Psychologists in Non-Traditional Academic Departments

The Long Winding Road

By Norm Bregman

Norm Bregman Norm Bregman is provost and vice president for academic affairs at Longwood University. Bregman received a master’s in experimental psychology from Stephen F. Austin State University and a PhD in learning and memory from the University of Southern California. He served as department chair at Southeastern Louisiana University for more than 11 years, dean of arts and sciences at Henderson State University, associate provost of academic affairs at Butler University, and vice president for Academic Affairs at the University of Evansville.

How many of you have heard it said that, “The best job in the world is being a tenured professor?” The most fortunate of this privileged class conduct research that excites them. They teach courses of their choosing at times that fit the schedule they desire, and more than likely the students they are teaching are the best in the department since the courses they teach are typically offered only for majors. They work in research institutions and are likely to teach only graduate or senior-level courses with the best and the brightest of students. The majority are paid very well for doing what they love.

Why would anyone who has achieved the status of professor, regardless of the type of institution with which they are affiliated, choose to become an administrator? A good question!

Obviously I can’t speak for other chief academic officers, but for me, there are a host of reasons and rewards. The most important reason is that my administrative position has provided me with the opportunity to contribute to the advancement of the institution I serve as well as continue to challenge my personal growth and development. This is the same excitement I feel when I go into the classroom, as I do continue to teach, although not on a regular basis. The major difference is my focus is on institutional rather than departmental challenges, and the constituency I serve is the campus community not just the individual student. The personal satisfaction of seeing the institution I work in evolve and improve is analogous to the feeling of having a student learn in the classroom. Granted, I no longer get the immediate feedback of seeing students’ eyes light up when they understand the statistical concept being discussed each semester, but the reward is similar for me in the long run.

One of the advantages of being a psychologist who is in administration is using my training to help form interdisciplinary teams to solve challenges. My knowledge is put to the test almost every day when dealing with conflict issues, and making what I hope is the appropriate attribution for why a faculty or staff member acted in a certain way. I am also acutely aware of being careful to frame an issue correctly and using my expertise to be able to influence appropriate behavior, at least from my point of view. I am also sensitive to how I reinforce behavior of the university community.

For me, the long winding road started when I was a young faculty member and was chosen to be department chair. The oldest faculty member in the department at the time was 34 years old. It was a terrific ride as we accomplished many great things. I also learned that I needed to be challenged and I work best when I am being stimulated to the maximum. Being an administrator provided me with the opportunity to make a difference beyond the classroom and allowed me to feel altruistic by helping others reach their potential. What a great experience it was.

You shouldn’t be lulled into thinking administration is all about helping others, being challenged and making good things happen. This is a bumpy road even when you use all the principles you have learned. For me, it provides personal satisfaction. I continue to conduct research, but now the topics are related to higher education administration rather than learning and memory topics or eyewitness testimony. I do miss exploring and interaction with my psychology colleagues at times.

Administration allows me to use my psychology knowledge every day. Am I always effective in employing these skills? I doubt it, but our profession certainly gives us an advantage in tackling everyday challenges if we choose to use that knowledge. The journey has been bumpy at times, and moving from one institution to another as I advanced in my career has not been easy. At times, you get to feel like a nomad.

Intellectual Diversity in Marketing

By Keith E. Niedermeier

Keith E. Niedermeier Keith E. Niedermeier is an assistant professor of marketing at Penn State University. He received his PhD in Social Psychology from Michigan State University in 1999.

I never intended to work in a business school. I was applying only for psychology jobs during my final year in graduate school at Michigan State when I received an unexpected call from a Penn State professor asking me if I ever thought about working in a marketing department. Unbeknownst to me, the faculty at Penn State was considering hiring a social psychologist and had contacted one of my professors looking for candidates. Although my professor recommended me and discussed my previous work in the advertising industry, he neglected to tell me about it; and I was caught completely off guard. After a rather awkward conversation, I began to research the possibility of leaving psychology for marketing. I read through marketing journals and talked to people who had already traveled this path. I decided to contact the people at Penn State to express my interest and I was invited to interview.

