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.


Viewpoint: Why social science grad students make great product managers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Paul’s original interview here.

Research Heroes: Robert B. Cialdini

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Departmental website

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