Whose death would stun the Western World?

A month ago I asked readers What is the most misunderstood idea of all time?Image

My next big (slightly morbid) question is Whose death would stun the Western World?

A few years ago when Michael Jackson unexpectedly died, it felt like the world sort of skipped a few beats. I was in South Korea at the time. I tended to go to foreigner bars that catered to Canadians, Americans, Brits, Aussies and New Zealanders. My main bar was essentially running a several day long Michael Jackson marathon. He may well have been the most famous person in the world. Continue reading

How are Psychology PhDs doing on the job market?

psychcogs(UPDATE: For those interested in the content of this post, check out Friends don’t let friends study Psychology).

I am a reformed and rehabilitated ex-academic. In my previous life, I aspired to be a professor of Cognitive Psychology and Cognitive Science. I described my experiences in the academic stream in a series entitled The Grad School Gospels.  In The Grad School Gospels I have been pessimistic about the value of most Psychology graduate degrees. I argued that the tenure-track job market for Psychology PhDs is devastatingly competitive and that for most Psychology sub-fields non-academic career paths are limited. That is, there often aren’t many jobs to go around that reflect one’s training and interests and that offer an income that duly compensates the massive investment that goes into earning a PhD.

A friend of mine, David Barner, who is a tenure track professor of cognitive psychology at the University of California at San Diego was sympathetic to the perspective I was offering, but provided credible evidence that Psychology PhDs were actually doing better than I thought. Most notably, he cited a blog post by Patrick Schnarrenberger Forscher (who, out of laziness, I will refer to as PSF), a Psychology PhD student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. PSF reviewed National Science Foundation (NSF) science, technology, engineering and mathematics PhD employment statistics from 2006.

The numbers for Psychology PhDs looked better than I would have guessed. The unemployment rate among Psych PhDs was a mere 1% – much lower than the national average which, at the time, was 4.6%. What is more, only 1.3% of Psych PhDs reported being involuntarily employed outside of the field. Not bad at all. And the average income for Psychology PhDs across employment settings was $75,000. So. There’s that… Nevertheless,

I Remain Pessimistic on the Value of Research-Only Psychology PhDs

Continue reading

Why many professors are atheists: Academe as a secular religious community

Atheists. Agnostics. Freethinkers. Nonbelievers. Nontheists. Humanists.Whatever you want to call them and whatever they

Famous atheists, including several career academics.

Famous atheists, including many career academics.

want to call themselves. People who do not believe in God. I describe myself as an agnostic atheist and a secular humanist. For the sake of this article, I will use the term “atheist” (i.e., one who lacks a belief in God(s) or definitely rejects the existence of God(s)) to refer to the collective non-believing community.

It is no secret that atheists enjoy greater numbers in university communities than in the population at large. Their/our numbers aren’t quite as high as I thought, but the proportion of nonbelievers among professional academics is nevertheless several multiples of their proportion in the general population. They are particularly well represented in the sciences and among more elite research universities.

Why? Continue reading

Credit to Lupe Fiasco for Obama Criticisms

Praise to rapper Lupe Fiasco, who let loose on President Barack Obama during an invited appearance at a Washington DC pre-inauguration celebration yesterday. As per Australian website News.Com.Au, Fiasco spoke against war for 30 minutes, with some criticism directed specifically at the President. Later, in a song, he rapped

“Limbaugh is a racist, Glenn Beck is a racist, Gaza Strip was getting bombed, Obama didn’t say sh*t, That’s why I ain’t vote for him, Next one either, I’m part of the problem, My problem is I’m peaceful”

Good for Lupe.

Signed,

A rationalist progressive who at one time believed in Obama.

PS: Every President leaves a legacy in their wake. Alongside being the first Black President and converting what were previously extreme right wing “War on Terror” policies into bipartisan Washington standard operating procedures,  I predict that Obama will be remembered as the President who turned more than half of a generation of Americans into lifelong political cynics. Congratulations..

A brave new world: Why moving beyond university can precipitate crisis

As students approach the completion of their university education some are excited to enter the “Real World”. Others are in no rush to “move on” – perhaps out of fear or uncertainty about their future, anticipatory nostalgia, or a keen awareness of what a uniquely special time the university years are.

University really can be a tremendously special time. Thousands of energetic, big-dreaming, hormone-charged, young adults for whom alcohol and pot are still exciting new adventures, all living away from home for the first time. An intellectual commune housed in a mixture of historic and state of the art buildings where the only people over 30 are the professors. Pretty much everyone is in the same life stage: one of possibilities, ambition, learning about oneself, the world and one’s place within it. It’s understandable why some students are in no rush to move beyond this life stage.

All of this being said, it’s understandable why some students are eager to move beyond their school years. Most students nearing the completion of their university years have never not been students. Yes, most of them will have had several summer jobs, but these were mere intermissions in the student play that had been running for their entire lives.

They are ready for a change. They’re ready to not be broke anymore. They’re ready to no longer have homework. They’re ready to start building their own lives. They’re ready to close their last textbook, submit their last paper, hand in their last exam, and stare blankly at a boring professor for the last time. All of this is entirely valid.