When I visited Penn State, I could sense that the faculty was divided. Some were very interested in hiring a “pure” social psychologist, while others seemed resistant to the idea. It did not help that my job talk was on a topic that had nothing to do with marketing because I had never done any research in marketing. The majority of my work was on juror decision-making, but I was very interested in applying these concepts to consumer behavior. Apparently, I impressed enough of the faculty, because I received an offer shortly after my interview.

While I was happy to have the offer, it put me in a difficult position because I had barely begun to compete on the psychology market and I had no idea of what my other opportunities might be. Additionally, I was concerned about what others might think because I had heard people call psychologists working in business schools “sell-outs” more than once. I was reassured to find that my professors at Michigan State were very supportive and told me to make my decision based on the kind of work I would do and the colleagues I would have. They encouraged me to investigate the pros and cons of the job and not worry about any negative assumptions that a few people might make.

There were many intriguing things about taking a job in marketing. I did had interest in consumer behavior from working in advertising and doing theoretical work with an applied flavor appealed to me. Also, there were certainly other positives such as higher salary, lighter teaching load, and less pressure to obtain grants. But the most exciting thing was the intellectual diversity in the department. There were consumer behaviorists, statistical modelers, and marketing management researchers all on the same floor in the same building. People from very different academic backgrounds were attacking similar problems from different angles. I believe this is a huge strength of the marketing discipline. However, this diversity also presents a challenge. At times, people with different theoretical perspectives and research values tend to be dismissive of perspectives that are not their own. Although this is certainly true in psychology, I believe it is much more intense in marketing.

While there are many minor normative differences between psychology and marketing, probably the most serious difference is the number and variety of journals. While there are many high quality outlets in psychology, there are only five journals in marketing that are widely accepted as “A” level. Moreover, only one of these journals is very accepting of theoretically driven psychology-styled research. This effectively limits top-level publications for a consumer behaviorist to one journal. Of course there are other high-quality consumer behavior outlets that publish very good papers, but the perception is that this single journal is the only true “A” for consumer behavior research. Furthermore, publications in disciplines other than marketing are somewhat discounted.

While I don’t regret my decision to move into marketing, the worst part was losing some of the working relationships I had with people in psychology. I do not have an academic lineage in marketing so I had to integrate myself and spend my time working with other marketing researchers. However, finding new colleagues and being challenged with new ideas has been exhilarating. In the end, I am very positive about the choice I made and I continue to be excited about conducting my psychology-based research in a consumer behavior context.

The Interaction Between Places and Faces

By Staffan Hygge

Staffan Hygge Staffan Hygge is an associate professor of psychology and head of the Laboratory of Applied Psychology at the University of Gävle, Gävle, Sweden. He received his PhD in 1976 from the University of Gävle. His research focuses on issues of noise and cognition, including the effects of noise in schools.

In the mid 1970s, before the oil crisis and the economic recession that followed, the National Swedish Institute for Building Research relocated from Stockholm, Sweden, 180 km north to the countryside in Gävle. The move was part of a well-intentioned plan to decentralize state agencies. Part of the unintended fallout from the plan was the loss of almost half of the staff, which refused to move from Stockholm, to what even in Sweden might have then been considered the “boonies.” This set of circumstances was a boon for me, a fresh PhD from Uppsala University. I was badly in need for a job as an experimental psychologist.

As in many organizations that undergo rapid seemingly tumultuous change, the chance to rebuild, restructure and lay the foundation for a more adaptive and responsive organization presented itself. The institute director, Nils Antoni, took the bold step of courting and then engaging freshly minted PhDs from all academic disciplines related to the science of creating buildings. This was a very different vision – the institute was going to use scientists to perfect buildings rather than the traditional approach of attempting to turn builders into scientists.

The Building Research Institute was a marvelous place to perform research when I started there in 1977. There were no teaching obligations, no rule to publish or vanish, and there was a state research budget that covered most of the research costs. Some of us, young PhDs all, took real advantage of these benefits by digging deeper into and devoting time to the new research areas we developed around our interests and views regarding important aspects of the interaction between places and faces (i.e., people and their man-made environments).

