Interview with Divya Balakrishnan




Behavioural Science is a rapidly expanding field and everyday new research is being developed in academia, tested and implemented by practitioners in financial organisation, development agencies, government ‘nudge’ units and more. This interview is part of a series interviewing prominent people in the field. And in today's interview the answers are provided by Dviya Balakrishnan.


Divya is one of the first few Behavioral Science Graduates in India. She did her Masters in Cognitive and Decision Sciences from UCL in 2009.. Since then, she worked with FinalMile Consulting for 10 years in the currently explosive Behavioural Science and Design Consulting space, lead teams that successfully integrate learnings from Behavioural Economics and Cognitive Science to solve strategic business problems across domains such as Financial Services, Development Sector, Safety and Retail. She is currently the co-founder of Mentza, an app meant for learning and growth minded people to come together and learn through 20-min live audio conversations.







Who or what got you into behavioural science?

I rememeber that day clear as crystal. Some backtory: I was a Computer Science Engineer and quit my software job in 2009 because it wasn't enough - I wanted to learn more, be inspired more and be challenged more. I'd always been interested in Psychology and Behaviour - I grew up in a large, opinionated family with different outlooks and perspectives and it constantly made me think about what made people tick, what made them 'them', you know? Coming back to when I realised it was going to be Behavior Science - I was looking to figure out what psychology related graduate degree and was hunting through MIT OCW (open courseware) for courses/lectures to try and figure out what course I wanted to do - and I found a Ph.D course on Brain and Cognition, listened to a few lectures and BAM, that was it. I started applying to Be. Sc schools the next say, and thankfully got into UCL (M.Sc CoDeS) - there's been no looking back since.

What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a Behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve?

This is such a difficult one because I still feel like I know sooo little compared to everyone else in academia. But going from primacy to recency ;) - Being a co-author of a study that reported replication faliures in social media priming, that paper making it to Nature (magazine) and Economist. All my years at FinalMile, one of the first few firms to use Behavioral Science to change behavior in multiple multiple domains (it's a dream job for an applied behaviour scientist, btw) - and now, starting off on my own as a co-founder at Mentza, a social platform for forever-learners - these are my 'Moments'.

If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?

I love this - this list is sooo long, but top 3 - Veterenarian, Astronomer, Clinical Psychologist.


How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life?

Bias hunting (I see biases everywhere - read like: 'I see dead people'), labelling and deconstructing everything (ah - that's the relevance check at work, the outcome probabilities were too stacked up anyway, that's a maladaptive coping mechanism) but honestly, I've still not managed to use BeSc on myself with even remote success. I do choice and framing experiments on my kids however, that's always fun.



With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?

A big one - passion to learn, to go excavating into minds and behavior. The biggest one, though, is embracing uncertainty and complexity. With Computer Science everything was 0s and 1s, black and white - then came Behavioral Science, where we still don't even agree on the definition of emotions (I'm exagerrating) - but embracing the grey, the unknown and the complexity that is human behavior is an important skill to develop.




What advice would you give to young behavioural scientists or those looking to progress into the field?

Embrace Uncertainty, there's way more in the world of Behavioral Science that we don't know than what we know. Constantly update your knowledge - a Masters just gets you to dip your toes, ready yourself for a world of learning outside a graduate program. Plug yourself in the right communities - if you're reading this chances are that you're already doing that well :) Curate your thoughts - speak out, post them, write - do not be afraid to market yourself- it will 100% stand you in good stead in the future.


How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)?

Here's my hope - we figure out scaling - moving from mere 'interventions' to changing behaviors at scale. We need Behavior Science to pretty much plug into everything, but more that the siloed way in which it is happening right now - Policy, Administration, E-commerce, Media, Healthcare, Design, Marketing, Analytics..the list is endless.


Also if this is to be the case, behavioral scientists would also need more rounded education - a mix of academics and business education.


Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by?

Professor David Shanks, from UCL - He taugh the Human Memory and Learning Course when I was there and he IS SPECTACULAR.







Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Divya! It's great to hear what's going on in India. :)


As I said before, this interview is part of a larger series which can also be found here on the blog. Make sure you don't miss any of those, nor any of the upcoming interviews!


Keep your eye on Money on the Mind!