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Dr. Wayne Podrouzek: Psychology, Chair, Kwantlen Polytechnic University

August 7, 2012

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 1.A, Subject: Psychology

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Undergraduate Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: August 7, 2012

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2013

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 3,108

ISSN 2369-6885

Issue 1.A, Subject: Psychology

1. What is your current position in the Psychology Faculty?

I’m currently full time faculty and chair of the department.

2. Where did you acquire your education?  What did you pursue in your studies?

I did my undergrad work in Nova Scotia at Mount St. Vincent U, although there is (was) an interuniversity agreement there where many courses can be taken at Dalhousie, Saint Mary’s, or the Mount and simply count at the other universities, so I took many courses at the other schools.  At Dal and SMU I did quite a bit of philosophy and religious studies, some bio at Dal, some behavioural stuff at SMU, etc.  It’s actually quite a good system.  All the universities are within about a ½ hour drive of each other, offer diverse courses, and there are a minimum of administrative obstacles.

I got edjamacated ‘cause I was working with children and teenagers with the equivalent of the Ministry of Children and Families and the Provincial Attorney General (with teens who had been incarcerated) in Alberta and realized that to have more influence I would need some university education (I had obtained a diploma).  Mt. St. Vincent had one of Canada’s only two programs for working with children (Bachelor of Child Studies – BCS) and so I sent back there to pick up that credential.

3. What originally interested you in Psychology?  If your interest evolved, how did your interest change over time to the present?

As part of the BCS, we were required to complete a substantial number of bio and psych courses, and I became interested in psychology, subtype developmental psychology, specifically child language development.  I completed my BCS, then did a BSc Honours in Psych (minors in Math/Stats and Biology), and started a Masters in Education (I picked this up in my last year of my Honours as extra courses) and completed all the coursework but not the project.  I was subsequently awarded an NSERC, and some other money, and was accepted into the MA at Simon Fraser, so abandoned my MEd to come out here.  I kind of wish I had finished the MEd now – but I really just didn’t see the necessity at the time.  Because of its emphasis on counselling and testing I could have used it to become registered in BC – it would have opened some doors.  Can’t y’all just seem me as a therapist?  Hmmm, that’s scary.

At any rate, I originally went to SFU because it was supposed to get some equipment to do acoustical analyses of language (which at the time was about a $60K piece of equipment called a Sonograph, and today you can do the same thing with an A-D board that costs less than $100), and I had done my Honours Project on “An acoustical analysis of pre-lexical child utterances in pragmatically constrained contexts” (or something like that and wanted to continue that work.) However, the equipment fell through, so I switch to perception.  I did my MA thesis in perception on the question of the order of visual processing (what do you process first, the global scene and then analyze for the bits, or the bits first and then synthesize them into the whole scene: the Global-Local question).

I began my PhD in perception, but then met Dr. Bruce Whittlesea, and became interested in memory theory, so I switched to that area and completed my PhD in his lab.  I did my dissertation on Repetition Blindness in Rapid Serial Visual Presentation Lists (an examination of the phenomenon that you tend not to see repetitions of words in quickly presented word lists).

Since my PhD I have become interested in how the blind spot gets filled in, subjective contours, retrieval induced forgetting, and for a brief time, the science underlying neuropsych testing.

4. Since your time as an undergraduate student, what are the major changes in the curriculum?  What has changed regarding the conventional ideas?

Wow, that’s a hard one – so much has happened in so many areas.  When I started as an undergrad (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth with people), the areas then are usually considered the “core” areas now.  These included methods, stats, measurement theory, bio, social, developmental, cognitive, and behavioural in the experimental areas, and testing, abnormal, and therapy in the clinical areas.  We had rat labs in intro – every student got two rats and we ran experiments on the rats and wrote the experiments up in the lab books (something like doing chem labs.  Then we got to kill them).  Consciousness was not discussed – that was akin to studying magic.  Evolutionary Psych did not exist (although its precursor, sociobiology did).  Although Kuhn had published his controversial book “The structure of scientific revolutions”, his ideas were discussed but, I think, not taken to heart by most scientists.  Later, with other philosophers of science (e.g., Feyerabend, Lakoff), publishing works that in some ways augmented his, our assumptions and views of even methodologies changed.  Of course, change your assumptions, change your methods, and you change your field.  Things loosened up considerably.  Areas of enquiry and the acceptable methods and what could count as reasonable data become much more encompassing, and thus new areas of psychology emerged.  We certainly didn’t have courses on sex, for example, or prejudice, cultural, gender (other than straight up sex differences, other aspects of that field would have been taught in “Women’s Studies”), and the list goes ever on.

When I attended university there were upper level specialty courses in Psycholinguistics (Chomsky) – a brilliant, complex theory of language (particularly, syntax and transformations, and semantics), Piaget and Vygotsky, behaviour, modification (applied behavior analysis), parallel and distributed processing, and other things that are now of historical interest, but at the time were all the rage.

