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Louise Meilleur: Graduate Student, Ohio State University

February 8, 2013

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: February 8, 2013

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2013

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 1,770

ISSN 2369-6885

Issue 1.A, Subject: Psychology

1.      How did you gain interest in psychology? To date, where have you acquired education?

I was first interested in Psychology in high school, but I knew that I wasn’t interested in counselling as a profession and, like many, I didn’t really realize that Psychology involved much more than counselling.  In 2004, I looked for a career change. I decided to attend an information session on the Bachelor of Applied Arts in Psychology and the whole world of applied and experimental psychology was opened up to me.  I could see how I could pursue Psychology, but also leverage my experience working with technology.  Before that, I felt held back by the idea of “starting from scratch”, but when I realized that I could build off of my past experiences, rather than leave them behind altogether, returning to school to pursue a BA didn’t seem quite so over whelming.

I received my Associate of Arts and my Bachelor of Applied Arts (Hons) from Kwantlen Polytechnic University.  I am currently working towards a PhD at Ohio State University.  I will receive my MA in Psychology in December 2012.  I’m also working on a Master’s of Public Health in Health Behavior and Health Promotion which I’ll receive in May of 2013.  If things continue as planned, I should be finished my PhD in May of 2015.

While I was still working I also completed a couple of programs that helped to further my telecommunications career. I received a certificate in Telecommunications Management from Vancouver Community College and a Data Network Administration certificate from Langara College.

2.      What did you pursue prior to your interest in Psychology?

I spent 12 years working in telecommunications.  I started in a Call Center, providing bilingual (French/English) customer service for long distance customers.  From there, I started night school to move ahead and ended in management positions at companies like Bell Canada, Telus, and Best Buy Canada.

3.      What kind of research did you pursue as an undergraduate student?

I worked in Dr. Bernstein’s Lab for two and a half years studying various aspects of social cognition.  The B.A.A. at Kwantlen allows you to experience a lot of hands-on research.  I was able to pursue projects in many different domains, which helped to refine my interest and led to my honours project – studying the effects of perceptual fluency on risk perceptions.  More broadly, I became interested in how our judgments and decisions, and subsequently our behavior, are influenced not just by pertinent information, but erroneous sources that “rationally” should not affect our behavior.

4.      What have you specialized in at Ohio State University?  What do you currently research as a graduate student?

Officially, my specialty is Quantitative Psychology but my focus is in Judgment and Decision Making, which is grouped together with Quantitative Psychology at Ohio State University.  What that means is that my required coursework is mostly in stats, while I pursue my own interests/research.  I’m in the CAIDe (Cognitive and Affective Influences on Decision making) working with Ellen Peters.  My main interest is in Medical Decision Making and I have been studying how we can manipulate attention to improve health decisions.  One of the ways to measure attention is through eye movements.  Therefore, much of my data is collected using eye tracking equipment.

5.      Since you began studying psychology, what controversial topics seem pertinent to you?  How do you examine the controversial topic?

To be honest, I am not terribly concerned with controversial topics.  I am much more interested in the application of psychology to improve people’s lives.  For example, how can we change the way that information is presented so that it actually changes behavior?  In my area of research, the biggest controversy that I perceive is the ability to use what we learn to impact people’s behavior, specifically their health related behaviors.  The question is, “where do you draw the line between libertarianism (free choice) and paternalism (influencing people to do what you think is best)?”  We want to construct an environment that leads to people making the best choice, but who decides what is the best option?  As a scientist, my interest is predominantly in how I can affect behavior, but I also need to consider the ethics of using my knowledge in a way that might impede free choice, as well as consider any unintended consequences of any intervention I might construct.

6.      How would you describe your philosophical framework for understanding psychology?

In general, I am a pragmatist.  I am open to using any reliable methodology that allows me to answer the questions I want to ask.  I ask questions with a pragmatic nature.  In that, they have a clear application with the intention to improve or “fix” a real life problem.