The theme of my PhD thesis, vicarious classical conditioning, was not really something I could pursue in my new position, but noise research looked fine. In Uppsala I had picked up a little about noise, mainly as an instigator of aggression and a means to study orienting and defensive electrodermal reactions and habituation.

As I look back on it now, a talk by Jerome E. Singer I attended in the early 70s pushed me slowly, inexorably towards this interest area. I had heard of Singer and his work on noise and task performance. When I later settled in at the institute, I wrote to ask him whether it would be possible to exchange research ideas about noise and noise aftereffects, drawing on his by now classical studies.

His reply was more than kind. Two years later I was a post-doctoral researcher in his new department of medical psychology with the just established Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.

That year as a post-doc remains the most important period in my professional and private life. I made friends with a bunch of bright and insightful people, whose professional skills and open minds taught me a lot.

Since then, I’ve known without a hint of doubt or hesitation that I can always turn to my friends and colleagues in the United States -Jerry Singer, Nancy Ostrove, Paul J. Brounstein, David S. Krantz and Andy Baum – to get enlightened and constructive remarks concerning research ideas. These people have such a strong commitment to good research and objective science that they are willing to share their ideas with anyone who is willing to take on some hard work.

My lesson from that year is valid for any young scientist: It is important to move to a new research environment and expose yourself to new persons and ideas as soon as you have finished your PhD exam. The American post-doc system is a very good way to achieve just that.

It is a delicate balance between having a secure research position with lots of freedom at the well-funded Building Research Institute versus having to look outside the organization to find significant professional peers. Managing this balance was severely tested while working with Gary W. Evans, Cornell University, on an aircraft noise study on children in Oslo, Norway, when the Norway Parliament decided not to relocate the airport.

We were given a Swedish grant to start the planning process for the study with the clause that we find another airport. With the help of Monika Bullinger, University of Hamburg, Germany,we did find another airport for the study. She told us about the upcoming relocation of the Munich airport in 1992. At once we realized this was an unprecedented opportunity to do the best airport noise impact study on children ever. Because of the time frame, applying for the regular research funds was too slow, but the within-house resources from the Building Research Institute and its director gave the Munich project a flying start. Ten magnificent years followed together with Gary and Monika. (One of the papers on airport noise, “A Prospective Study of Some Effects of Aircraft Noise on Cognitive Performance in School Children,” appeared in the September 2002 issue of Psychological Science, Vol. 13, No. 5.)

It’s a pity that there is too little understanding among politicians and decision-makers concerning how good research comes about, especially regarding access to start-up resources on one hand and the need for creating viable networks among researchers with similar interests and complementary expertise on the other. Neither of these key opportunities is addressed regularly in most conventional departments of psychology. It is a pity that funding for several Swedish research institutes was cut down and others even closed during the 1990s. There were ways to pick out the raisins out of the cake, had there only been a chef in the kitchen.

From my personal point of view, I’m happy I learned how to create and manage the twin needs of balancing resources and building extended peer networks, outside of the institute, outside of the country, and even outside the continent.

Psychologist as Fish Out of Water

By Lyn Corno

Lyn Corno is a program advisor in the department of curriculum and teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University. She received her PhD in 1978 from Stanford University. Her work is focused on aspects of educational psychology.

I entered the field of educational psychology in 1978 with a PhD from Stanford University. The School of Education at Stanford has a program in psychological studies that requires a cognate in the department of psychology. I also earned a master’s in curriculum and teacher education while at Stanford. In the program of empirical research that ensued from my studies, I focused on connections between classroom teaching processes and student learning and motivation.

Presently, I am an educational psychologist in a department of curriculum and teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University. The College offers graduate degrees in applied psychology, education, and health sciences. Some of the former faculty are professors whose work shaped the field of curriculum theory, including John Dewey, Harold Rugg, Hollis Caswell, and, more recently, A. Harry Passow.

Prior to my arrival at Teachers College in 1982, the only psychologically-minded professor in the curriculum and teaching department was Arno Bellack, who was retiring.

