As part of the Next Gen interview series, I asked our young behavioural scientists how they would advise anyone else on getting into behavioural science themselves. Given that it’s not been too long since they got into behavioural science themselves, I’m sure the Next Gen can give some great, and relevant (!!!) insights. If you haven't read the previous articles yet, make sure to check them out! Article 1 introduces the Next Gen, article 2 finds out why they went into behavioural science!
Flora Finamor Pfeifer “An interesting aspect about behavioral science is that it relates to several traditional epistemological areas, so you can enter the field without diverging too much from your original path. Recommended abilities are being able to relate concepts from different areas and focusing on empirical and practical applications. A good way to initiate in the field is to conduct an exploratory research on it – for example, your bachelor’s degree. You do not have to be too ambitious in that point: you will learn a lot studying the history of the field (which is what I did) or doing a great literature review focusing on a specific aspect.
I will now focus my piece of advice for Brazilians. Behavioral science is an emerging field in Brazil, with a small ecosystem. Although there are not multiple opportunities, it allows you to create your own initiatives within your area. In order to improve one’s technical skills, I would advise two paths, that can be complementary: find a professor in your department that is willing to advise your research, and/or go abroad for a specific course.”
Rebecca Amo “My journey began with curiosity. This evolved into a hunger for behavioural science knowledge. I have literally read or listened to anything and everything behavioural science that ever crossed my path for two years from books to blogs all the way to YouTube videos. Being slightly monomaniacal about behavioural science for over a year is what cemented my commitment to enrolling into LSE (which was a targeted choice) with the goal of gaining technical training, build my networks and move on to practice applied behavioural science.
There is simply no formula to getting into this field. Everyone’s journey is going to be unique, but most importantly, stay curious and hunger for knowledge, the rest will fall into place.”
Robert Haisfield “There is no established curriculum of everything you should learn as different people find different usages for different areas of behavioral science depending on the context. If you find someone claiming that their framework explains every part of behavior or saying their process applies to everything, you should be intensely sceptical.
What you need to do is determine the important questions in your field, figure out which areas of behavioral science might contribute usefully, and start reading. Google Scholar, conversations with others in your industry, and your own observations will be your friends. Books can give you entry points into the field (check out Samuel Salzer’s list of books) so you know what words behavioral scientists use to describe theories and phenomena. However, there’s no way to get around it, you will need to read a lot of papers. Look for meta-analyses on things you learn in books or classes that are interesting to you, like defaults or the endowment effect. Pay attention to what papers are cited, especially in the intro section, as that will help you figure out the next paper you want to read. If you read a paper and think it’s interesting, you may be curious how the findings were built upon. For that, google scholar lets you click on “cited by” under the title.
You can learn about behavioral science outside of academia if you’re autodidactic and diligent, but many will find it more straightforward to pursue higher education. I believe that the background I gained from my undergraduate degree exposed me broadly enough to behavioral science that I at least knew what questions to ask google scholar, even if most of my learning has occurred after graduating.
You can’t just read if you want to learn why people do what they do - you need to apply it. To get started practicing, I recommend writing behavioral audits of products or services you use every day, or a policy issue you care about. Ask yourself how they could improve it using what you are learning about behavioral science. I started off by writing a few of these articles. Ultimately, you’ll want to work on real projects because then you can close the feedback loop and see what works and what doesn’t.
Many naturally curious people wonder if they should pursue a PhD in order to gain credibility for entering the field of behavioral science. If you want to work in academia, this is a good path. If you want to work in industry, there are other ways to earn credibility. When I was initially deciding whether to pursue a PhD or go straight into consulting, I knew I eventually wanted to work in industry. I put myself in the shoes of the employer, and asked myself which applicant had more credibility - the one who had spent six years earning a PhD, or the one who had worked with dozens of companies in that time period? In the context of industry hiring, a PhD or a Masters is a credibility signal for people who don’t have other ways to know whether a person knows their stuff. A track record of effective writing and excellent work is another credibility signal. It may be slower to get off the ground during the initial stages where you don’t have the track record, but my approach here has paid off.”
Sarah Bowen “Follow your interests! Research and practitioning is so much more rewarding when you are working on a topic you care about.”
Gabriella Stuart “I think it really depends on where your interests lie (i.e. UX, public policy or financial services etc.), but for me it felt natural to start pursuing my dream by gaining relevant knowledge and skills through academic studies. Therefore, my advice would be to find relevant courses or programmes that enables for building relevant competencies and skills.”
Garrett Meccariello “In my mind, there are two ways to get started: traditional education and hands on experience applying behavioural science theory. Many qualify through the later pathway, but it’s the former that I strongly recommend people consider as an entry point. While time consuming and costly, formal training at an institution ensures that one is exposed to theory and practice. These two pillars make a successful scientist. Without a balance of the two, it’s hard to confidently transition into a role in industry.”
Kathryn Ambroze “Welcome, we are happy to have you here! Please always keep a critical lens on research design and methodologies. Having tough (though compassionate) conversations about inadequacies is a great way to progress as a field to promote strong data collection and validated research.”
Peter Judodihardjo “I am hardly ‘in’ the field yet; however, I like to think I am moving in the right direction. I suppose my advice would be the same no matter what field you are in. Become obsessive with your subject and be proactive in your search for opportunities.”
Natasha Oza “I’d tell them - “You’re probably already in it!”
In my experience, behavioural science is an accumulation of the fundamentals applied across fields and functions. It gives structure and vocabulary to what may have been (or is being) done intuitively. If you’re a teacher, you’re using behavioural science to reinforce learning, if you’re a marketer you’re using it to increase brand recall, if you’re a designer, you’re using it to guide people on a visual journey.
Therefore, the next step would be to dive head-first into the wealth of information that already exists out there, adapt it to your context, implement, and iterate until you reach an outcome you’re (reasonably) satisfied with.
It may seem daunting and overwhelming: you only ever hear of experienced practitioners in the field with years of experience, how could you possibly hope to make a dent in a space that’s so clearly got more than enough minds? When I find myself going down this mental rabbit hole, I remind myself that that experience has got to start somewhere. Where better than on the foundation that’s already present - ready for you to build on?”
Sofia Mardiaga “I would encourage young people to take a degree in economics, psychology or even something business related that may have a psychology component. A short course on the topic of behavioural science can also serve as a good introduction to the topic and provide a “taster” for the field in general, especially one that can provide broad knowledge that facilitates its integration into other areas like business or policy. I would also tell people interested in the field to try out online courses on the topic and then slowly start implementing these in their daily line of work. An even simpler way to get started in the field is just to start reading books and understanding the theories and frameworks the discipline is using. The real key though, is that once you’ve obtained some basic knowledge on the topic, you can start identifying opportunities to use it.”
Who said formal training was falling out of favour? Although the “Next Gen” is supposedly revolutionizing the way we view and value education, this still seems to be one of the must suggested ways of getting into the field. In addition to doing a lot of reading, of course! I hope you enjoyed this article in the “Next Gen” series. For our next article we’re discussing how our interviewees are applying behavioural science themselves, within their respective subfields. If you haven't read the previous articles yet, make sure to check them out! Article 1 introduces the Next Gen, article 2 finds out why they went into behavioural science!