Viewpoint: Life as an Assistant Professor

joebwWe recently had a chat with Joseph Redden about his happy life as an assistant professor. From this conversation, we found out that Professor Redden had a lot answers to some of the questions that stressed out graduate students often have about being a young professor so we asked him to do a Q&A with a representative stressed out graduate student.

So far, we’ve been interviewing the established greats and focused a lot on life after tenure. But as a blog dedicated in part to helping young researchers find their way, we thought it would be good to have some more posts about your most immediate concerns and fears. So here’s Joseph Redden with some guidance and comfort in the first of many soon to come InDecision Blog posts on the two topics that on all young researchers minds: the job market and being a quality young faculty member. Joseph Redden is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, and he is an emerging expert on the topic of satiation.


Hi Joe, I am a stressed out student in graduate school – or actually I’m not just stressed but also worried and afraid. I am worried that my impostor syndrome is not just a syndrome but real: I look at the top people on the job market recently and I just feel inadequate. I look at the greats in our field and their theoretical might and publishing powerhouse make me feel like I’ll never make in the field, and even if I can get a few publications I am worried my work won’t matter. So if you don’t mind, I have a bunch of questions... 

SOS: How stressed are you? Do you have free time?

Professor Redden: Like any academic or human for that matter, I feel like my life has plenty of stress. That being said, I do find that my stress seems to diminish a bit every year. I like to think that is not just adaptation, but rather a reflection of my active efforts to manage stress in two ways. First, I’ve focused my time more on problems that really pique my interest and leverage my areas of expertise. Second, I make sure some of the time “savings” I get from being more productive translates into free time for me to enjoy. I personally find this last point the most attractive aspect of an academic life.

SOS: What’s daily life like for you?

Professor Redden: Like any other academic, there is not really a protypical day. Some days are mostly teaching, others mostly writing, some mostly reading while others might be service. Even so, I really try to keep a regular schedule (a 9-to-5 if you will) to avoid burnout. If you don’t do this I think it’s very easy to burn yourself out because there is always more we could do on every research project or teaching topic. I find it helpful to set a goal for what I want to get done in a week. If I happen to get lucky and get things done quickly, then I might leave early. If instead things take quite a bit longer, then that becomes a longer week (and possibly weekend). Over time, I’ve found that I’ve become much better calibrated at setting what is reasonable for a week.

SOS: Do you ever have fun?

Professor Redden: Of course. Otherwise, what is the point? In fact, I explicitly carve out time for fun. As an example, I often teach on Wednesdays until noon and then often go catch an early movie. Interestingly, I have found this increases my productivity as I come back Thursday morning refreshed and ready to work. I think everyone should carve out some of these hobbies to take advantage of the flexibility academia offers. For me, this is movies, tennis leagues, my kids’ sports teams, etc.

SOS: How do you manage your choice of projects?

Professor Redden: That is a great question. I found that early in my career I tended to work on anything I found interesting. This led me to jump from project to project chasing after the “shiny new object”. You can imagine how this hampered my productivity. I now try to decide what enters my portfolio in three stages. First, I make sure that any new idea leverages an area of my expertise. I want to avoid one-off projects that require me to learn an entirely new literature each time. Second, I go ahead and write a potential contribution paragraph to flush out whether this idea could be in an A-journal. The worst outcome is for an idea to work perfectly yet have no chance to be published. Third, I try to run a quick study to see if the idea seems promising at all. If it works, I try to quickly replicate it so I’ll know I have something real. If it fails at first, I’ll give it one more shot if I think the idea is super promising. If it works at first and fails on the replication, then I’ll often give it one more go as a sort of tiebreaker. I’ve found this approach has really helped me weed out effects that will be difficult to establish and understand.

SOS: What do I really need to do to get tenure in this field?

Professor Redden: The answer to this question is both ambiguous and varied across schools. At my university, the guidance is centered on achieving distinction in your field. Of course, this could mean something very different for everyone. Personally, I tried to make sure that two things would hold true. First, that there was a topic (satiation in my case) such that I would be one of the first few names mentioned if one asked who was doing research in that area. Second, that it worked the other way such that when asked what I researched people would have a consistent answer. I think if both of those are true then you will have achieved distinction in your field.  

SOS: How do you choose collaborators?

Professor Redden: A great deal of this is serendipity so I’m not sure there is a conscious effort to “choose” collaborators. I can say that the collaborators I want are those that share my interests, possess complementary skills, and make research fun. I’d say the last one, having fun, is by far the most important.

SOS:  I am worried that only the Thaler’s and Loewensteins of the world will make a difference. I know now that I’ll never be them, so I am thinking, what’s the point, what will I really do for this field?