I’ve always felt a bit like a fish out of water in the department because curriculum theorists tend to view educational psychologists as overly positivistic and quantitative. Educational psychologists are scientific and seek understandings grounded in empirical research. With its emphasis on valid evidence in support of claims about teaching, learning, or other processes, theory in educational psychology reads differently than contemporary post-modern, critical theory or hermeneutics. It reads differently also from the early philosophy of education upon which most curriculum theory was founded. For curriculum theorists, educational psychology is too analytic and probabilistic; its descriptions of educational processes and outcomes are “thin.” And, although curricularists nod at attempts by psychologists to investigate stable relations among abstract constructs, generalizations from research are considered unrealistic. Thus, although my presence at Teachers College in 1982 raised some issues to be addressed with my department through the years, ultimately, my colleagues and I grew from our collaboration, each a little closer to the other’s point of view.

Wonderful students sought me out for courses and advice over the years, often those who wanted to use empirical methods to study teaching, such as true experimental designs, and those with research questions about classroom learning and motivation. Several of these students have gone on to have important professional careers in the private sector, as well as in academic teaching and professional K-12 education.

With this combination of interests and experiences, I have been fortunate enough to develop a body of work in the area of self-regulated learning providing professional opportunities of many different types. I spent several summers serving as a consultant to a large computer company that was heavily invested in customer training and the development of computer-based self-instructional systems. I validated aptitude tests for systems engineers and taught instructors in customer education about curriculum and instructional theory and existing research on teaching. I enjoyed opportunities doing nationally-televised interviews on what research, including some of my own, tells us about the subject of homework and student responsibility.

In recent years, I have chaired the board of the National Society for the Study of Education, a small, century-old organization that produces critical and historically-based yearbooks on timely topics in education, broadly construed. Another board on which I served and chaired is the visiting panel for educational research at the Educational Testing Service. The panel reviews and advises ETS research scientists on many aspects of their learning and assessment projects, including measures of motivational and volitional processes.

The more conventional activities I have pursued include editing peer-reviewed academic journals, including the American Educational Research Journal, the Educational Psychologist, and the Teachers College Record. Most of my work these days is done on the Internet, where I continue to advise doctoral students earning degrees in curriculum and teaching, edit, and work collaboratively in research and writing projects.

I do not think I would have had such a diverse array of opportunities to contribute meaningfully to the field of education had I pursued a more traditional professional path in a department consisting only of psychologists. I have learned that the best educational research is multidisciplinary, and even curriculum theorists appreciate the value of psychological studies to help demystify some of the fundamental processes of teaching and learning.

Who Am I?

By Frank Winn

Frank Winn is the distance learning coordinator and admissions director in the department of physician assistant studies at East Carolina University. He received his PhD in 1977 from Texas Technical University. His research interests are in the areas of ergnomics and aging.

Who am I? That was the opening question for a popular 1950s TV show, “What’s My Line?” I sometimes feel like a contestant on that show when asked to describe my training and career as a psychologist.

I have been called a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, an engineer, as well as a member of several other disciplines. I have received praise for my clinical acumen as well as praise for my research. Colleagues have told me that I would never enjoy leaving a clinical position for one in research. Other colleagues in research positions wonder how I ever functioned as a clinician. I am a professional who has left people with their mouths agape, after a lecture on the pathophysiology of carpal tunnel syndrome. Who am I, or better yet what am I? I am a psychologist with a very interesting background. Am I unique? Not by a long shot.

From the first class I took in psychology, in 1965, I knew it was the field in which I wanted to be. What I did not expect was that I would be an active participant in many of the areas surveyed in my introductory course. When I graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University in 1968, I thought my career would be in clinical psychology. The United States Army, however, had a different career path in mind. The U.S. Army sent me for training as a preventive medicine specialist and assigned me to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I was upset that the Army would take an individual trained in psychology and provide them with training in an entirely different discipline, while taking someone with no interest in the field and training them as a psychological specialist.

