Transcript Podcast #1: Jerusha and Brian Detweiler-Bedell on Doing Collaborative Research in Psychology

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Richard: Hello, and welcome to the Social Methods Podcast. I’m Richard LeDonne. Today we are talking with Brian and Jerusha Detweiler-Bedell on their newly released textbook, Doing Collaborative Research in Psychology: a Team-Based Guide. Brian and Jerusha are both associate professors of Psychology at Lewis & Clark College where they teach and conduct research in human-decision making, health, clinical, and social psychology. They head the Behavioral Health and Social Psychology Lab (the BHS lab) on which the textbook is based. Thank you for being on Social Methods and congratulations on your new textbook.

Jerusha & Brian: Thank you.

R: As a former student and lab member my first question comes from something I’ve learned from you. That is when describing something as complex and scientific research you first have to describe it to your grandmother and get her to understand it. So, with that, pretend I’m your grandmother and tell me about your textbook.

J: Alright well I think to describe the textbook to you it would really help to give the bigger context of where it came from and it’s originally a very personal experience that each of us had when we were undergraduates. So talk about coming full circle talking to you as our former undergrad. When we were undergrads we had to chance to work with faculty very closely and got really inspired by what it was like to do psychology research and in fact that became the driving force behind our interest to pursue graduate work in psychology and then when we go to our graduate program what we realized is that, that collaboration that we experienced as undergrads was something that we want to see how it plays out in the grad school context and in that context what you have is potentially a faculty advisor and a series of postdocs, grad students, and undergrads all working together, but on difference facets of the project. And we found ways in which to get the most of those experience and upon getting our first faculty potions at a liberal arts college we were faced with a sort of puzzle, how is it that you can translate some of that vibrant research community that you have in a research university into a liberal arts college where you are not going to have the same post docs, grad students, but you do have lot of really engaging undergraduate. So that was really the start of what we ended up creating in terms of the laddered team model. In that we had undergraduates grouped typically in threes where we have the most senior experienced person being the team leader and then a mid-level person as the associate and finally someone new to psychology who was also part of this team. And over the next ten or so years we saw and refined and worked on this model and we began to keep a manual basically a bunch of tips. Inside scoop on what research was like. Different things that help in the process. And the manual grew over time and eventually we got to a place where we thought we could make something out of it and write a book out of it. And as we were doing that we realized that it was so much more than our lab or just a lab at a liberal arts college. In fact, what we had learned through working so closely with undergraduates were the ways in which undergraduates can be most successful in working as teams. Whether they’re in a team, in a classroom, where everyone comes in at the same level of expertise, or if they are part of a faculty member’s lab or grad student’s lab where you might have different levels of skills and experiences. We wrote this book with that in mind. What are the ways to maximize success of undergraduate students?Predominantly in psychology doing collaborative research.

B: We noticed that most of the time the easiest way to work with undergraduates is simply to have the large number of research assistants. The problem with that though is that the research assistants don’t necessarily work well as a team together or learn as a team together. And we really figured that as social psychologists we should be able to do better. And that is really how we devised this system of working with undergraduates. It was really trying to figure out how best a team of student could work and learn from one another and develop over time within that team structure.

R: One of the things that I Ioved about being in the lab, is that you not only felt like you were doing and learning and collaborating, and that you are learning about all these great things in social and clinical and health psychology, but also that those principles were being used in the process. Do you think you can speak more to the laddered system and where that came from?

B: As funny as it seems, the original impulse was to mimimic what happens in management consulting, in the business world. And it really was just a first prototype of what might work because in management consulting there is often a junior analyst working with a middle level analyst working with a team leader and they go out to a company and they work as a team to figure out what is going on there and it is a training model that they use to bring up the lower level analysts through the lower rungs of the company. It’s a little bit odd that we use the corporate model for that. That was the original prototype but it is all based on what does happen naturally at big universities that have graduate programs. It’s naturally laddered or hierarchical you have a professor typically with some post-docs then some graduate students working with younger graduate student working with undergrads. So we tried to mimic in a way what will work in an undergraduate environment–that hierarchy that naturally happens at big research universities. We just needed a model for doing that. So we found that model of three people to work quite well.