5. Many students graduating with a Psychology degree will not pursue careers in Psychology.  What are your thoughts on this?

That’s great – I think society needs people who have broad understanding of the principles of psychology in a wide variety of positions.  Psychologists tend to be quite well trained in methodology and stats, and this certainly enhances their ability to think about things methodological – certainly one of the pillars of good critical thinking.

Perhaps some of those folks with a good educational underpinning in critical thinking could go into politics?  That would be awesome.  It would be good to have some folks in government who can actually think.

Psychology interfaces well with Law: Again, the methodological and thinking skills can be brought to bear.

6. Kwantlen is attempting to expand that research on campus.  What are the current attempts to expand research on campus?  What is the progress of those attempts?

I know there is a real push to expand research at Kwantlen.  Outside of Psych I’m afraid I’m not very knowledgeable about what’s going on.  However, in the psych department we have many faculty who have active research programs, within Kwantlen and in collaborating with other universities and agencies.  Several have international reputations.  Given the level of funding, and our workload in teaching and service, I am pretty impressed at the level of research many of faculty in psych are managing.

7. If Kwantlen provided incentives via funding (grants), would you be interested in conducting research at Kwantlen?

Grants might be nice – along with time release for doing research.  However, in my case, a lot of what I need is tech support.  Many of the kinds of experiments I want to do require substantial expertise in programming and integrating output from different technologies.  I haven’t done any programming in over 20 years now, and everything has changed (and what I did then was on MAC), and I don’t really have the inclination to take a year or two to learn to do it well.  I have quite a few (I think) fairly good ideas for studies, but without substantial tech support, I’m afraid, I won’t be the one to be doing them.

And, I’m getting a tad long in the tooth to retool for a substantial research career.  It would likely take me 1-2 years to get up to speed in a new area, and that pretty much puts me at retirement age.  So, I just like doing what I think is interesting “stuff|” with like-minded students, at a very pedestrian pace.

8. To you, what are the most controversial areas of Psychology?  Why do you (and your colleagues) consider them controversial?  What are your personal views on them?

Lol – that’s a good one.  I certainly won’t speak for my colleagues because I often play in the sandbox pretty much by myself.

Put 6 psychologists in a room and have them discuss any topic and you’ll get at least 7 positions.  Except for perhaps bio, some descriptive developmental, low end sensation (which is pretty much bio), some social, and some behavioural, most areas of psych are pretty controversial, although there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of controversy – we just choose to ignore the difficulties and bung on ahead.  And, for the most part, it doesn’t matter too much – we live in our little bubbles and every once in a while something we do becomes useful, and the rest of the time it doesn’t matter too much and it’s an excellent theoretical and intellectual exercise.  Even in things like method and stats, there are different opinions on what is appropriate and why and how things should be interpreted, and so on.  Don’t get me wrong, I think that in the long run what we do will become incredibly important, when we get to a certain point and it becomes integrated.  All of it contributes to that corpus of knowledge, and even if wrong is very important.  We learn most, I think, when we find we are wrong in interesting ways – and that really does entail controversy.

Where I get my knickers in a twist is when what we do has real implications for real people, and we are less than totally rigorous.  I remember the “repressed memory” debacle, in which folks were sent to jail on the basis of testimony by psychologists.  It turned out to be, what word am I looking for here, ah right, “crap”, and it ruined people’s lives.  That has now turned from the repressed/false memory debate into the “dissociative identity disorder” debate.  That is pretty controversial (at least in some circles).

And how about the “facilitated communication” debacle (there was, perhaps is still, even an Institute for Facilitated Communication at Syracuse, NY) – again, folks lives were ruined.  Now, as before, psychologists fixed that through continued study (although not before being hired by a lawyer to see if it “really” worked), but much damage had been done.  But that was a few years ago, and we tend to forget our past errors.

Another area that doesn’t seem to get much controversy, but perhaps should, is the use of certain measure of psychopathy.  They are, as I understand it, being used outside of the parameters in which they were developed, and people’s lives are being profoundly affected by them.  One girl (17 I think) was declared a Dangerous Offender and put in prison indefinitely based on misdemeanour crimes and her score on “the” checklist and the testimony of some “psychologist” or other.  This was subsequently overturned in the Supreme Court of Canada, but again, damage had been done.  What I find controversial is, where was the psychological community in expressing outrage over this travesty?  Let me guess, the same as we usually hear from the Department of Foreign Affairs, “working quietly behind the scenes”.

The problem with Psychology is the same problem we have with Medicine and biochemistry, just worse.  Very few people understand it, and it is complicated stuff (which is why I don’t understand why most folks think psych is some kind of a bird discipline that anyone and his dog could do).  Psychologists are human, they want to have their moment in the sun, and money, and they say stuff and people believe it – without trying to critically evaluate it, and often in the absence of the ability to critically evaluate it.  Sometimes it makes no difference.  Whether memory is a series of stages or structures or is a set of differentially instantiable processes based on some form of information harmonic in the current circumstance is a very interesting question but is not likely to affect too many folks’ lives in the immediate future.  So if people ignore the debate and believe one thing or the other makes little difference.  However, the same cannot be said for so many other areas.

