MadSci Network: Medicine

Re: What attracted you to Psychology?

Date: Tue Dec 29 15:55:52 1998
Posted By: joshua rodefer, Post-doc/Fellow, behavioral biology, harvard medical school-nerprc
Area of science: Medicine
ID: 914199442.Me

   A good question!  It is difficult to answer this question in 25 words or 
less ;-), so I hope you don't minding reading a few paragraphs.  The first 
thing that you probably need to know is that there are different types of 

   All psychologists (persons having either a Ph.D. or Psy.D.) are interested 
in the study of behavior. However, just like there are different types of 
biologists - some that study botany, some that study human anatomy, some 
that study marine biology - there are different types of psychologists.  
Some of the more common areas within psychology are (keep in mind these are 
just broad descriptions): 

Clinical - This is what many people think of when they think of a 
psychologist.  Clinical psychologists are clinical practitioners, like 
physicians (medical doctors: M.D. or D.O.), who work with people that have 
mental disorders (psychopathology).  However, these folks (mostly the 
Ph.D.s) are scientists that study psychopathology and through their 
research try to help people with serious problems (like depression or 
anxiety disorders).  A similar field of study is psychiatry, but 
psychiatrists are medical doctors that specialized in the treatment of 
mental disorders.  The distinction between the two careers is that 
psychiatrists can prescribe medications while psychologists can not (this 
is currently a topic of debate and may change in the future).

Developmental - These individuals study children and adolescents (like 
yourself) and the different developmental stages that people go through as 
we grow up.

Experimental - This is perhaps the broadest category.  Experimental 
psychologists (like myself) study a variety of things ranging from memory 
to how the brain perceives sensory information (among many things!).  My 
area of research interest is in the field of drug addiction and 
psychopharmacology (drugs that effect the brain).

Counseling - These psychologists are similar to clinical psychologists, but 
tend to work with people that have less severe problems (like family 
relationships or marriage problems).

School or Education - These psychologists study factors surrounding 
teaching and learning, as well as focusing on how to evaluate how well 
different teaching strategies work.

Industrial/Organizational - These psychologists often work in the business 
world, helping companies find more efficient ways to pursue their goals 
(such as through more efficient management policies and styles).  

   My work as an experimental (or biological) psychologist falls in the realm 
of behavioral pharmacology - studying the problems of drugs and drug abuse. 
A typical day for me is composed of a few different parts, but an important 
thing to keep in mind is that these parts are all components of the 
scientific method.  

   First, a big part of my day is spent conducting experiments.  Usually I run 
my experiments in the mornings and early afternoons.  Some of the 
experiments take a great deal of time and precision (and patience!) to make 
sure that everything works okay.  Second, when my experiments are done, the 
excitement really begins because I can then sit down and examine and 
analyze the data from the study.  This basically is the answer to the 
question that I asked when I designed the study.  Using statistics (fancy 
math) I can then find out if the data were what I hypothesized would happen 
or something entirely different.  Often times, finding something entirely 
different from what you suspected ("Hmm, that's funny….") is the best part 
of being a scientist as it forms the next set of questions that you want to 
answer.  Third, a major part of my time is spent trying to communicate what 
I know to others.  This can be done either by teaching a class or giving a 
seminar, or more often, by writing up research articles about the 
experiments I have completed.  This is very important because scientists 
want to know as much as possible about their field of research.  It is very 
much like trying to piece together pieces of a puzzle - the more pieces you 
have (or know) then the easier it is to see what the puzzle is supposed to 
look like.  One thing that I always seem to be doing is thinking.  Thinking 
about new experiments.  Thinking about what these data suggest (or don't 
suggest) is happening.  Sometimes I just think about different ways to 
approach a problem.  

   As for education, most psychologists have completed college (B.A. or B.S.; 
usually 4 years) and then completed graduate school (Ph.D.; usually 5-7 
years).   As for changing into a new or different job, I think being a 
scientist is the best job of all because it is very much like being a 
detective -- I try to find answers to difficult problems and questions.

   Finally, I'd like to point you in some other directions, so that you can 
find out more in your spare time.  There was a prior question "What is a 
scientist?" that was answered by Joe Simpson which might be of interest to 
you :   
 Archives File  
Other web sites that are worth checking out include:
	The American Psychological Society ( Link : )
	The American Psychological Association's Student Information ( Link : )
	Also see the web pages for their Education Directorate ( Link : )
        and Science Directorate ( Link : )

There are also numerous online descriptions of psychologists and what the 
profession is all about.  One I stumbled upon was : which focuses on
clinical psychology. Another
way to find out lots about what academic psychologists (psychologists that are 
professors at universities) do is to look at the Department of Psychology 
web pages at different colleges and universities.  One of the best 
resources that I know of is PsychWeb at , 
which has a lot of information all about psychology, including careers.

I hope this helps answer your questions.  Best of luck.

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