I'm just wondering if anyone has experience working as a psychologist in an academic department outside of psychology. I know that other departments (public health, health behavior and education, family studies, etc) often want to hire psychologists, and I'm curious what people's experiences have been working in that setting. It seems like there would be some good options out there for those of us who study the psychology of health and risk behaviors, but I guess I always had it in my head that I would be working in a psychology department and working with psychology grads/undergrads. Maybe that's just a weird hangup, but I had never really considered working outside of psychology until recently. So, I'm wondering, did anyone feel like it was hard to keep an identity as a psychologist within an interdisciplinary department? Did you find collaborations easier or harder? What about training students who weren't psychology students? Any and all advice is appreciated. Thanks!
Date: 28 Feb 2014 06:03
Number of posts: 3
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I'm of two minds about this. I have always considered my work to be interdisciplinary and thought I would really enjoy working in an interdisciplinary department. I was so sure of this that I took a position in an interdisciplinary dept on my campus. And on paper, it's great. There are so many smart people in one department who are tackling similar research questions with unique perspectives, and it can bring an interesting level of breadth to research.
But in reality, I don't like working in this department and am going on the job market this fall to find a traditional position in psych. The interdisciplinary department is scattered in many ways - sociologists, educational and developmental psychologists, economists, policy people, anthro folks…it's all over the place. One of the biggest problems I've noticed is that each discipline has its own tradition of presenting research and its own hierarchy of what's prestigious/valued. So, for instance, I go to talks by the economists and am bored to tears. They use terms I don't fully understand, even when we're talking about the same topic. And I'm pretty sure they're equally bored/unimpressed by traditional psychology research. (Actually, I saw this firsthand this year when a job applicant from a dev psych background gave a talk and was bombarded with questions that would never be asked in a psych dept.)
I'm also not happy with the training I can give my potential students (I'm new and don't have any students yet, fortunately). There's only one other psychologist in the department (who does educational psych research - which turns out to be pretty different from the developmental psych research I do), so my students would have to take a bunch of classes that aren't very relevant. I worry that my students wouldn't be competitive for positions in psych departments (which would be fine if I had students who were interested in interdisciplinary work, but that's sort of a gamble).
My biggest advice to you is this: If your work is already interdisciplinary, and you are already collaborating with people outside of psychology, then I think you may be very happy in an interdisciplinary department. But if you're like me, and your research questions are of *interest* to a wide range of disciplines (like health risk behavior research, like you mention) — but the work you ACTUALLY do is within one research discipline — then I would probably not recommend working in an interdisciplinary department. I think interdisciplinary programs are wonderful for breadth but not necessarily poised to offer the depth in research that you can find in most psych departments.
I agree with the advice above. Also I think that's a totally reasonable hangup. I felt the same way when interviewing. I am currently in one of those interdisciplinary departments and I think things are going pretty well. If it would for you would really really depend on the specifics of the department. For one my dept is basically split into thirds with 1/3 being psych PhDs. Those are my people. It makes for a nice mini-dept. Another 1/3 are applied methods people who while really different from me, do stuff I think is cool and help me out with my methodological skills. So that's 2/3 of the dept that's a really fit for me. I'm not sure if a psych department would be an higher, depending on the configuration of the area groups. I do think there is a little bit of underlying tension between the disciplines, but again, it may not be better in a psych department between areas. It also helps that I have connections outside my department to other programs and the psychology department as well. I can train students through another program if I want to.