So, I guess that I think that much of psych is controversial.  But that’s not a bad thing – it’s just that we should acknowledge that much of it is controversial not take ourselves too seriously.  We are young, some 130 years old.  Much of Physics is controversial as well – is the speed of light the limit of particle movement in the universe outside of the movement of the universe itself?  (Although this result seems to be the result of a loose cable connection).  Are there bosons?  We speak of mass and gravity, but what the hell are they?  Do causes always precede effects?  What is the nature of time?  Lots of debates = controversy.  That is the stuff of science.

9. What do you consider the prevailing philosophical foundation of Psychology?  If you differ, what is your personal philosophical framework?

Wow – you know how to pick your questions.

First, I don’t think there is ONE philosophical foundation in psychology any more.  We are all linked by our methodologies – but even those are much more diverse than before.  Not too many years ago, anything that remotely smelled like qualitative methodology was looked at askance by most experimental psychologists.  Now, in our own department, we find there are several faculty using these methods, and the rest of us still associate with them, if begrudgingly… (Ok, joke).

Some years ago most of us would likely have identified as some variant of positivist, but now I suspect that, again, it’s much more diverse, and many might identify as cognitive relativists.  I don’t even know how many of us would identify as ontological objectivists (philosophical realists) anymore.  Actually, this is an interesting question, and I could see an honours project in some variant of this issue.

So, if we’re looking for the kinds of underpinning that really links us altogether I guess (hope) it would be some lip service to the general tenets of “science” and empiricism (although I have to wonder, when in our ethics – provided to us by the tricouncil guidelines, developed by “scientists” – we are to ensure the “spiritual” safety of our subjects – whatever that is: I just want some variant of quasi-objective measure of “spiritual well-being”).  Perhaps there are more Cartesian Dualists out there than I would have thought.  (Still the issue of measurement, though).  There is no specific set of methods on which we all agree, no set of criteria to which we hold ourselves – but perhaps a Wittgensteinian language-game understanding of the word “science” is broadly descriptive, and perhaps good enough.

10. To you, who are the most influential Psychologists?  Why are they the most influential to you?

I wish I were better read in psychology so I could better answer this question.  I have great admiration for Skinner.  I think he got the short end of the stick in evaluation of his debate with Chomsky (who I think is likely one of the brightest puppies to walk, crawl, or slither on the earth today – although I have always disagreed with virtually all of his psychology – considered “state of the art” when I was going to university: psycholinguistics, the pre-eminence of syntax, the existence of a language acquisition device, etc.).  I think that Skinner’s contribution to psychology has been undervalued, and that much of his work may well reincarnate later in our history.  I really liked the “tightness” of Skinner’s work: methodologically sounds, often insightful while being atheoretic, clever.  I think he was a bit of an idealist and I don’t think his idea of Walden 2 would ever fly, but an interesting idea.  I got an appreciation of Skinner’s work when I studied under one of his grads, Ron vanHouten.

I was also quite influenced by Vygotsky’s work “Thought and Language.”  In particular he has helped shape my understanding of the relationships between thought, language, semiotics, and pragmatics, in a developmental context.

Of course, there are many psychologists in my own areas that have influenced my thinking.  My advisor, Bruce Whittlesea, is certainly one of these.  You cannot work closely with someone for a few years without walking away influenced.  There are also big names – Tulving, Jacoby, etc. I tend to think about human processing in “Transfer Appropriate Processing” terms (a la, Bransford, Franks, Morris, & Stein).  However, someone who is not so well known, Paul Kolers (Procedures of Mind, Mechanisms of Mind) has most influenced me in terms of thinking about theories of the types of processing that occur in mind.  And Gibson’s notion of affordances always haunts my thought when I bend it to thought and action.

A number of philosophers; Carnap (logical positivism), Quine (ontological relativism and the underdetermination of theories), Popper (falsificationism), Nagel (philosophy of science, antireductionism re consciousness), Putnam (excellent discourses on reductionism and functionalism), and other philosophers of science (such as Russell) have probably had more influence on my thought about the nature of theories (in particular, cognitive theories) than psychologists.  It’s kind of the difference between methods and substantive areas.  The method is paramount; the understanding of the substantive area follows from the understanding of the method.

So, the short answer is: gee, I don’t know.  It’s all pretty much a swirl.

11. Finally, many Psychology students are interested to know, do you know anyone famous within Psychology?

I’ve met several, and spoken with them, but I would not say that I “know” them.  We would not even count as acquaintances, although quite a few are nice and say “hi” to me at conferences.

License

Creative Commons Licence In-sight by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-sight, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-sight with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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