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TenaciousBushLeaper

Quantitative Psychology PhD

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Hi all, 

So I'd like to get everyone's and anyone's opinion on a psychology PhD with a concentration in quantitative psychology. Things I'd like to know:

What do you think about this type of PhD program in terms of research, & job prospects in academia? 

Is anyone here currently in such a program? 

Has anyone applied? If so, why? 

What school(s) do you know which have this area of study to choose from? (I really only know of UNC, USC, & UCLA)


**Yes, I know all psychology PhD students take quantitative courses, but I'm talking about a specific area of study, just as there's cognitive psychology, social, development, etc. 

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I think quantitative psych is an excellent idea!  My undergrad advisor had a quant psych degree and, i think, it's probably the least popular program to apply for.  So potentially less competition (although your quantitative skills really need to be up to snuff). Plus, you can pretty much do research in any area of psychology as you'd really be a methodologist/statistical person and can work within any theoretical framework you like.

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@Chubberubber what you mentioned is part of what quantitative program would have. There's also statistical modeling, mathematical modeling of decision making, neuro-image analysis, and more that I can't name because I don't recall. 

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It's actually quite interesting once you start to get it. A big part of your research, regardless of what sub specialty in psychology will be statistical analysis. You're also going to have to think about the case where you don't have a PI guiding you and you have to make sure you're applying the right analysis, let alone justify it. 

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It's actually quite interesting once you start to get it. A big part of your research, regardless of what sub specialty in psychology will be statistical analysis. You're also going to have to think about the case where you don't have a PI guiding you and you have to make sure you're applying the right analysis, let alone justify it. 

Exactly.  My advisor said that the more stats you know, the more interesting questions you can ask...because you can collect data in multiple different ways and be able to effectively analyze it.

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I know you guys are right, but it still doesn't make me any less afraid of those greek letters and formulas... I'm trying to get aquianted with R right now and after a week of work I've goten to the point where I can finally open the PDF manuel without getting an anxiety attack on page 2! 

Edited by Chubberubber

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I know you guys are right, but it still doesn't make me any less afraid of those greek letters and formulas... I'm trying to get aquianted with R right now and after a week of work I"ve goten to th point when I can finally open the PDF manuel without getting an anxiety attack on page 2! 

 

Haha we all have to start somehow!

 

I hate math. Or rather, I hate my experience of it because I've never been good at it. But psych stats and quantitative analysis for brain studies is really exciting to me because of what I can learn. I'm also motivated to be someone who actually understands the analysis they're doing (no "double dipping" in data or anything like that) because I love this subject and I want to truly know it and teach it. So that level of motivation has helped me improve my quant skills greatly.

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I know you guys are right, but it still doesn't make me any less afraid of those greek letters and formulas... I'm trying to get aquianted with R right now and after a week of work I've goten to the point where I can finally open the PDF manuel without getting an anxiety attack on page 2! 

I used to be afraid of Stats, too, but now am over it.  In fact, I do professional research for a living right now.  R is tough, but SPSS isn't so bad.  SAS is still the best if you can get a hold of it.  The key to all these things is understanding (or visualizing) what it is you need to do.  A good teacher/mentor will take a lot of anxiety out of the process because they will actually explain things clearly, and several times.  Then, once you get all these things, it's a piece of cake.

 

The harder/more complicated techniques can be intimidating, though (e.g. ordinal logistic regression, mixed models, etc).  But even those can be mastered.

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I like SPSS and wish I could've just stayed with it, but unfortunately one of the programs that sent me encouraging messages apperantly prefers R as the analysis program of choice. So if I do end up being admitted there, I'd rather hit the ground running next year and not having the statistical ground hitting me... On that note, if anyone knows of good study materials for R- please PM me (I have the "r-intro" from the website and also "r for beginners") Thanks!

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I like SPSS and wish I could've just stayed with it, but unfortunately one of the programs that sent me encouraging messages apperantly prefers R as the analysis program of choice. So if I do end up being admitted there, I'd rather hit the ground running next year and not having the statistical ground hitting me... On that note, if anyone knows of good study materials for R- please PM me (I have the "r-intro" from the website and also "r for beginners") Thanks!

 

some quantitative courses on Coursera were really helpful for me. i dont remember the name but they have a course teaching R specifically. 

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Where's @Spunky on this thread? Spunky would be the expert to ask.

 

Sorry, Spunky was busy helping have everything ready for Monday to receive the hordes of potential new recruits!!! (Actually it’s not hordes. Just a few people… but we still want to make a good first impression. There will be ice-cream! XD)

Edited by spunky

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So I'd like to get everyone's and anyone's opinion on a psychology PhD with a concentration in quantitative psychology. Things I'd like to know:

What do you think about this type of PhD program in terms of research, & job prospects in academia? 