Professor Redden: It matters how you define making a difference. If you consider yourself a success only if you make a difference for an entire field, then that is a really high standard for nearly anyone. I like to think of making a difference at a more micro level. Think about how your presentation at a conference may affect how a listener writes their paper, how a conservation may lead a doctoral student to their thesis idea, how teaching a topic may spark a student’s interest, how seemingly minor coverage of a paper may affect a marketer at a company (and hence millions of people). I believe that many of these unknown differences are happening — as long as we work on interesting problems.

If you have any questions for future interviews, let us know at indecisionblogging@gmail.com

Interview by Troy Campbell

Advertisements

Viewpoint: How Scientists Can Get the Media’s Attention

ImageThe New York Times best selling author and journalist Chris Mooney has made a career out of bringing science into the mainstream. His articles, such as The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science, go extremely viral.

In a time when the Internet allows science to find the eyeballs of non-scientists like never before, a researcher wants his or her research to land on the desk of a journalist like Mooney. But how can you make that happen?

Mooney recently spoke to an audience from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology about how researchers can turn their academic headlines into news headlines. Here’s a couple of his major tips and some commentary.

Caveat: In this post, we are side stepping the question of “should scientists actually want their research to be in the media?” We generally think the answer to this question is yes. However, there are many nuances that make this a complicated issue and we will return those issues in future posts. 

Mooney Tip #1: “There’s nothing like a good figure – something people can quickly grasp and understand.”

Mooney explains the idea that simple graphs do really well online. For instance, take a look at this recent graph in a psychological article on “internet trolling” that helped propel this article to mega viral status. The headline: “Internet trolls really are horrible people – Machiavellianism, narcissism, psychopathy, sadism.”

Image

Researchers need to make attractive graphs that can be exported into an article (or any one researcher’s power-point slides for that matter) without any changes. And by graphs, Mooney means graphs not tables. He jokes that, “Journalists need graphics from you or you run the risk they’ll make the graphics themselves.” So if you want to be viral and protect the purity of your science in the public eye, put some graphs in that article. Just because you and ten of your colleagues can understand a 10 column x 12 row table in the blink of an eye, does not mean the public and even scientific journalists can.

Mooney Tip #2: “Turn a correlation into a percent.”

Graphs can make things go viral but so can a good statistic. Mooney explains that readers and journalists don’t think in correlations, but rather in quantities like percentages. People can be moved by startling statistics like “a 25% increase in health” or “40% increase in reported enjoyment” – these items are concrete and tangible.

Image

Mooney Tip #3: “Put your studies in context with other studies.”

Image

Illustration: Jonathon Rosen

Journalists often practice “weight of the evidence” when deciding what scientific pieces to write about. Many will be unwilling to publish findings that are too far off from the majority of the scientific field. Thus, when positioning one’s finding to a journalist in an email or press release, it is important to demonstrate how the finding is largely supported by other research. Also, journalists need to know whether a finding should be presented as brand new or providing evidence for an existing theory. It’s very difficult for journalists to figure this out themselves. Hell – that can be difficult for even for us as scientists! Though there may be a few journalists out there that will run any headline, most journalists are interested in getting the facts straight, so scientists need to help them with that.

Mooney Tip #4: “I need to know when your study is coming out and I need to know first.”

Journalism is a competitive business and breaking a story is one of the biggest competitions in the game. Mooney recommends contacting journalists ahead of time. Many news articles have editors who can easily be contacted.

For instance Scientific American says at the conclusion of many of their articles:

“Are you a scientist who specializes in neuroscience, cognitive science, or psychology? And have you read a recent peer-reviewed paper that you would like to write about? Please send suggestions to Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook, […] at garethideas AT gmail.com or Twitter @garethideas.”

Mooney Tip #5: “Add Value.”

ImageIf a young researcher wants to develop a web presence, Mooney’s recommendation is to become a trusted brand that consistently provides a certain type of value.  Readers must learn that they can rely on your blog/website/content stream for a specific and continuous content.

I asked Mooney about how this is sort of anti-academic. Many of us like to do many things. We like to jump around and move on to new things, whether that’s deeper into one theory or bouncing between theories. We don’t like making the same points over and over again, and we always are preoccupied with the new and the cutting edge.

Mooney told me how he sometimes feels the same: after promoting his first book, he quickly got tired of talking about the same thing over and over again. But he has learned through his career that if you want your stuff to matter, you have to repeat yourself over and over again – that’s part of this job. Just look at how often Daniel Kahneman talks to the public about imperfect rationality and heuristic judgments! He has been doing it for his entire career and that continued presence and quality message has made him famous and unquestionably changes policy and the world.

