Friday, August 5, 2011

The quest for (social) scientific truth

Every now and then when I tell a stranger that I study scientific psychology, I get a reaction that is perhaps best summarized by this comic from xkcd:

Click for a larger image

Essentially, the reaction is that, as a social science, psychology isn't a "real" science like biology, chemistry, or physics.  I encounter this reaction often enough, even among otherwise scientifically savvy people, that I am often tempted to do silly things like shout, punch things, or at the very least launch into an ill-advised rant.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A glimpse into the abyss of psychology prelims

Over the past month, I endured the crucible of the so-called "preliminary exams", or as they are more affectionately called, "prelims".  These exams go by different names in different areas ("qualifying exams" or "quals", "comprehensive exams" or "comps"), but across institutions, the intent is the same: complete an exam (or more rarely, write a paper) to prove your mastery of a body of knowledge.  Following prelims, graduate students are allowed to begin their dissertation research and, eventually, their PhD.

Needless to say, taking prelims is an intense and exhausting process.  While the specifics vary from place to place, it usually involves studying for months, followed by a multi-day exam with a strict deadline.  My own prelims consisted of a five-hour in-class test, followed by a six-day period in which I wrote four six-page essays.  I studied for my own exams for around five months and, according to my prelims notebook, I read some 75 papers and book chapters.  By the end of prelims I felt like I was leaking social psychology out the ears.