7.      If you had sufficient funding for any topic of research, what would you like to research?

I am in the enviable position to have the necessary resources available to conduct the research most interesting to me at this time.  Later on in my career, I hope to apply my training in psychology and public health to conduct research in order to develop public policies and programs that can successfully improve people’s health.  We focus so much of our attention on disease, but the major causes of death and disease are due to health related behaviors (e.g., tobacco use, over eating).  I would like to continue to research ways to help people improve their negative and positive health behaviors.

8.      What advice do you have for undergraduate students intending to pursue graduate-level studies and research?

The most important thing is start early.  Get involved in as much research as possible, go to as many conferences, and if possible present.  Start studying for the GRE early; it took me at least 100 hours of preparation.  There are dozens of reference books that will tell you what you need to do to get into grad school.  Read them because they are mostly correct.  The thing that cannot be stressed enough is the importance of selecting an advisor.  This is true in undergrad for your honours thesis, but it is critical for graduate school.  In a sense, I was lucky when applying to graduate schools; I did not have a clear understanding which schools were good, bad, or average – particularly the American schools.  Specifically, I focused on finding people I was interested in working with rather than schools I wanted to go to.  I contacted all of the people I wanted to work with via email, phone, and in person where possible.  When it comes to the selection process, as much as they are interviewing you, you need to interview them to make sure you can work with them for the next five plus years.  Regardless of how great a program, student, or advisor is, if the fit is not right, everyone loses.  Even at Ohio State, where the competition to get in is fierce and the faculty are amazing, I have peers who are stagnating, partially due to mismatch with their advisor and, as a result, a number of them have left the program.  I am lucky in that my advisor and I have very similar interests and we work well together. It has made all the difference in my research productivity.

One final note, if you do choose to go to grad school you need to prepare yourself for a big change in perspective.  Overnight you go from being one of the top students to being decidedly average, and if you don’t feel stupid on a regular basis, you’re probably doing something wrong and aren’t being challenged sufficiently. It gets better, but there will always be someone who is smarter, progressing faster and publishing more than you. You’ll need to make sure you don’t compare yourself to others and focus on challenging yourself based on your own goals (and those of your advisor).

9.      What individuals have influenced your thinking the most?

Except for the obvious choices of my advisors, I think I am too green to name someone who has influenced my thinking most with respect to psychology.  I will have to get back to you on that.  I will say that I have been enormously influenced by various mentors and teachers throughout my life.  When I think of the trajectory my life has taken, and try to pinpoint a single thing that has enabled me to pursue my goals, what is most salient to me is the impact that my second grade learning assistance teacher had while helping me to improve my reading skills.  I

was told, in no uncertain terms, that I was not allowed to use the phrase “I can’t” ever again, followed by frequent reinforcement over the span of a year.  Looking back through the lens of my psychology training, I am certain that banning “I can’t” at such an early age had a much greater effect than simply changing my vocabulary. Asking the question “how do I,” rather than immediately saying “I can’t,” led to small successes that grew over time and helped me to develop a strong sense of personal agency, that has impacted every aspect of my life including how I approach my education and research.

10.  If you have any books to recommend for people, what would you recommend as seminal/influential/required reading?

For a general overview of judgment and decision-making, the Blackwell handbook is quite good.  It is a collection of chapters written by leading experts in various topics within judgment and decision-making.

The Blackwell Handbook of Judgment and Decision Making.  Eds Derek Koehler & Nigel Harvey, 2007

Heuristics and Biases is another collection of papers by various researchers, but it focuses on intuitive judgments, which is to particular interest to me.

Heuristics and Biases, The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment. Eds Gilovich, Griffin & Kahneman, 2002

A couple of more commercial books that deal with intuitive decision making that I really enjoyed:

Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking.  Malcolm Gladwell 2007

Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness.  Thayler & Sunstein 2009

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, 2012-2013. 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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