I was rescued from this military career track by none other than Johnny Carson. One evening on his show, Carson joked about the cause of recent casualties in the 72nd Airborne Division, alluding to the 82nd Airborne Division garrisoned at Fort Bragg. According to those who heard the show, Carson alleged that the division suffered 80 percent casualties from needle punctures when they made a jump. He was, of course, referring to the drug use that was rampant among all military services during the Vietnam crisis. The military brass was not amused by the comment and Lt.Gen. John Tolson, Commander of the 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, was told to solve the problem in his command. His response was to set up the first stateside drug abuse screening and treatment facility which was called Operation Awareness.

The program treated soldiers who were medically evacuated from Vietnam for drug use as well as those soldiers screened and treated who were assigned to Fort Bragg. At Operation Awareness, I maintained a small caseload and was responsible for program evaluation. Even back then the government wanted to make sure that the money spent for treatment was used effectively. That was my first contact with data, and the impact that data could have on funding decisions, and it fascinated me.

I left the Army in January 1972, not sure if I wanted to be a clinician or a researcher. After three years away from academia, my advisor at Central Michigan University decided to help me determine if I was graduate material. He had me enroll in three statistics classes and a course in physiological psychology in my first semester of graduate work, under the assumption that it would break or make me. I found the challenge daunting but exhilarating, and obviously I survived. I found the course in physiological psychology extremely interesting and it led to a master’s thesis on chemical stimulation of the brain. This training, in an area that we now refer to as neuroscience, provided me with additional skills that would be beneficial later in my career. The most immediate impact of this master=s level training, however, was a decision to select a different area in which to complete my doctoral training. Physiological psychology, while fascinating, was not a cost-effective area in which to conduct a dissertation. Eight months of seven-day weeks and 10-hour days cannulating rats and collecting data was a sobering experience.

As a result of the lessons learned completing my master’s degree, I decided to pursue an interest in developmental psychology, specifically how pathology develops during adolescence and how people respond to the pathology during senescence. This interest area emerged as a result of treating drug dependent soldiers and wondering what the impact of their use would be as they got older. Because of the perceived costs of doctoral training I headed west where it was cheaper to attend school as an out-of-state student than it was to further my education in Michigan as an in-state student. My journey led me to the University of Oklahoma at Norman, where my expectations for a training program in life-span developmental psychology turned out to be something far different. The training offered at the time was in experimental child psychology which included a good dose of Hull-Spence S-R theory and hard-nosed training in basic research skills. Because of this emphasis I left the training program after a year and kept heading west to Texas.

Texas Tech University, in Lubbock, was the final step on my training odyssey. At Tech I was fortunate enough to associate with a life-span developmental psychologist who allowed me the freedom to do research in areas I found interesting as well as take the courses that I needed to complete the training emphasis I wanted in life-span development. I completed additional research studies dealing with chemical stimulation of the brain as well as research in cognitive aging, and completing the coursework leading to the completion of my dissertation. I successfully defended as a major area, life-span development, as well as completing comprehensive exams in clinical psychology and statistics.

I was awarded the PhD in 1977 and landed a position as a visiting assistant professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, where I learned a valuable lesson. Unless you have another income stream, an academic posting is not that lucrative. After a year I left academia and accepted a commission as a lieutenant with the commissioned corps of the U.S. Public Health Service detailed to the U.S. Coast Guard. The individual who recruited me told me that I would be expected to conduct personnel research and when necessary, do some light counseling similar to what I had done with the Army. When I reported for duty at the U.S. Coast Guard Support Center on Governors Island, New York, I felt confident in my abilities to succeed. My misplaced confidence was based on prior experience with clinical responsibilities in a military environment, my experience conducting program evaluation work in the military (that resulted in a publication), plus my classroom work in clinical psychology, and a strong graduate level background in statistics and research design. None of these experiences mattered, however, since the individual who recruited me took liberties in describing the position I was to fill. What this position would do, however, was teach me to be adaptable, and to draw on a personal skill set that I had been taught in my graduate training, but not recognized until then: problem-solving.

