The Life of a Wannabe Academic

Detail of the life a new academic. The progress from graduate training to professor. Includes reflections on the job hunting process, research in technology and education, and what it is like to be a new college professor.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Reflections on Psychology and Specialization

I attended my University's Undergraduate conference last week. See my previous post for a link. I listened to the keynote speaker, Dr. Frank Farley. He is a very interesting guy. His research has focused on the idea of the type-T or Thrill-seeking personality. An intriguing topic that suggests that some people through a gene-environment reciprocal relationship are more or less likely to take risks in their lives. These risks may be either intellecutal (like Einstein) or Physical (like the Kinevil clan - Hope I spelled the name right). Of course there is a continuum between the Big T and the little t, with most people in the middle somewhere.

But beyond this information, I enjoyed listening to him explain his theory. He is of the camp that suggests that psychology as a field is trying to make things too complicated. He likes his theory as it is, simple...parsimoneous, and resists other psychologists' urges to break down his theory even more (such as what are the type of intellecual Big T's). I am also somewhat of an advocate of this vision. My research is not necessarily limited to just one theoretical viewpoint or to the investigation of one sub-concept of a larger concept. I realize that this makes me difficult to categorize, and perhaps makes others uncomfortable when I suggest that both cognitive and learning theories can explain a phenomenon.

However, I see my research area (educational technology and its uses) as inherently interdisciplinary. If I did not allow myself to investigate phenomenon using other theoretical viewpoints, I feel that I am limiting myself. Additionally, because I usually do applied research, I must be willing to work with messy data that can potentially be expalined using several different theories (was it motivational goals, or operant conditioning that contributed to differences in online study behavior - my answer, probably a little of both).

I feel that this allows me to see more of a big picture, something that Dr. Farley emphatically emphasized. We need to study things that are of importance to society and not be afraid to give our results out to the public in general - or give psychology away. I got a chance to briefly speek to Dr. Farley during our social after the conference. He appeared to be impressed with my research area and shared philosophy of psychological research. Too bad that he got to witness me sing kareoke later that evening in a rendition of "Proud Mary" with the chair of the forensic program and department chair later that night!


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