For two great examples of young scientists who have developed platforms that people consistently come back to for information check out:

PsychYourMind.com – a place where a crew of graduate students talk about stuff in all the best manners suited for the Internet.

Very Bad Wizards Podcast  – A podcast and a tumblr about psychology and philosophy. We recommend this one with an “explicit warning.” Seriously, they talk about academics, but this isn’t like the Freakonomics podcast you listen to in your car with your conservative father.

Twitter also has quite a few examples of young scientists in our field who have built up bases of thousands of followers without yet being famous for their own research. Why? Because they are good at daily or very frequently posting quality links.

———————————

Chris Mooney’s personal webpage and his amazon author page.

Troy Campbell’s personal webpage.

ACR Film Festival – Overview and interview with the hosts

Editor’s note: this week we will be covering the annual conference of the Association for Consumer Research in Chicago. Our roving reporter Troy Campbell will be live blogging and tweeting to provide us updates from the conference. In the run-up to the conference, he speaks to the famed ACR Film Festival hosts.
Screen Shot 2013-09-25 at 5.23.45 PM

There is something inspiring and something really memorable about Association for Consumer Research conference selected films. I’ve long forgotten even seeing some talks (not your talk of course, I remember it in breathtaking detail), but I have never forgotten at least an image or two from each film I’ve seen.

For those unaccustomed with the film festival format at academic conferences, it features a few films, none longer than 30 minutes (with one exception this year) followed by questions. Accordingly the festival often feels like a normal session just with video instead of talks. The topics are usually very related to topics one would see in experimental journals like Journal of Consumer Research, with topics like health and identity. The film festival can be best described as watching the most high quality and thought provoking journalism imaginable. I hope that description does not sit wrong with those in the film festival community, because I mean as the utmost praise.

To give you a taste of what’s on offer, watch this quick trailer for one of the talks this year. Even if you are not at ACR this year, you can watch all the trailers here and get a sense of the main hypotheses and topics of the videos. You can also reach out to the film-makers with questions and click through on the videos to Vimeo to see the entire cuts of the films right now.

Recently, I had chance to interview Professors Marylouise Caldwell and Paul Henry, the hosts of this years ACR. They make a great case for why, even if you are a hardcore experimental researcher, the film festival is great place to stop by.

What is the goal of the film festival?

[Caldwell and Henry] To have a really great film festival experience.  We encourage folks to attend sessions that from their own perspective are likely to offer rich visual and/or tantalizing research realms.

What are the topics this year?

This year there is plenty on offer, our films ranging from explorations of conflicting consumption ideals in Cuba, how contemporary consumers are dealing with excessive boredom in the face of an interminably technologically stimulating world, what happens when aesthetically gifted consumers move from consumption to production and how their struggle with maintaining feelings of individuality and authenticity, how material objects enact amazingly forceful agency even in mundane settings to how various performances manifest and evolve in both marketplace and leisure-based settings.

What do you want students to get from your session?

We think the film festival facilitates looking at the world of consumption in a different way. Sometimes it transports us out of the halls of academe into places that we have never been, other times we suddenly have flashes of recognition and identification with other consumers that have eluded us up until now, often we experience emotions and sensations that allow us to appreciate consumer behaviour from a radically different perspective and finally we can sometimes sit back and appreciate just how the dynamic and stimulating our field of study can be.

Now for a personal question: What is one thing you love about the ACR conference?

The sheer intellectual stimulation, excitement of meeting and talking with like-minded others and the tremendous generosity of presenters and their audiences during post seminar discussions. 

One more personal question: Are you excited about anything specific for this ACR?

Chicago, Chicago, Chicago – what a wonder town! Plus catching up with many old friends and making new ones, especially film-makers new to our field.

Finally, here’s one more trailer, because the text in the trailer is just hilarious.

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.

4 Things We Vow to Do After Every Conference (But Rarely Do)

#4 Read the Program

Image

During the conference, you give the program a nice skim. You note how many great sessions you just don’t have the time to go to and you vow to read the abstracts on the plane.

But a week later the program is lost in a drawer somewhere.

Reading conference programs is the best way to be on the cutting edge on the field. Most websites post the programs, so misplacing the program is no excuse to not read.

Reading the program is potentially much more valuable than reading the latest issue of any journal. Journal research is 3 years old—conference research is much fresher.