 

Anyhoo, yes! I have my MA and I am now finishing the first year of my PhD in Quant Psych. I LUV IT LUV IT LUV IT LUV IT and will address your questions in a sequential and orderly fashion :)

 

This type of program is AWESOME and here’s why you think should think it’s awesome as well ;). First and foremost, our job prospects in academia and tenure-track positions are FAR better than those in any other area of Psychology as you can see on here http://www.apa.org/research/tools/quantitative/. I know a common (and valid) criticism is that this data is from 1996. But no need to worry, if you look at this blurb I prepped for other gradforum thread: you will see I linked the sources of the original data from the National Science Foundation so you can see for yourself where Quant Psych stands. I haven’t finished crunching the numbers but I will post an updated “study” on employment trends within Psych on my blog . Still things are more or less what you would expect them to be: everybody is worse off after the 2008 crisis… but we’re still the only program where the number of tenure-track positions outnumber PhD graduates. It’s just a game of numbers, you see. Quantitative programs we’re not that popular (as you can see from some of the responses to this very thread).

 

You wanna dabble somewhere outside academia? No worries! I have done work for hospitals, market research firms, private and public research institutions, StatsCanada (like the Census Bureau of Canada), the government and, my favourite, testing companies (like ETS, the proud owners of the GRE). The fact of the matter is that there is more data out there than people capable of making sense of it and coming from a social science program gives you that cool edge that you can always make it relatable to other people.

 

As a Quant Psych you are one of the few people who will be capable of working on any lab, regardless of which area within psychology it is because everybody gathers data and you know how to make sense of data. If you don’t feel like doing applied work, you can always take safe haven in the cold beauty of abstraction and do statistics for the sake of doing statistics (which I do often ;). But still I have been able to learn quite a bit of things from my fMRI data/ biopsych friends, my social networks / social psych friends, my I/O friends… it’s basically a pick-and-choose which lab you want to be a member of. Trust me; ANY lab out there has its doors open for someone who is a capable data analyst and you can always keep a more ‘applied’ side if that’s what you like. For example, I happen to be passionate about the phenomenon of unemployment and underemployment for post-graduate students. So I gather a lot of data and look at trends and patterns on that. When I get bored with that and want to go back to my math, I just take out my computer and start writing code.

 

 

Is anyone here currently in such a program? 

 

 

I AM! :D

 

Has anyone applied? If so, why? 

 

 

I DID! I applied because of two things. First, I’m fascinated with this crazy idea that you can actually use numbers to describe people’s behaviour. And it surprises me incredibly how accurate that is! Within the various areas that you can specialize as a Quantitative Psychologist I really like Psychometrics and the ‘working horse’ of modern Psychometrics which is Item Response Theory. I remember when I was in elementary and high school I would find myself asking what would be the probability of me passing an exam if I just randomly replied to the answers in it. Little did I know that within Statistics there is a whole area devouted solely to modelling the probability of people endorsing or rejecting certain items. It was almost like magic! Second I really want to become a prof. I love research, I love teaching and I love tutoring students. Once I figured out just how hard it is to obtain a tenure-track position in a good university nowadays I thought “which program would maximize my chances of landing a job like the one I like?” Well, the one where people applied the least! And here I am :)

 

What school(s) do you know which have this area of study to choose from? (I really only know of UNC, USC, & UCLA)

 

 

This same website: http://www.apa.org/research/tools/quantitative/has a list of all the programs in North America that offer concentrations in Quantitative Psychology, Mathematical Psychology and Educational Measurement, which all overlap but are not exactly the same ;)

 

 

 

Now, some recommendations that some of the people in this thread have tangentially touched on:

 

- Formal training in Mathematics or Statistics is not required but it would help you A LOT. I did my BSc in Mathematics and that enabled me to jump into research right from the very first year because I already knew a lot of the stuff that was being taught. It would be very, very helpful for you if you took the basic Calculus sequence in college (differential, integral and multivariate), linear algebra and LOTS AND LOTS of Statistics. Again, not required but HIGHLY recommended.

 

- You need to know how to program. Computer programming is an essential skill in Quant Psych. The statistical models that you will be fitting and the type of analyses that you will be conducting are far beyond what SPSS can offer. It would be VERY useful for you to ditch SPSS if you are still using it and practice R. I mean, SAS and STATA are also recommended but Psychology is spearheading social science programs in moving exclusively to R (like most academic programs). Here in the Psych Dept, for example, no graduate course (not even the introductory ones) in methods/statistics uses SPSS. Everybody uses R. We offer two optional “R bootcamps” during the summer for new graduates so they can get up to speed with it so when the semester starts they can dive into it without any problem.

