In this Issue

My Perspective Looking at My Degree in Experimental Psychology

Providing first-hand insights into what experimental psychology is and how it will lead to an academic and biomedical career of research, teaching and policy.
By Sherry Cheng

Coming from an undergraduate background in psychology and graduate degree in experimental psychology, my education at St. John’s University in Fresh Meadows, N.Y., has sparked my interest in the social framework of designing, conducting and implementing studies in influencing social, political and cultural developments. As I was studying experimental psychology in graduate school, I noticed that there is often a misconception of what experimental psychology is. Many of my classmates thought that experimental psychology leads only to research careers, as classes were mostly focused in methodology and statistics. However, I view experimental psychology as a field to be unique, due to reasons of exploring vast topics: child, cultural and social psychology.

I see the term “experimental psychology” to be an umbrella term branching into a community, regional and international model of teaching. For example, Leonard A. Jason, PhD, (2015) has done research work in community psychology and seeks to improve policy in areas of drug rehabilitation facilities, through the collection of data in a particular local area and extracting information from the data to improve policy. In other words, Jason is advocating for translational research and implementing psychology evidence-based framework to improve regulations as well as policies in a community neighborhood context.

The field of experimental psychology is contextual and relies on both scientific as well as cultural research. I want to distinguish here that scientific research is evidence-based and generalizable. However, cultural research may not be evidence-based, as some events are not explainable and generalizable to other groups. In many ways, I see some of my peers to view a disconnect between scientific and cultural research. For example, if the research is not generalizable, then it is not good research. This statement above is typically ruled to be true. However, I sometimes disagree. Even though cultural and scientific research may not be the same, the results obtained can serve valuable contributions to improve policy and best practices both on an individual and group settings. The implication of viewing scientific and cultural research as together in one bundle can be illuminating in the field of experimental psychology.

When I was a research assistant at the Center for Psychological Services, my team of ten had a conversation of how much psychotherapy services can be influential in the lives of children’s, adolescents’ and adults’ treatments. For example, how has the one hour and a half mental health therapy helped patients to feel better and to improve, especially when measured over time? Moreover, are there community factors to affect individual psychosocial improvement over time? In my Art of Listening class, my instructor often talks about relationships and how our communicative as well as listening abilities have influenced an individual’s development. In connecting this back to psychotherapy treatment, synchronicity is relatively important as treatment, community context and relationships should go hand in hand.

In the text, “Telling Is Listening” by Ursula LeGuin (one of the unpublished pieces that I have received from the NYU-offered class in the School of Medicine), one of the sentences states, “most of the coordination is affected by synchronizing the pulses, by getting the beats into a master rhythm, by entrainment.” I view this sentence to be closely related to my impression of how psychotherapy should work. In settings of both treatment and community context, the scientific and cultural yield the individual’s degree of improvement in mental health psychotherapy treatment.

As a Chinese American young professional, I have noticed that the field of experimental psychology did not really exist in China as a major. I tried hard to explain to my relatives in China what it is. Unfortunately, there is a general misunderstanding of what it is in China, especially the understanding of experimental psychology and what it is serves tends to not sync with the society and its policy in China. The connection of psychology research and community policy framework is absent, as demonstrated when I speak to some of my colleagues who are both research and teaching professionals in China. Given the lack of integration between psychology research and community policy framework in and around the world, there is a definite need of research professionals who can be mindful of the academic and community policy framework, stemming from scientific and cultural psychology.

Research is a journey to seek solutions to problems. That is how I see it, and the flow processes of research should not be one-dimensional but rather multi-dimensional in directing possible solutions. The affirmation in the importance of research is to commit to action, not just words on paper. That is how I see it. Experimental psychology is exactly the advocacy for intervention, change, and action. For example, my early career started in the role of an events professional, particularly in marketing and I view my previous position to call for change as well as action in relation to awareness efforts in relation to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

I am now a research professional at New York University at the Cancer Clinical Trials Unit. My skillsets gained from research experiences while studying experimental psychology translates to knowledge of communication and fosters public awareness of understanding in terms of what research is.

References

Jason, L. A. (2015). Ethical and diversity challenges in ecologically sensitive systems-oriented interventions. American Psychologist, 70(8), 764.

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