Friends don’t let friends study Psychology

In this video I encourage people considering pursuing an education in Psychology at any formal level – bachelors, research Masters/PhD, or Clinical Masters/PhD – to research and reconsider what they are considering.

My relevant experience includes having an Hon. B.Sc. in Psychology Research and Cognitive Science, having been an MS/PhD student in Cognitive Psychology, having looked into the job market stats, and now working in a parallel healthcare field, Occupational Therapy.

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

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

The Grad School Gospels – Part 2: Passion, Fear and Indifference

bullpen_gospels_dirk_hayhurstIn The Grad School Gospels: On Professional Baseball, Academia, and My Shared Experience with Dirk Hayhurst, I juxtaposed Hayhurst‘s pro baseball journey – which he recounts in his first book, The Bullpen Gospels – with my journey through academic psychology.

Several factors conspired to make our situations alike. We both laid most of our eggs in one basket, deriving identity, strength, purpose, livelihood and self-esteem from a single source. We were accustomed to success, praise and the ability to live indefinitely off of success in our chosen field. For a while this worked out swimmingly. Intrinsic passion and well-fed appetites for success and praise made for well-oiled machines. To succeed, one needs drive. Few things are as motivating as having one’s livelihood, reason for living, identity and dignity all riding on one high risk, high reward gamble. But it wasn’t terrifying. It was mostly fun, because passion, success, praise and positive expectations ruled the day. Continue reading

The Grad School Gospels: On Professional Baseball, Academia, and My Shared Experience with Dirk Hayhurst

bullpen_gospels_dirk_hayhurstIn The Bullpen Gospels, author and former professional baseball player, Dirk Hayhurst, takes readers through his lived experience in the cut-throat world of professional baseball. As I read Hayhurst’s story, I find myself impressed by his talent as a writer, sympathetic to his hardships as professional baseball player, and connected to him by analogous personal struggles.

A few years prior to returning to school in 2009 to train to be an occupational therapist, I was a research graduate student in Cognitive Psychology.  Back then, in many ways graduate school was for me what professional baseball was to Dirk. I was not alone.

The purpose of this post is to juxtapose excerpts of Hayhurst’s struggle to self-actualize through professional baseball with my prior struggles to build a life, self-esteem and respectability through the academic world. Continue reading

Buddhism for Skeptics of Religion

I’m not a Buddhist. I subscribe to no traditional religion (though as I argue here, like everyone else I am religious). I am an agnostic atheist who values secularism, science, reason, mindfulness, and the pursuit of individual and collective wisdom and wellness. As an expression of these values, I would like to highlight key aspects of Buddhist philosophy and practice that I believe can be palatable, useful and positively enriching for even the most ardent skeptic.

Concepts to be addressed:

  • Monism
  • Atheism
  • Impermanence, Emptiness and Dependent Origination
  • No Self (or No Soul)
  • Attachment as source of Suffering; Letting Go as source of Freedom
  • Pursuing Wisdom, not Happiness
  • Mindfulness as a path to Wisdom and Wellness
  • Reincarnation and Rebirth
  • Karma

Continue reading

Kicking Addictions: Commentary on What It Takes and What Helps

A few weeks ago, Daniel Fincke did a post on what it takes to  kick an addiction such as alcoholism. Factors considered include self-discipline, humility, support and substitutions (i.e., replacements to fill the life-space previously filled by the addictive substance). Based on education and experience gained via an undergrad degree in Psychology, years of practicing and studying mindfulness meditation and related philosophy, a Masters degree in Occupational Therapy, and an outpatient mental health placement in which one of the focuses is on assisting people in managing addictions (e.g., smoking, alcohol, marijuana, hard drugs, impulsive spending, self-destructive sexual promiscuity), I would like to offer additional perspective on the issue of what it takes and what can help in kicking addictions. Concepts to be addressed include:

  • Reasonable goal setting;
  • Commitment and discipline;
  • Tolerance for lapses;
  • Support;
  • Substitutions, Distractions and Strategies; and
  • Mindfulness and insight into the nature of one’s emotions and thought.

Continue reading

University Education: Why The Lack of Accountability?


I had the BEST day a few months ago! First, I went to the movies and the theatre decided to do the viewers a favour by stopping the movie twenty minutes early. SCORE! With all the extra time my friends and I had, we decided to go grab a beer. Well it must have been one of our birthdays or something because the bartender decided to fill our glasses only halfway! AMAZING! Why can’t everyday be like this? I wish that just once – JUST ONCE – I could get a nice sandwich maker at Subway who would brighten my day by only giving me 9 inches of the 12 inch sub I order… Alas, to live in a perfect world.

It’s not all bad, though. At least I and my fellow students are fortunate enough to have instructors who sometimes do us the favour of ending class early, canceling the odd lecture here and there, and maybe even going on strike (faculty at my school, the University of Western Ontario, are teetering on the brink of a walkout/lockout)! That last one is a rarity, but it’s one of those things where you just kind of feel good when it happens, even if it doesn’t happen at your school. It’s good to know that good things still happen, y’know?

This all sounds ridiculous, of course. If theatres started cutting movies short, or if a food/beverage establishment only gave you a portion of what you ordered and paid for, you wouldn’t be happy. You’d be shocked and rightfully pissed off. You did not get what you paid for and you’d have a good mind to ask for at least a partial refund.

Contrast this with the situation in university education, where paying students (including me) are apparently universally pleased to be let out of class early or have a class canceled, and are sometimes even welcoming of a short lived academic strike. Lets use a little bit of folk behavioural economics to speculate as to why so many students love to get less than what they paid for when it comes to school.

Continue reading