 

- Taking a look at quantitative journals within the social sciences will give you a good insight of what Quant Psych people do. Have a look at Multivariate Behavioral Research, Psychometrika, Psychological Methods, Educational and Psychological Measurement, etc. It’s good to know what you will be getting yourself into right from the start.

Edited by spunky

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@spunky, wow! Thanks for the great answers. Although I'm graduating this May I won't be applying to grad programs until Fall 2015 for the 2016 season. I've been thinking about what areas I'd like to pursue and I have three choices, cognitive, cog-neuro, and quant. As far as mathematics background, I've taken 3 stats courses a "Basis Statistics" course at a community college, a "Statistics for Behavioral and Cognitive Science" from my current university, and "Probability & Statistics" which is also from my current university. The difference between the two courses from the same university is, one is from the psychology department while the other is from the math department. I've also taken Calc 1  & I am currently taking Discrete Structures (also known as discrete mathematics). (I've also taken college algebra & pre-calc but maybe these wouldn't count). 

The lab I'm currently doing research in is a cog-neuro lab and we use R so I have some experience with it. I also have experience with unix shell scripting and python. 


Oddly, one of my favorite parts of my research is running the analysis and trying to find different methods of extracting valuable information from my data. So I'm kinda leaning towards applying for a quant program although I do have some concerns about my mathematics background, I'm not sure I have enough of it. 

Question: Lets say I wanted to model individuals responses in some type of word association task, could you be able to tell me which area of statistics this would fall under? 
 

What do you think of obtaining a masters of science in applied stats as soft of preparation? 

Edited by TenaciousBushLeaper

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@spunky, wow! Thanks for the great answers. Although I'm graduating this May I won't be applying to grad programs until Fall 2015 for the 2016 season. I've been thinking about what areas I'd like to pursue and I have three choices, cognitive, cog-neuro, and quant. As far as mathematics background, I've taken 3 stats courses a "Basis Statistics" course at a community college, a "Statistics for Behavioral and Cognitive Science" from my current university, and "Probability & Statistics" which is also from my current university. The difference between the two courses from the same university is, one is from the psychology department while the other is from the math department. I've also taken Calc 1  & I am currently taking Discrete Structures (also known as discrete mathematics). (I've also taken college algebra & pre-calc but maybe these wouldn't count). 

The lab I'm currently doing research in is a cog-neuro lab and we use R so I have some experience with it. I also have experience with unix shell scripting and python. 

 

 

good! so you know some R, some Python and some UNIX Shell. that's a good thing because that means you've been exposed to programming before and you're not starting from 0. i've found that people in cognitive programs tend to have more technical skills so that is an advantage.
 
i think you're fine as far as your math goes. a lot of succesful applicants to Quant Psych programs only have their intro and advanced research methods courses as a math background. as you can imagine, the less "sophisticated" your math background is the more time you'll need to spend catching up  by taking classes and not doing research. i know many prestigious programs in Quant Psych partner themselves up with Statistics Departments and require their students to take classes in the Statistics Department. if you plan to apply to any of those, then you REALLY need those linear algebra/regression courses. especially if they have an emphasis on theory and how to build proofs/mathematical arguments. 
 

if i were you and still had a year(ish) to apply i would take an introductory course to Linear Algebra (Multivariate Statistics is essentially linear algebra for statisticians) and a course solely devoted to Regression Analysis. if you see ANYTHING regression, take it. you can thank me later. 

 

Question: Lets say I wanted to model individuals responses in some type of word association task, could you be able to tell me which area of statistics this would fall under? 

 

 

yes.... but i'd need to charge you for that :P
 
ok, no, LOL. i'll need more info about this because this could be tackled in a variety of different ways from a variety of different models. like if this is an analogies test, then item response theory is the way to go. if this is has more to do with the actual content of the words, then something along the lines of text analytics/multidimensional scaling. if this is a stimulus/response kind of thing then it falls within DoE (Design of Experiments)/ANOVA framework. spunky cannot compute with the information provided! more information is needed!

 

 

 

What do you think of obtaining a masters of science in applied stats as soft of preparation? 

 

 i say it's a great, great, GREAT idea. i was actually doing my MSc in Statistics (which I left unfinished) when i got my letter of acceptance to my program. the more R/Stats/technical skills you can muster, the better prepared you will be. 

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Lol what I was thinking about would fall under the " if this is a stimulus/response kind of thing then it falls within DoE (Design of Experiments)/ANOVA framework" 

BTW, from the post on the website  which you have a link to in your "signature" (is that what it's called?), if we can assume this is what quant research is like, it seems it's just mathematicians who also just so happen to have a keen interest in psychology. 

which btw I'm totally ok with, my favorite courses are my math ones (I secretly wish I could have double majored in math & psych)

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Wow, you guys make quant sound like something that might be actually fun! Hat's off to people like you who advance this science!