R: Yea, I found actually when in the lab often these hierarchies can feel artificial in a way, you know it is just a title, but it just felt very natural in the BHS lab. So can you speak to how you encourage that?

J: I think that the way in which we manage to encourage that is through focusing a lot on who the team leader is and working with the team leader to impart both the norms of what it is like to work with a team and also to give that extra confidence and guidance that will allow the team to be successful. Now interestingly and you probably remember when you were a team leader we do team leader trainings and we base a lot of that on Richard Hackman’s work. Looking at leadership in teams and successful leadership within teams. And one of the first things we talk about comes form Hackman and that is the, sort of like the fundamental attribution error, but of leaders to suggest that it’s really not the case that the leader makes or breaks the team, but instead the leader sets the stage for success of the team and the leader needs to be a part of that team. And so we focus not only on what the research process is in the lab, but also on the training process of leaders and on imparting to the leaders some of those guidelines those idea, those ways in which they can bring their team together to help success occur.

B: And another aspect of the Hackman work too is that and it’s a bit paradoxical, but the best case scenario is if everyone is a leader in some way on the team. There is a lot of social engineering on our part as the mentors as the advisors in putting the teams together and creating a good context. Not necessarily putting friends together on time. Not always for a persons first experience when they are an assistant on the team, should they be doing the research that is the most interesting to them because they’re really in learning mode. So that social engineering on our behalf is a way of setting up the context, it is a way of leading. The team leader leads in title and helps set up and organize the process. But it’s also important to give the younger team members a sense of how they can add to the process. And how they can add to the process is through their expertise, but also by taking on leadership roles in helping where they are strong in helping add ideas to the mix. So everyone one in some way is a leader whether it is with a capital ‘L’ or a small ‘L’ .

J: I think that one reason why we then found that in writing this book that it can translate so well to the classroom is that same spirit of everyone is some form of leader and that effective teams work together because they both take advantage of the unique skills and abilities of each individual and effective teams have members who are aware of one another’s weaknesses as well and work collaboratively to help each individual learn new skills, gain confidence, challenge themselves, grow, become better and so it works beautifully in our own lab in this more hierarchical, or laddered model and in non-hierarchical. So students that are first in research methodology, all of them new to what research methods is, it’s still a space in which you can create team, and make teams more effective then what they typically are. In part because of some of those same principles we were just talking about.

R: So you envision this team-based guide being both in the classroom and potentially in the setting up of laboratories.

J: Yes, yes, absolutely and in fact probably it would be utilized equally well in both types of settings. And one way in which we have been using this since it came out, is having a weekly book club of our lab member so that each week students read one of the chapters which basically ushers from the start of the research process, how do you come up with an idea, all the way through things like how do you write up your results, what do you do in terms of presentations, and finally how do you apply these skills beyond the research world into the workplace or into graduate studies.

B: I think it is really important to at least have a system like this, or really systematically think about how you get teams to work together in traditional classes like methodology class where students are asked to do a research project or maybe a term long research project together. We frankly don’t think that teams are often set up in a way that really is conducive to doing good work and the teams really growing and the individuals really growing. We always hear from students how group work quite often really goes wrong. And I think that is because it is just too easy to throw students and say ok do something as a team. So to give students a really good sense of how to do research but also how to do research with a team. So in a class like methodology you would have your standard textbook. You would still have the textbook that tells you the theories and the concrete methodologies that are used across all different kinds of research. That is a really important text to have. But this book is really meant to show students the behind the scenes, day to day operation of research. How you actually move from an interest in research to a big idea and making that big idea something that you want to test and how to test it and how to generate methodologies working together, stay on track, run subjects, compile studies, write up the studies, and actually at the end of the book, what you get from all that as a individual, how you grew and what it means for what you will do after college whether it is going on to a graduate program or going on to some other type of employment.

