Nina’s View of Academia – Before Starting
A bit later than I intended, I would also like to introduce myself. I almost finished my master’s degree and feeling grateful, excited, nervous and ready to mentally prepare for my PhD journey. After spending some time in beautiful wintery Austria, I am recharged and ready to reflect a little bit on my current opinions.
Title of my PhD project: Towards a Unified Field of Clinical Psychology – Academia’s Contribution to the Scientist-Practitioner Gap
Short description (optional): It is hard to remember details of a project I came up with a year ago, and it suddenly sounds really vague to me. Gosh, I am looking forward to reading into this again. For now, here’s my abstract:
The scientist-practitioner gap describes the discrepancy between research and practice in clinical psychology, which comes at the expense of many people in need of mental health care. Due to differences in the focus between research designs and psychological interventions, research outcomes might not be representative of clinical practice, and recommendations based on research thus might not be applicable and implementable. We aim at (a) identifying weaknesses within the research design of clinical trials that make their outcomes unsuitable to clinical practice, and (b) developing guidelines for methodology and analysis in order to foster more practically relevant research.
I would like to achieve with my PhD project … multiple things. One of my main motivations was to focus on research’s contribution to the scientist-practitioner gap. Because clinicians are often the ones blamed for not following clinical protocols or working constructively with researchers. I think it is important to illuminate both sides in order to have a sustainable and collaborative change. Moreover, I would like to give some input on how to improve the methodology of clinical studies in order to more closely represent clinical practice. I think that my search for the best possible research methods might end up in philosophical discussions about science in general, weighing reductionism against generalizability. However, even concluding that closing the gap is not possible at the moment would be rewarding and very valuable. I am really excited to see where the journey goes.
My self-development goals during my PhD: My main self-development goal is actively improving my planning skills. I think my biggest challenge is to effectively use my motivation and abilities without losing consistency and focus.
My view of academia after the (research) master: I think that the research master program prepared us really well for working in academia, in the good and in the bad ways. I hope to have already had some of the crises some might experience later. I see academia as a rather competitive work environment (of course, depending on the discipline) in which you need to learn to set personal boundaries. Most people working in the system seem highly motivated, which in combination with the competition, might be a breeding ground for an unhealthy work ethic. However, academia also allows me to research my own ideas in order to contribute to knowledge or change, which is crazy and amazing. In the end, critically examining the downsides, I think academia as a workplace, can be very rewarding.
How I would describe academia to people outside of it (e.g. my grandma): It’s the system that I work in at the university. In my case it means that you’re sitting in front of a computer screen trying to verbalize and test your ideas in order to make some change in society on whatever level.
I really appreciate in academia/ academic work: Being able to actually earn money and make a living out of my own ideas. Being able to maybe make some change, if other people also like your ideas and findings. That’s amazing and I am really grateful that this is happening to me.
I think, academia’s biggest problems are: I think there is a rigid focus on some research methods, without allowing other methods to prove themselves as useful and effective. Generally, the competitive system (in some disciplines) might come at the disadvantage of reduced research quality.
The things I am struggling most with during my academic work: Sometimes I do let my self-esteem get influenced by pressure or competition. Again, one of my challenges is to stick to my own goals and planning and not get lazy on the one side, but also not get sucked in too much by pressure.
How academia should change during the next 5 years: Research should be more open both in terms of transparency in the research process, but also with regard to other methods. In my opinion, it would be helpful to acknowledge that psychology is a softer science, the uncertainty that it brings and accept many psychological findings to be an opinion with some evidence rather than hard facts.
What I think, I can do to change/have a positive influence on academia: I can express my opinions openly, discuss and talk to people. I would like to learn more about how the system works and share this understanding. This blog could be a nice starting point.
My current research crush: My biggest research crush so far was Scott Lilienfeld, who sadly passed in 2020. However, I love the work and ideas of Eiko Fried, whose opinions are so inspirational to me.
My ‘pet’ project area: I am really interested in studying researchers themselves (Is that weird?). My master thesis has been about motivations in the use of open science and got me more into what researchers’ decisions are influenced by. Are they driven by surviving in a system? By finding out the truth? By distributing their ideas? How big is a researcher’s ego and what does this mean for science, knowledge generation and academia? Thinking about some of these questions is one of my main motivations to start this blog.
I have the most genius research ideas, when … I am brainstorming with others. That basic.
What I do to relax and NOT think about work for a while: I am climbing for quite some time, but now stuff is closed, so I started running and made good progress. Now I need it a lot. I enjoy the occasional glass (or four) of wine with my amazing friends as well.
Resources for when I am fed up with my job: Running. Home office has the advantage that I can always just leave my desk and start running when nothing goes.
If I would not work in academia, what would I do professionally: I might become a therapist or coach at some point, but I do not want that now and I am not sure whether I will ever do. I might teach something like statistics, as I always have loved being a tutor or teaching assistant. And if I decide that I’ve had enough of humans, I might turn to plants and try to make money out of gardening. For now, academia is fine though.