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BTW, from the post on the website  which you have a link to in your "signature" (is that what it's called?), if we can assume this is what quant research is like, it seems it's just mathematicians who also just so happen to have a keen interest in psychology. 

which btw I'm totally ok with, my favorite courses are my math ones (I secretly wish I could have double majored in math & psych)

 

Aw… you clicked on it? Thank you!

 

Well… we are and we are not. I am definitely heavy on the math because that’s the tradition I come from. As I mentioned to you, I did an undergrad degree in Math and tried to incorporate as many Statistics courses as I could. I studied in a very, very small rural university and they didn’t have a separate Statistics department so I improvised a “Statistics” degree the best I could.

 

But it does not have to be. There are more people on the “applied side” who have a good intuition for data analysis and can do some basic matrix algebra/college calculus and that is enough for them. For you (and basically anyone interested in Quant Psych) this is my take on why it is much more beneficial to be a “statistician/mathematician interested in Psychology” rather than “a psychologist interested in Statistics”):

 

- The preeminent journal in our field is Psychometrika (http://link.springer.com/journal/11336). It contains probably some of the most famous papers on theory and methods that later became standard in Psychology and the behavioural sciences. The journal is VERY mathematical. You need quite a bit of a math/stats background to go through all the theorems, proofs and applications. Because of that, of course, it’s a tough journal to get published in. So if you are a rising scholar and manage to get a manuscript published there, people will be fighting for you. I know that because it happened exactly to a friend of mine. This person recently accepted a position at Michigan State U (another VERY prestigious program) and once this person had gone through the necessary formalities, they told him/her that what stood out over everything was his/her article in Psychometrika, which no other candidate had.

 

- Where the talents of Quant Psych people really shine is when you see a new and complex method published somewhere and you know you can apply it to your data (as opposed to doing things to the data so it fits some more  basic, not-as-interesting method). That usually implies you can read math, you can transform math into computer code (hence the importance of having programming skills) and you can execute this code in a way that you and, hopefully, other people can understand. If you can’t read and understand math then you can’t really use many of these methods until someone who can read and understand math publishes a watered-down version of it in some other journal and now you’re stuck citing this person over and over again while he or she sees his/her citation H-index move up. That’s actually a trick a lot of Quant Psych people use to get easy pubs out. They act as “knowledge translators” and publish complicated stuff in simple words and then everybody goes and cites their stuff :)

 

- Think about this from a very pragmatic, hiring-a-new-person perspective. You have Candidate A and Candidate B applying for the same tenure-track Quant Psych position. The publications and research experience of Candidate A tells you that he or she is a very skilled data analyst but that’s about it. Candidate B, on the other hand, not only is a skilled data analyst but can also read and publish theoretical papers, knows how to program and develop software, is ‘fluent’ in many programming languages, etc. Which candidate gives you the more bang for your buck?

 

Theory is (in my opinion) VERY important because if someone understands theory they can apply it in practical data analysis problems regardless of which setting they are in. But if you only know how to analyze data and don’t understand the theory behind it, you can easily get stuck with problems that sorta-kinda-almost look as if they could be solved by some analysis method that you learnt but the data doesn’t quite fit. You’ll need to go ask someone who knows theory to guide you. And theory is usually the realm of Statistics/Mathematics departments.

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Wow, you guys make quant sound like something that might be actually fun! Hat's off to people like you who advance this science!

 

What do you mean by MIGHT actually be fun? It IS fun! :lol: 

 

It’s like the funniest thing ever! We have graphs! Lotsa them! With shiny colours! XD 

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@spunky 

Your comments on being able to read math reminded me of something I had read earlier this year In the example the author explained  

"It follows easily that"  = "One can now check that the next statement is true with a certain amount of essentially mechanical, though perhaps laborious, checking.  I, the author, could do it, but it would use up a large amount of space and perhaps not accomplish much, since it'd be best for you to go ahead and do the computation to clarify for yourself what's going on here.  I promise that no new ideas are involved, though of course you might need to think a little in order to find just the right combination of good ideas to apply." 

Personally I found it much easier once I was able to get my hands on a book which is used for a math course at my university title "Foundations of modern math". It essentially helps you with all and any "math lingo" as well as teaches methods for proofs and problem solving.  And if anyone is curious this book in pdf format was also quite helpful

 http://www.math.vt.edu/people/day/ProofsBook/IPaMV.pdf



 

Edited by TenaciousBushLeaper

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