J: And you know what we found, as I mentioned earlier, the ideas that ended up resulting in this book were generated all from our close collaboration with students in our research lab. But we wanted to have some way of building in efficiencies when you are in a much larger classroom and you don’t have, unfortunately even in a small college like ours, but certainly in more representative settings where you have many many students in your classroom, where you don’t have the luxury of getting to know each student, each student’s skills or strengths. You don’t have the luxury of engineering, as Brian mentioned earlier, how you are going to put the team together exactly because you may not know enough about those individuals. And what we hope our that book does and part of what we were thinking about as we were writing it, is to give students the guidance they need directly. So a way in which for us, in essence, to speak to each individual student even in a very large setting. Here are the conditions for success. And not only are these the conditions for success but here’s why it’s so much fun. This process is not dull, it’s not tedious, it’s not boring. It has as many, you know, as much of an emotional roller coaster as you can imagine, from thrills of discover to devastation when your data come out showing nothing. And so a lot of what we also try to do throughout the book is to use a real personal, down to earth tone and to, in essence, feel conversational with the students as we were writing.

R: It’s so important as a student and a life long learner and being in the classroom you can always tell when a teacher or professor has put in the investment in the process not just the content of their course. So that is one thing I love about this textbook; it really makes that so accessible and easy… because it is such a big investment to put into the process. Which leads me to my next questions. I know you were just at the Western Psychological Associate Conference in Reno last weekend. So I just want to know how it went, I know you gave a workshop on the textbook. Did you receive good feedback. How did it go?

B: So the workshop we gave was in a way a culmination of a grant we have from the National Science Foundation in which we propose that we would draft this book. It actually went better than we thought, we actually ended up with the book at the end of the grant cycle.

R: Wow, on time and ahead of schedule… [laughter]

B: … Well we did extend the grant two years [laughter] but at the end you know we said we would disseminate this sort of model we put together. So we held a ninety minute workshop at WPA. And ninety minutes is actually really quick, but we didn’t want it to be a typical lecture or talk at a conference. So it was very hands on. We had the faculty and the students in the audience moving around, doing a couple break out sessions to get them to really wrangle with the question of how best to put teams students together to do research. And these are faculty that come from very different types of institutions, big research schools, big state schools, community colleges. And I think they really appreciated having that time and that space to wrangle with the difficult question of how to put teams together. And we used the book as a guide to thinking about how to do that. Starting with, it was funny, having the faculty think about the skills they would bring to a research team. And we actually put them together in small groups of two or three as if they were one of these teams. And they actually went down and rated a series of different skills that they have that they might bring. And, you know, some faculty are kind of resistant to changing themselves. And we asked them, you know, what skills they would want to work on and one faculty said “I’m not good at this. I’m lousy at it, but I don’t want to get to get better at it. I don’t want to work on it.”