#3 Email that Person

Image

Whether it’s with a professor or a fellow graduate student, at every conference we almost always have a great stirring conversation and then vow to keep up that conversation. However, a week goes by and first email isn’t sent, and the contact seems to be lost.

Statistically, chances are that the best person to talk about your research is not at your school. Don’t let a potential great conversation pass you by.

#2 Focus on What’s Important

Image

After a particularly stirring talk about research philosophy or a spectacular talk that combines field work and theory, you vow to focus on the important things. You vow to take a step back, evaluate your career, and start doing research that makes a difference.

However you return home and on Monday morning you dive into a data set and all that desire to really focus on the bigger picture goes away.

Professor Jim Bettman of Duke University advises, try to make the greatest impact you can and don’t always rush to the data. After a conference we have the momentum and inspiration to focus on big impactful research, don’t let momentum die.

#1 Talk More

Image

At research conference you actually spend time talking to people about research. At school you spend time reading research or collecting data. But at conference you talk and it is wonderful.

At conferences we often find a ten minute conversation with a fellow researchers is more valuable than the tens of hours we’ve spent reading on that topic. Don’t dive into a book when you get back. Cultivate that conference vibe of going out to happy hour with friends and talking research.

There’s a reason we spend thousands of dollars on conferences every year, because face to face conversation about research is valuable. However, we often forget this in the comfort of our daily academic lives.

Passion – The Converging Theme of the SCP Doctoral Consortium

ImageJim Bettman, Punam Killer, Greeta Menon, Barbara Kahn, and many of the other speakers and round table leaders all touched on one common theme: “one should do work on what you are passionate about.”

This doesn’t mean ignoring the necessary unfun pieces one has to do to have a successful career, but it means making passion the center of one’s career. The faculty also made the point that success comes first and foremost from passion.

Jim Bettman kicked off the day of advice by putting passion as the first principle of his research plan (passion-ownership-impact). Overall, the faculty converged on the idea that passion helps motivate good work and supports a good life.

This advice stands in stark contrast to the advice graduate students often hear about being strategic. One roundtable panelist noted that “One can be over strategic” and another suggested that doing a paper just for an easy “A” publication is bad idea. Other speakers noted that one should follow their passion even if that passion leads them out of academia and into industry.

Jim Bettman summarized that that passion is a way to inspire, drive, and sustain programmatic research.

Guest post: Why we should talk to the media (part 2)

claudia hammondFollowing the guest post from Lisa Munoz at SPSP, this week we hear from Claudia Hammond, an award-winning presenter, writer and psychology lecturer, on why she thinks young researchers in particular should engage more with the media. In addition to being part-time faculty at Boston University’s London base, she presents All in the Mind on BBC Radio 4 and Health Check on BBC World Service, and is the author of “Time Warped: Unlocking the mysteries of Time Perception“.

In my many years hosting radio programmes for the BBC I have interviewed dozens of young researchers. When a new paper comes out, we like wherever possible to talk to the people who have done the research themselves instead of relying on a commentator. From our perspective it makes science programmes sound better, providing listeners with a direct link to the scientists.

So that’s what’s in it for us as broadcasters, but why should researchers bother? Scientists can sometimes feel frustrated that their work is misunderstood by the general public. Science literacy varies massively amongst the population and speaking about your work to the media can help to demystify it. All my work, whether making radio or TV programmes or writing books aims to make science accessible and to increase the understanding of the importance of evidence. Researchers themselves have a vital part to play in this and by doing interviews they can reach vast numbers of people in one go. BBC World Service where I host a weekly programme featuring newly-published health and medical research, has 44 million listeners.  If the public is to be expected to continue to fund scientific research they have a right to know how their money is being spent and this is a great way for scientists to get their message across about the importance of their research.

There can also be advantages for researchers themselves. Increasingly grant-giving bodies are making public engagement a condition of their grants, so it’s as well to start practising early in your career.

I also know of many situations where appearing in the media has led to new research collaborations. People often get in touch with me after they hear an interview wanting to contact someone they heard on my programme. When we have studio discussions the participants often exchange emails afterwards so that they can work together. I’m surprised at how often they are unaware of other researchers in the same field. It sometimes feels like a researcher dating agency, but it’s good to see people sharing their ideas.

Sometimes researchers worry about what their peers will think and to be honest, the secret to doing to a good interview is to imagine you are explaining it to a non-scientific friend. Don’t imagine your supervisor by your shoulder. You know your own work inside out and you can explain it. You’re not going to be asked questions which are so in-depth that you can’t answer them, but it’s important to consider the context of your research. Has this topic been in the news recently? How big is the problem that your research addresses?With a little preparation before an interview, you can have an impact.

Website