As I’ve chosen to run most of my social media platforms as a promoter of behavioural science, I can’t be too surprised when people reach out to me because they want to know more. And I’m always happy to have a chat – please always feel free to reach out! But for the purpose of efficiency, of which the Dutch will forever be fans, I thought I’d bundle some of these questions together, and create an FAQ of sorts.
1. How do I get into behavioural science? This question often comes from people who are very interested in behavioural science, but tend to have had an entire career beforehand. The real question here is: how do I pivot (more) towards behavioural science? And it’s a good question, but the answer depends on your unique circumstances. For those who want to stay in the same job but simply add more behavioural science to it, that’s a conversation to have with your boss. For those who want to learn more about behavioural science – again whilst staying in their jobs – that’s a lot of reading (preferably academic papers) or taking on additional behavioural science courses in their free time. Both Dilip Soman and Cristina Bicchieri have created amazing courses on behavioural science. But the above scenario’s hardly cover everyone. Sometimes the people who reach out don’t want to stay in their current jobs at all. They are looking for a hard pivot. And then things become a tad more difficult (because the answer is tied in with their unique background). But if I want to give a ‘blanket’ answer: if you’re in a job where putting ‘behavioural’ in front of your title would make sense, your pivot will likely not require complete retraining. Think of ‘behavioural data scientist’ or ‘behavioural UX’ (this is a complete useless adjective because all UX is behavioural in nature). For other job titles such as ‘behavioural engineer’ you might struggle a bit more… Which leads us to the next question!
2. Should I get a behavioural science degree? I used to be super enthusiastic about going to university and collecting all the degrees (I’ve got more degrees than sense by this stage), but that enthusiasm has waned since I entered the corporate workforce. Whether you need a degree to get started in any career is country and job sector dependent. Let me explain. If you already have a BSc and an MSc in Finance and want to move into behavioural science, I don’t think an additional degree is going to do it for you. What you need is maybe a university course in behavioural finance, and you can make that pivot into more behavioural finance-y jobs and start a slow pivot from there. The same goes for data science, psychology, UX, pure economics and to some extent the humanities (anthropology etc.). As long as there is some human element there. What most recruiters (and employers) expect from a behavioural scientist is an understanding of behaviours, motivation and experimentation (preferably some analytics too but most corporate teams have separate analysts). If you can showcase, through your previous degrees, or through extracurricular activity, or through your jobs past and present, that you know how to run behaviour diagnostics (sounds complicated, I’m referring to something like COM-B), know how to build and run an RCT and how to analyse the results; well congrats! You are essentially what we’re looking for when we say we want a behavioural scientist. Does this require additional degrees? Often not unless you’re looking to be retrained (fair enough). If you’ve got no degrees to begin with and want to move into behavioural science as a young student, go for it. But student beware: you need to come out of that degree with much more than just a knowledge of 4 models and 600 biases. You need to know, and showcase to employers that you have done experimental methods and analytics. So get your hands dirty. With an industry partner if you can. And if you can take additional courses in data or computer science, or even AI, I would recommend you do that! Now for the other point: the effect of country. In the Netherlands, behavioural science has established itself into its own (niche) field. There are BSc courses in it. There are MSc programs doing nothing but behavioural science. The Netherlands is also very highly educated and getting into highly paid jobs without high levels of education is very difficult. The Netherlands is also structurally rigid: you can’t take on an economist job without being fully trained in economics (you can’t get this job with an engineering degree for example). In countries like this you’ll need to hold a behavioural science degree to pivot into that sector. (Re-)training is one of few ways, and the most dominant way, of entering the field. Other countries such as the UK and Australia don’t have these standards in place at all. Behavioural scientists can still hold non-behavioural degrees that are adjacent enough (e.g. economics, psychology, sociology). And in general, people can enter the workforce with less degrees (most Australians I know in the bank don’t have MSc degrees). So that’s another thing to consider when choosing to do (another) degree.
3. Should I get a PhD in behavioural science?” I think I mainly get this question as I have a PhD in behavioural science and people want to know if it was ‘worth my time’, especially now that I have left academia. It’s essentially a sub-question to the previous question if you will. Whereas I try to give highly individual advice depending on who reaches out to me, you can bet on the answer to this question being ‘no’, if you ask me. Or at least, it has been ‘no’ for most people who asked me. Doing a PhD is a ~4 year commitment to doing nothing but research in a certain topic, in an academic setting, with academic goals (journal publications) and not a lot of support. You’re being trained to be an independent (academic) researcher. Despite the fact that a lot of PhD students will not find a placement in academia, but will shift to industry, either due to personal preferences or the lack of placement in academia. I left academia as soon as I could – as it stands it is not my cup of tea, despite the fact that I still happily work with academics. I think for this question you need to ask yourself what it is that you’re looking to do within the next 5 years. Or 10 years. What goals do you have for your career, but also for the other aspects of your life. Because a PhD may not exactly be a good fit and there may be other ways to reach the goals you want to reach. Food for thought!
I feel like the article is getting a bit long. Next week I’ll make sure to post a part two, which will focus on what a behavioural science job look like, and what you can do with a behavioural science degree!