Reporting to the senior medical officer at Governors Island, I was informed that my job title was chief of the psychiatric service and in addition to that, I would be responsible for establishing and operating a psychiatric screening service that would include in its catchment area Coast Guard assets in 40 States and Europe. Obviously, I was dumbfounded and voiced the ethical concerns that I had in fitting my training to the requirements of the position that I was expected to fill.

The Captain was very understanding of my position and gave me the option of resigning my commission on the spot, and funding my own way back to Texas, or filling the position, with him working with me to supplement any deficiencies that I felt needed to be addressed. I accepted his generous offer. The Captain was true to his word and I was able to finish post doctoral training at the Paine-Whitney Clinic at the Cornell Medical Center, at the Creedmore Psychiatric Hospital, and at the Bellevue Hospital Center. After five years in the position at Governors Island, I was transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center at Cape May, New Jersey, to do personnel and recruit selection research.

After eight years with the Coast Guard I found that I still had a professional interest in the field of aging. In the mid 80s a new area of study called ergonomics was in its infancy and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health was interested in me because of my background in aging. As a commissioned officer with U.S. Public Health Service, I accepted a transfer from the Coast Guard to the psychophysiology and biomechanics section of the applied psychology and ergonomics branch of the division of biomedical and behavioral sciences at NIOSH, a component of the CDC.

I quickly discovered that my training in physiological psychology and research design were important to success in this developing area. What was surprising was that theoretically, the constructs underlying the field of life-span development and the constructs underlying the study of cumulative trauma disorders, an outcome of poor ergonomic design, were almost identical. Adapting to the theoretical framework of this new area was as comfortable as putting on an old pair of shoes.

The area of research that I quickly adopted at NIOSH was carpal tunnel syndrome.

The syndrome has special relevance to older cohorts since in severe cases sufferers lose fine motor coordination in their hands, lose grip strength, and can develop accompanying Raynauds syndrome. These problems have a direct effect on activities of daily living and, with the death of a caretaker, can prevent an individual from living alone. Investigators in Europe and Asia have been aware of the problem but it has not attracted much interest in the United States. The area of study dealing with the older worker is a research area I have continued, often in collaboration with foreign colleagues I met while at NIOSH.

Funding cutbacks, and a decision to de-emphasize research on the older worker, led me to transfer to the National Institute on Drug Abuse in the early 90s. My new office was responsible for conducting policy-oriented research in response to requests from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) which is administratively located under the president.

It was fascinating conducting policy oriented research that required quick turn around. What was even better was the fact that the group had a generous operating budget to finance its operations. All good things must end and this assignment ended with the ADAMHA reorganization. I was subsequently assigned to the office of applied studies located in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. I think it ironic that I started my federal career working in a drug abuse clinic and conducting program evaluation functions for the Army and ended up retiring from federal service with a job classification of health statistician conducting program evaluation activities for the center for substance abuse prevention.

What do I do now? I retired from active duty because of a contact I made at the Coast Guard base on Governors Island. The physician assistant profession, a new field established in the mid 60s, was quickly developed in the military medical system. I became good friends with a physician assistant while stationed at Governors Island and we kept in contact over the years.

When he assumed the chair of a new physician assistant program at East Carolina University, he asked if I would join him. He said he needed a faculty member who was adaptable who was willing to mentor clinicians in research and someone who could teach behavioral medicine, public health, and how to read a research article. I opted to leave federal service because I found this new challenge very appealing. Since my arrival six years ago, the department of physician studies has created a distance learning program and graduated successful practitioners from the first primary care training program that offers the didactic phase of training in an asynchronous format.

So, what am I? I am a psychologist by training who has managed to benefit from the quantitative and research training I received and from the approach to problem solving that all psychologists learn and internalize. What does the future have in store for me? Hopefully, continued challenges and problems to solve. It does not matter if I am mistaken for an engineer, a physical therapist, or a member of any number of other disciplines. My training has allowed me to approach my professional life as if it were a big sandbox in which to play. I can try whatever I want and build anything I can conceive, and I am not alone in the approach that I have been taught to take. There are many others in the sandbox with me.

Observer Vol.16, No.6 June, 2003

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