Senior Scientist Award winner: Randy Kamphaus, PhD
This award is given for a sustained program of scholarship of exceptional quality throughout one's career. This year's winner is Randy Kamphaus, PhD.
The Road to Discovery is Long, Prone to Missteps and Full of Great People
The many routes taken by great scientists have been well documented because their discoveries are so, well, great. DaVinci's perfectionism is legendary, preferring to spend most of his time making insightful observations and incredible drawings in his notebook. Edison, on the other hand, was an atheoretical “grinder” who was willing to fail about 1,200 times in his efforts to find a working filament for his light bulb. But, what about the research approaches of the rest of us? Those university professors who have 20%, 30%, or more of our “budgeted” time devoted to research? How do we fill this time and produce results that if not society-changing, are at least credible enough to get us promoted through the faculty ranks? Of course, there are many answers to these questions depending on our work styles, and the research training and paradigms chosen, to name a few considerations. Hence, I will focus on my own experience filling my budgeted research time; not because it should be followed, but because it may provide some comfort to those who are beginning their progression through the ranks, and wondering if they will ever get promoted, obtain a federal research grant, or earn any manner of special professorship.
The road is long, if you get my emphasis. There is no need to hurry or feel intense pressure to make quicker progress. I'll give one example from our efforts to create behavioral and emotional (aka mental health) risk screening measures. I wish to begin by saying that Cecil Reynolds deserves all manner of credit for coming up with the idea for the Behavioral Assessment System for Children, soon to be in its third edition. We began intense discussions about its development in 1985. As part of the seven-year test development effort that led to its eventual publication in 1992, we worked through the dizzying number of details with five different project directors at the publishing house. Consequently, early in my career I developed incredible patience, because of becoming accustomed to long-term complex development projects that involved large research teams.
But this seven-year effort is not the longest one by far. In 1986 we proposed the idea of creating 50-item teacher, parent, and student self-informant screeners, and began to work on the idea. We got too busy to finish these projects, thus they were not pursued with vigor until about 2003 when we began work on the Behavioral and Emotional Screening System, which was published in 2007. We did not know at the time that screening would not be greeted with widespread acceptance for many reasons including, lack of significant societal desire for such measures in 2007, unavailable direct links to prevention/intervention evidence-based practices, and absence of training in the use of such measures and implementation of secondary prevention programs among most disciplines working in schools. We followed this work with an instrument refinement grant awarded by the Institute of Education Sciences, and collected four years of data in the Los Angeles Unified School District, with all of the attendant issues of working with the second largest urban district in the U.S., one with a census of over 700,000 students and about 600 school psychologists. To this day, we continue amassing data, refining our secondary prevention group-based delivery approaches, and working with schools to figure out how we can instantiate these practices in urban schools with limited resources. We carry on, about 28 years after we started the work.
The blind alleys, missed turns, and obstacles along the road were many. Clearly, 50 items was too long for a screening measure, and the idea was before its time in 1985. It has only been within the last few years that this sort of screening has become broadly desired by American society. We also discovered that we were taking the wrong approach to making this work practical and cost-efficient for application in U.S. schools, especially the large urban school districts with hundreds of thousands of children and hundreds of school psychologists employed. Our essential error was that we thought that screening could be used to benefit children if only there were enough staff and professional development for those staff to carry out secondary prevention (or, intervention) strategies. We eventually concluded what now seems obvious; we simply could not provide enough professional development to the hundreds of personnel that needed it and, when the “new normal” began to emerge in 2008 it became clear that adding large numbers of school psychologists to the schools was unlikely. We are only making progress now because we are creating evidence-based secondary prevention programs that can be easily incorporated into the current practices of school counselors and school psychologists without adding to their workload, and ones that obviate the need for intensive professional development. This blind alley is only one of the innumerable.
These long and complex research and development programs can only be accomplished by large groups of well-meaning and hard working people. And, the more people you work with, the more new ones you get to meet. Even in my first project with AGS in the late 1970s I had the pleasure of working with test authors, editors, designers, statisticians, consultants, field testers that totaled a few hundred people on any given project. This work begets opportunities to find new collaborators such as the genial and generous late Vineland author Sara Sparrow. I would never have had the opportunity to meet and get to know her had I not been so fortunate as to be introduced to AGS by Alan Kaufman in the first place. These experiences lead me to the present day and new opportunities to encounter and work with Elena Perez Hernandez, and numerous other colleagues, alumni and post-doctoral fellows. Based on these experiences, I have this (probably) illusory sense of a high positive correlation between research project length and complexity, and the likelihood of meeting wonderful new collaborators and friends. This interpersonal aspect of the long road to discovery is ultimately the most rewarding.
Indeed, the road the discovery has numerous other characteristics, although these are the most prescient to me at this moment. The good news is that regardless of the length of the journey, or whether or when the end point is reached, it portends to bring immense rewards along the way.