J: So just like students. So the exercise, what we… in the book we have as part of an introduction when you form a team, we encourage people to take this skills-based exercise which we adapted from an existing one, but worked with the author of this exercise to tailor it to research collaborations. It’s a thirty item questionnaire that asks you to identify what are your strengths, where do you identify challenges and which of these various skills do you just enjoy. So the skills range from writing, data oriented, presentation, communication, organization, and so ultimately each individual has a list of five skills that they are bringing to the table as strengths and five skills they think will be important to utilize in the team. So as Brian was saying, we had multiple break out groups, small groups of faculty working with one another imagining as if they had been put together and had to do a project. Lot’s of different reactions that actually are incredibly representative of what we see in student groups. Just as that one faculty member didn’t want to work on the things that he wasn’t as good at, so too some students are that way. But the take-home message of this whole conversation, or of this break out group I should say, was that it is a mistake to think of teams or individuals in a team as pieces of a puzzle that need to fit perfectly together. It’s a mistake because it’s not realistic. That’s not how it works. You don’t necessarily have either team where, oh everyone shares the same interests and skills and they are all so happy together because they all understand one another that would be a way the puzzle pieces fit. Or alternatively a different type of puzzle where you have one person who loves data, the other loves writing, the other loves presenting, perfect put them together the projects ideal. That’s not real. So instead, the way to think about it, is that you don’t need to put the puzzle together you just need to be aware of what each persons piece looks like. You need to know what are they bringing to that team. And so in a setting in which a faculty member, if it’s a small enough class they will get to know what each person is bringing, but even in the setting where the class numbers are much much larger, but you still want to try team work, you can put the burden on the students, but with the guidance, we hope, of our book allow the students to understand, ok this is what your bringing, this is what I’m bringing, this is what the other person is bringing, here’s what we are missing here’s how we are going to help each other. And so it’s that awareness that we think is crucial for the success of a team especially at that beginning stage.

R: You describe driving across the country from New Haven to Portland and you are bright eyed and you’re about to be new professors and your thinking about what we are going to do, how are we going to contribute to Lewis and Clark, so you say, “to systematically, engage ourselves and our students in collaborative research both in the classroom and in our research lab. Together with our student, we wanted to own the ideas and questions of psychology.” I just love that, ownership as a theme. The other themes that seem to circulate are vision and togetherness. So perhaps you can just speak to those.

J: Absolutely, so yes in thinking about some of what we learned in seeing teams work together over those years in working with research teams we tried to distill what are the key component that a team should strive for or that characterize successful teams. And ownership, as you discuss, is a key piece to that. As Brian mentioned earlier in the interview, often you see a single faculty member with a whole group of research assistants who are doing various tasks for the project and all those tasks are incredibly important, but the students leave feeling as if they have helped but that it wasn’t really their project. And going back to our own undergraduate experiences, we came to appreciate exactly how much ownership was imparted upon us by our mentors when we were undergrads and what a difference it made. It empowered us to think about attending graduate school, to continue on as researchers in our own right. And so because of that ownership is a key part of this process. You want to involve students in a way so that they are invested not only in seeing themselves in the project, but also seeing the members of their research team and then seeing something that is greater than any individual contribution, that is what it is to as a group have developed something.  And this could even be in the context of like in our lab where we, it is a certain line of research which is consistent with what Brian and I are specializing in. And many of the  ideas for any particular research study are ones we have already discussed and thought about. And yet we try to impart of very deep and significant sense of ownership on the students.

B: Yea, I mean the how of imparting ownership is incredibly important. And like Jerusha was saying, we lucked out. We were very fortunate as undergrads to be asked by our professor to not act as research assistants but to act as collaborators and take ownership of projects. And to actually propose ideas so the ideas and discussions came sometimes as much from us as from the advisor. And we realized and have realized over the last couple of years that ownership is actually not something that is imparted in grade school and in high school and quite often even in college, because it takes a long time to cultivate. Instead when it comes to thinking about psychological research, undergraduates are often asked to understand how others have researched a problem. And maybe the culmination is a literature review in your senior year where you do a big broad summary of an entire area of research. That’s not ownership. Going out and summarizing other people’s research is not ownership. It’s also not ownership to give a student a hypothesis to test and have them develop the research to test that hypothesis. Ownership is really the sense that you own the idea itself. And that doesn’t have to be individual ownership, it is collaborative ownership. It’s joint ownership. But to develop that, you have to start a couple steps back. And we talk about vision. And imparting a sense of vision, a clear vision of what we are studying and why were are studying something is the key starting point. So the team, the faculty advisor all are on the same page when it comes to the ultimate goal. And that’s not the process, it’s not how it is going to happen, it’s not the specific hypothesis, but it’s locating a team of researchers in a phenomena and a puzzle. And you start there. And you start playing with different aspects of a puzzle of human nature, a puzzle of human behavior. And if you can get the whole team to have fun playing with the ideas of that puzzle and maybe what some possible answers are. Yes, as the faculty advisors we may have some ideas, but in a discussion like that we can bring them out socratically. And more often then not, we often end up going in a different direction than we even anticipated. And it’s through that process of envisioning where we’re going, knowing where we’re going, and playing with the ideas together that you develop the second critical aspect we think is that feeling of togetherness.