It’s hard to fully appreciate or understanding something when it’s all you’ve ever known. In the weeks and months after graduation, lifelong students who had previously only dangled their feet off the dock take the plunge into a brave new world. The Real World. Some of them will struggle as they come to realize for the first time that despite having spent 2 decades in training, they apparently never became strong swimmers. What some of the same students who couldn’t wait to take the plunge would give to go back… Continue reading

Society is handcuffed in the Prisoner’s Dilemma: How fear, distrust and a lack of organization continually does us in

From Wikipedia:

The prisoner’s dilemma is a canonical example of a game analyzed in game theory that shows why two individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interests to do so. Continue reading

The Grad School Gospels – Part 5: The University Graduate Entitlement Complex

bullpen_gospels_dirk_hayhurstThe Grad School Gospels is a series of posts inspired by Dirk Hayhurst‘s The Bullpen Gospels. In the Bullpen Gospels, Hayhurst tells stories from his struggle to self-actualize through professional baseball. Inspired by Hayhurst and the many commonalities I noticed between the minor league track to the Majors, as he described it, and my experience in the grad school track to cognitive science professorship, I began the Grad School Gospels series.

In this, the fifth installment of The Grad School Gospels, I’ll be changing things up a bit. Firstly, this installment will not touch on professional baseball or Dirk Hayhurst’s experience therein. Secondly, the subject matter will not be limited to graduate students, but to university graduates in general.

Before I launch into this latest installment of doom and gloom…

I’d like to begin on a positive note and also clear up some possible (and totally understandable) misconceptions that I may have fostered in writing The Grad School gospels series.

Firstly, I absolutely loved my university experience. During Orientation/Frosh Week in first year at the University of Toronto, I remember being told several times “These will be the greatest years of your life”. This wasn’t empty platitude. The university years can be absolutely tremendous. The purpose of The Grad School Gospels series is not to slander the academic and university worlds. I hold both in the absolute highest esteem. The purpose is to address some systemic problems and common misperceptions.

Secondly, I’m not sitting here venting because I’m miserable. I was once miserable. Suicidally so, as I discussed in Part 1 of the series. The sorts of negative experiences and themes I discuss in this series do not reflect my current situation. They reflect my situation of a few years ago, which I’ve been fortunate enough to have rebounded from.

High-Maintenance Entitled Bastards Who Think They’re Too Good For Their Job

genx-coverIn Generation X: Tales From an Accelerated Culture, Douglas Coupland spoke of a frustrating experience many managers were having with entry-level employees in the 80s and 90s. The fresh meat wasn’t as willingly falling in line the way their parents did. This wasn’t the case for all entry-level jobs. It was primarily an issue in jobs that were higher in drudgery, lower in status, and for which the path to advancement to more interesting, higher status jobs offering greater potential for personal and career development was less direct, clear, and near.

This new fleet, in aggregate, wasn’t as motivated with respect to its work. One might have interpreted this increasingly common attitude as one of self-entitlement.

I’m too smart and too interesting a person. I’m too good for this job. Continue reading

Don’t We All Hear Voices? A Mindfulness-Informed View of Schizophrenia and the “Normal” Mind

The hallmark of schizophrenia is perceiving things that are not there. Auditory hallucinations, including “hearing voices”, is particularly common. [Post-publishing edit (Jan 19/2013): I’m not insinuating that schizophrenia’s defining feature is hearing voices, but rather hallucinatory and delusional errant perception in general, including sensory illusions and paranoia-laden perceptions and inferences. Perhaps, however, I should have said “a major hallmark” rather than “the hallmark”.]

What if this clinically distinguishing feature of schizophrenia differs from the cognitively distinguishing feature? What if, cognitively speaking, what distinguishes schizophrenia is not the presence of voices, but rather how one interprets them?

WHAT IF WE ALL HEAR VOICES? Continue reading

The Grad School Gospels – Part 4: On Grad School Goggles and the Cult-Like Nature of Grad School

bullpen_gospels_dirk_hayhurstThe Grad School Gospels is a series of posts inspired by Dirk Hayhurst‘s The Bullpen Gospels. In the Bullpen Gospels, Hayhurst tells stories from his struggle to self-actualize through professional baseball. Inspired by Hayhurst and the many commonalities I noticed between the minor league track to the Majors, as he described it, and my experience in the grad school track to cognitive science professorship, I began the Grad School Gospels series.

In this, the fourth, installment of The Grad School Gospels, I speak to how I – a person who had long prided himself on his advanced critical thinking and research abilities – could have fallen into what, for many, amounts to a Grad School Trap. Continue reading

The Grad School Gospels – Part 3: Academe Can’t Be Your Everything

bullpen_gospels_dirk_hayhurstThe Grad School Gospels is a series of posts inspired by Dirk Hayhurst‘s The Bullpen Gospels. In the Bullpen Gospels, Hayhurst tells stories from his struggle to self-actualize through professional baseball. Inspired by Hayhurst and the many commonalities I noticed between the minor league track to the Majors, as he described it, and my experience in the grad school track to cognitive science professorship, I began the Grad School Gospels series.

As with Part 2 – Passion, Fear and Indifference – the present installment was inspired by a set of quotes from Hayhurst. After a few disappointing seasons Dirk was having his best season in years. His pitching coach was curious as to how Dirk had made such a turn-around. Hayhurst ventured the following explanation (my edits bolded in parentheses):

“…I (formerly) put so much stock in what it meant to be a baseball player, I became afraid to fail at it. I’d be out of a job, and out of an identity. I thought I’d lose everything without it.”

“…I wasn’t able to get to this point (i.e., his recent success) until I was okay with the idea of baseball coming to an end.”

Analogous to Dirk, I put so much stock in what it meant to be an academic. I couldn’t afford to fail at it. If I did not eventually become a professor, I too would have lost everything. Continue reading