Questions for a Great Psychologist?

Tomorrow is my first conversation of this journey with a great and influential Psychologist. The cautious part of me is holding off on posting the name/bio of this wonderful scholar until the interview is complete.   The big question (questions?) of today is: what to ask about?

These great scholars typically have well over a hundred publications, multiple major projects and grants in their career, often are endowed chairs and/or institute directors, and have served Psychology on an array of editorial boards, conference committees, and various other duties.

I’ve begun to construct some guidelines for myself. I’d rather more of a conversation than a formal structured interview — something more free flowing and open and less of a list of questions. That means reading about a dozen articles and related publically available documents, cyberstalking then across the interwebs to seek out auxilliary personal/non-academic info, and a deep dive on the details in their CVs. Then collating that info into a summary notes and using that as a the basis to guide a conversation.

Ideally, the best questions will elicit responses from these wonderful Psychologists that clarify things from their own life and personal ideas: what challenges did they face? How do they see those challenges now and the steps they took to overcome them? Arising from those obstacles is a flourish of scholarly activity. Are  their stories about how they created their paradigms? Why they chose the questions, methods, and techniques that they did?

Quick aside from my own lab. I’ve done several studies of time-to-arrival (TTA) decisions: seeing/hearing an object coming towards you and making a reaction to show when it would reach your position. The best part? In my recent  TTA work we strapped a portable amp to the front of a motorcycle and drove it dozens of times past a dummyhead recorder, all the while blasting bird calls, gun shots, car alarms, and a dozen other sounds.  Do you know what happens when you go racing through a university parking lot on a motorcycle with the sound blasting from an amp?  You get to meet the police and try to explain that what you are doing is actually for science and perfectly normal — not the ravings of a prankster,  criminal,  and/or lunatic. Because sometimes the best method to make a stimulus requires at-hand resources (motorcycle, military recordings from buddy at Army Research Labs, battery-powered portable amp good for experiment and busking for dollars in a subway station connected to your electric guitar). And sometimes the best method is totally ridiculous to the local police, who were confused by the sound of a squawking goose traveling 45 mph and probably anxious when it was a gun shot repeating.  Point being, sometimes ridiculous things occur to make science,  they are well-worth discussing, and the stories about them should be shared.

So, that’s what I hope to find in the conversations. If someone interviewed a few hundred families then they were witness to weird, wonderful,  stunning, and strange family dynamics. They have stories of the people that shaped the thinking about what to explore and how to develop the theories. If someone grew up an underrepresented minority in New York, then did grad school in Sweden, only to return to the USA after 10 years abroad, there was something that drove them.

Anyway, that’s the goal. Stories about life experiences that shaped the choices for training and research topics. Stories from the lab that created the paradigms. Stories from the experiments once the data was being generated and, people being who they are, said odd/amusing/poignant things. Stories from the interactions with colleagues that took a simple finding discussed over beverages  to theoretical breakthroughs ( and which kind of beverage:  Coffee? Beer/wine? Whiskey? Which produces better science conversation?).

Maybe if I know enough, listen enough, and ask the right questions those stories will come out, providing the voice and spirit of these incredible scholars.

3 thoughts on “Questions for a Great Psychologist?

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