J: So the togetherness is the next step of the process. And we grappled a lot with what the right word is because it is hard to capture what is it to feel supported by members of a team, to feel like you are in this together. Now crucial, a crucial point to make is that this does not mean you are friends. You might be friends. That could end up happening. Or perhaps because of the way groups were assigned you already were friends. But it is not necessary to be friends in order to have a sense of togetherness. It’s instead this feeling that you are invested in being a part of this team. That you respect and take seriously the ideas of your teammates even when you disagree with one another. And that you have been a part of this process of developing the vision. And then it’s the ownership that can begin to be instilled, later on down the line as vision propels the project forward, together deepens the bonds among the members of the team, togetherness deepens those bonds, and then ownership begins to be brought in through each subsequent phase of the project.

B: And you really do start to see ownership. You can tell when you’re getting there when, you asked us at the beginning of the interview, can you tell the story to someone like your grandma? And if you can start to tell the story in a way that anyone can understand it’s very much like teaching, if you can do that you are owning that idea and you can take questions from that person, and play with the idea, and talk about the implications in a way that resonates with a whole group of people. If you don’t know something you tend to pair it back what you know and you hit a wall really quickly with what comes next. When you really do have this sense of ownership the idea is yours and you actually now give that away to others.

R: So one thing coming to mind from everything you just said is how in a sense you as professors with your line of research you’re humbling yourselves in a way with your students. And particularly with undergrads, I think some researchers might find that, you know, a little agitating or just a waste of time, and you’ve said that it’s actually been enriching. How it’s added and changed your own ideas working with students. I should mention Philip Zimbardo wrote this just glowing forward for you guys. And it just absolutely, you can tell he’s just so proud of the two of you and just in awe. And so I just want to say, he mentions these learning-doing collaborations and how you are nurturing students not just as consumers of content, but also as creators, and how that is beneficial for students but how it is also beneficial to teachers and professors. So maybe you can speak to that a bit more.

B: It’s interesting that you talk about humbling yourself with your students. The last person you would attribute that to is Phil Zimbardo because he is larger than life. You would think of him as always being the guiding hand in research projects. That his presence is so large that any idea he had, the students would then follow him. But he tells a couple of stories which tell you that the way he actually works with undergraduates is exactly the opposite. So take the famous Stanford Prison Study. Was that Phil Zimbardo’s original idea? Absolutely not, it was an undergraduate’s idea, David Jaffe. And David Jaffe actually worked with a student group and did a small prototype of prison simulation and they showed the kernel of what happened in the Stanford Prison Study. And when David Jaffe and the group presented this to Phil, he recognized it and he took their idea and worked with them to actually make it the Stanford Prison Study. So in countless ways that was the experience we had with him when we were undergraduates as well. He showed us an amazing way to be a professor which is supposed to be an expert in something, but in a way that we all learn from one another and that is the way the field of psychology actually grows and it’s much more fun. I don’t like the idea of telling undergraduates what to do. I like the feeling of togetherness that you get when you work side-by-side with undergraduate as your sort of youngest collaborators.

J: Another expression we learned somewhere along the line was that graduate school sucks the life out of you, but undergraduates remain vibrant.

B: that was from Phil too.

J: There you go, that was from Phil as well. Whether or not you agree with that I think that the main point there is that the energy you get from working with undergrads is something that I believe is irreplaceable. And the ideas. And the open-mindedness and the, in truth, the ability to take risks that you can do when you’re an undergrad. It becomes more dangerous the further along you are in your training. Maybe that is part of the sucking of life component in graduate school because now you have certain goals you need to accomplish in order to be marketable after you are done. Undergrads might feel some degree of pressure like that but not to the same extent and I think because of that it is truly liberating. We are reminded of that every day. And I think if you have the opportunity to work on research with undergraduates. It truly does not only improve the ideas that you have but also your experience subjectively just being in the room.

B: You know a great example of that is, graduate students typically take a class, a few classes in their field, psychology, and are discouraged from taking classes in other fields in graduate school. Instead you should be doing your research. Here with undergraduates and Lewis and Clark, students are taking classes all over the school. They are very interdisciplinary. And so we do research on decision making and health decision making and how to persuade people to adopt behaviors that would be good for themselves like using sunscreen. And one student team, these two students, one a psychology major, another environmental studies major, came up with the idea that that sounds a lot like persuading people to do things that are good for the health of the environment. So we took the research we were doing in health decision making and translated it over into environmental decision making. And that project has worked incredibly well and it’s a great context in which to study decision making. So we would not have had that idea if it weren’t for undergraduates.

R: So I am curious and this is just all so wonderful. And I can speak to how wonderful your lab was and how it was just such an enriching experience for me. And how and the cross discipline collaboration. Is that unique to the liberal arts school experience? How do you see your textbook being used and having impact maybe in other contexts, um, what comes to mind, is the increased utilization of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), these huge, online, open source [classes], and I see your textbook as being a really good supplement to that. Because a lot of textbooks are become pointless, there is no sense in having all the information, all of it is available online. So I am just curious how you see the textbook adding to that or moving to other schools. Maybe it’s that the actual value of the liberal arts model, you know the small faculty-student ratios, and maybe that model is going to have increasing value as MOOCs become more, and the actually content, high-quality content becomes more available.

B: I think you’re hitting it right on the head. There is something that MOOCs and technology cannot replace. They can actually do quite a bit. Content delivery through technology is something that is going to happen over time and the meaning of what happens in a classroom when you interact with a professor I think is going to change fairly dramatically. And what happens naturally already at a liberal arts school, in a liberal arts environment is experiential learning. You come into the classroom and hopefully you have already done your readings and through this intimate environment you can experience working with ideas, generating new ideas with the professor and with other students. I think you’re absolutely right that in bigger environment, big state school, community college, and then eventually courses that are taught online, it’s harder to capture that, but it just means that it’s all that more important to provide some mechanism, some vehicle to have some of that. And I think our book really is an experiential learning book. It is not the dry methods text that teaches you the theory and  particular methodologies. It is about capturing that experiential learning with the team in whatever environment you’re in. So yea it works great in a liberal arts environment, it works great in a small laboratory setting, but I think students in a bigger class or even if they’re taking a class online, can read a book like this. It will help them be better team members when they’re working together on projects. And try to recapture some of that quality of experiential learning.

R: We spoke earlier about how fun the lab is, and how this book really embodies that. And just thinking back on my experience. I loved being in the lab, who loves being in a research lab? And loved going to the lab and I looked forward to our weekly lab meetings and just sitting around sipping on coffee and tea and just talking about ideas. When I look  back at my college experiences that is what stands out. And so I think this quote captures some of the wonderfulness of research that you pass on to your students, and it’s on running human participants quote, “much of the allure of conducting research is the process of becoming a partner in the drama that unfolds during the collection of data… you are becoming a partner in staging a smooth and efficient ‘performance’.” I just love that because it brings you to the theater, and you really are, it’s like a play and it has a playful energy to it and we have costume, blue jeans and blue t-shirts.

J: Yea, you know the play metaphor is one that resonates a lot with me because and it’s not to say that you are doing something false, but you’re doing something really carefully crafted. Putting together with a lot of planning and foresight into exactly how you want something to come across. And especially if you are doing in-lab experiments but something that we talk a lot about in this book as well is if you are piloting an experiment, trying out one, even if it’s going to be online, ultimately you are going to be trying out these pieces to make sure it has the desired affect on the participant which is not unlike putting on a play having the desired affect on the audience. So to go through the process of making it work just right can be incredibly tedious but it can also be incredibly fun if the context is set up in an appropriate manor.

B: There are so many misconceptions about research and so sometimes when we suggest to a freshman or sophomore, hey would you be interested in doing some research. They have no idea what doing research would entail. So metaphors are important. Undergraduates understands sports. Undergraduates understand what mean to put on a theater production. Research in psychology is a team sport. Research in psychology is very much like putting on a theater production in so many different ways. And it’s the togetherness which is very important but the fun is equally important. To have fun with ideas. And I think that is sometimes a concept that is foreign to many students that they can have fun to own an idea to play with is to push it. That they can actually do that. That is not just the realm of someone who has gone on to get a PhD and is now a professor. They can start day one when they’re a freshman playing with idea and trying to see where they can push them.

J: And that translates also into another place in which undergrads are often weary, and that is statistics and data. And Brian being a statistics professor and teaching advancing statistics, has found a way to convey statistics and all fun and all the great stories behind why all the statistical tests have been invented which often involve beer and gambling and other interesting things but when you also look at the way in which you can be irreverent and set aside your preconceived notion of what this means, mucking in the number. And again take that same playfulness that you have in the idea generation phase and apply that curiosity, of course with great deliberation in terms of what exactly you are going to do with the data and true to the ethics behind it of course, but at the same time having fun.

B: The world of Statistics is populated with these crazy characters who make it really clear that to do statistics well you need a really strong high school foundation in math, that’s about it. It’s more about the logic of ideas and the testing of ideas. And I think this applies to a lot of the other aspects methodologies and doing research, but statistics is one in which there is so many misconceptions, but it itself can be fun and challenging, and there is not clear cut answer. And you actually have to struggle with how you are actually going to go about testing something. And when you learn to do that, you all of a sudden get to play in every one else’s back yard, because everyone needs someone who can do statistics. So you might learn statistics here at an undergraduate setting doing a particular type of research and then you can go off, like you did, Richie, and go to a health science university and do statistics there. Or you can go into business statistics…One thing we have learned over time is that not everyone should go on to get a PhD. PhD’s are nichey, it is a long road and afterwards it is hard to get a job. And you don’t necessary get to determine where you are going to live. So we thought about over time all the different places are undergrads can end up going. One direction that does give you a lot of flexibility is getting a masters in public health. And statistics plays a large role in the studies that are done in public health. So statistics really is an enabler in the future direction of our students.

R: I feel like I have to ask an ethics question, especially considering the Rogoff and Reinhart ordeal. And there is always the Dutch psychologist, Stapel. You have a really great chapter that cover the ethics that covers the ethics of conducting research in social and behavior sciences.

J: Yes, yes. That is of course the cornerstone of being a good scientist and in fact, abiding by ethical principles and we wanted to convey that really clearly in the chapter we put early on in the book, because you need to be thinking about ethics from the very first moment in time. And whether it is the big ethical questions that our students don’t have to much trouble grappling with these days. Like, can you shock and person, have a participant shock a person to the point where they think that person has died. Most people today will say no. The classic Milgram experiment was on some level unethical in the sense in what it put the participant through. But those are really the easier questions. The harder questions come with the tricky issues of, you know, how do you keep track of your participants? When it comes time to do data analysis. What if you had some participant who just seems to be answering randomly, is it ok to drop that participant after you have peeked at the data? The answer is no, you need to make that decision early on. Is it ok to fill in data arbitrarily? No, there are specific rules associated with that. There are a lot of grey areas that we try to lay out very concretely in the book but also in the lab, here is the ethical way to go about this. And in truth we came face to face with some of these current events in terms of renowned scientist, sharing or being exposed, and sharing in fact that their work was fabricated, because one of chapters had been built around a very famous line a research by Stapel who you mentioned earlier. And thank goodness it was only in the first draft form of the book, when this fabricated data came to light and we were able to take him out of that chapter and put him the ethics chapter. But you know it has been incredibly challenging for our field. At WPA we heard from, former grad-student friend of ours and now professor at University of Virginia, Brian Nosek who is spear heading the open science website and resource where we can more systematically as scientists document our entire process from the idea phase to and through data collection and write up. And we are going to be folding that into normal practices in our own research lab, but one of things he said in the talk that really stood out to me is that as scientists when we are in a more abstract mindset thinking more about the future and the long term, people tend to share those ideals of being truthful, trustworthy, being very much in search of facts and truth about nature, the  way the world and people work. But when you are in the concrete, here and now, grappling with those sticky issues, like the participant who seemed not to respond to the survey in a way that you believe that they were taking it seriously. It is in the concrete here and now that these ethical temptations arise. And so we need to be accountable and reminded continually of those long-term abstract goals. And in part this is a conversation that goes well beyond this interview, but in part the system also needs to shift, because people are rewarded based on getting statistical significance at p less than .05 and that is not the real world of many many many studies. And should that be the only reward because it does again put a lot of pressure on individuals to be successful. So at any rate ethics are a center piece of how you go about doing collaborative research in psychology. And we do emphasize that not only in the book in the way we conduct our own research.

R: So just one parting question. If you could give one bit of advise to a graduate student or professor who is interested in using your textbook or starting their own lab what would it be?

B: The one thing I would say is, work with undergraduates. I think every graduate student every professor out there is losing out, missing out on something incredibly rewarding if they are too distant from undergraduates. Or if they think that undergraduates just take too much time and energy to work with. There is time and energy involved but the rewards for the undergraduates, the rewards for the research, the rewards for the mentor, and I think the rewards for the field are incredibly high in working with undergraduates. And then the question is how? We really hope this book makes it easier to work with undergraduates. Because it’s a book for students that lets them start to get some of that nice intimate conversation about what it is really like to do research. So can be a vehicle for some of that time and energy it takes to bring students along that path of vision and togetherness and ownership. So we hope that it makes it easier to experience the rewards of working with undergraduates.

J: I have to say that I would resonate with Brian, that the single most important thing is that the efforts you put in will pay, we believe, pay off. And we hope that our text facilitates that. Because as much as we love the inherent joys of working with undergraduates, we are also people with all sorts of constraints on our lives, we have a family, we have lots of obligations to the college and the classroom and so efficiency along side effectiveness is always first and foremost in our minds. And so in putting into word and writing this text our goal was to share the ways in which we found we could be more efficient in working with research teams and the ways in which the research teams themselves can be more effective, and ultimately propel undergraduates out into the world whether it be in further study in graduate work or straight into jobs, into a place where they take with them a permanent appreciation for the process of working with other people–what helps you be a good team member? For the spirit of psychological research which is collaborative and exciting and important. And hopefully allows them to fulfill a lot more of their goals having had the collaborative team based experience.

R: Jerusha and Brian, thank you for being on the Social Methods Podcast.

R: The Social Methods Podcasts is edited and produced by me, Richard LeDonne as part of the Social Methods Blog, covering a wide range of topics and research in the social sciences with a focus in experimental psychology. Special thanks to Brian and Jerusha Detweiler-Bedell for their time and endless words of encouragement and support in college and beyond. Also thank you to my musical guest Damacha. You can listen to all of Damacha’s wicked clever beats at This is the Social Method’s Podcasts until next time, thanks for listening.


One thought on “Transcript Podcast #1: Jerusha and Brian Detweiler-Bedell on Doing Collaborative Research in Psychology

  1. Podcast #1: Jerusha and Brian Detweiler-Bedell on Doing Collaborative Research in Psychology –

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