, we found a little-cited paper published by a linguist named of Thomas Veatch. To us, it was a huge advance over existing theories. Veatch’s work served as the foundation for the benign violation theory, which in turn, serves as the foundation for the research conducted in the Humor Research Lab.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be… Starting some sort of business.

The most important quality for a researcher to have is… Perseverance. Repeat after me, “They can slow us down, but they can’t stop us.”

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years… Finding a way speed the peer-review process.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is… Write every day. Start today – and purchase the book: How to Write A Lot.

The one thing I’ve found most challenging is… Staying asleep until my alarm goes off. The work academics do is highly evaluative and uncertain – two conditions that contribute to anxiety. And anxiety gets me out of bed early. On the other hand, it has a silver lining. I believe that every day is a big day and should be lived with a sense of urgency. And big days rarely start with the snooze button.

For more information on Peter McGraw visit his page:

For more information on his book see: