Q&A with Social Psychologist, Jennifer Thorpe-Moscon, Ph.D.
Q: What is social psychology?
Broadly speaking, social psychology is the study of people and their interactions in groups of various sizes. It can examine the individual as he or she relates to others or responds to his or her world. Social psychology can also examine how dyads, groups, and societies interact with one another-keeping the focus on the behavior of the individual rather than society as a system. It is a broad field that has innumerable applications to everyday life.
Q: How is social psychology different than other areas of psychology?
That's a funny question these days because psychology is becoming so much more integrated. Social psychology has always had ties to personality psychology-understanding the individual and what he or she is like-and areas such as marketing, in which understanding people can help produce products that are of maximum benefit to them. Cognitive psychology has become increasingly intertwined with social psychology (social-cognitive psychology) as has neuroscience. The take-home point is that almost any perspective in psychology can interact with social psychology by focusing on humans in social contexts. It may be the most broadly applicable area.
Q: What kind of person would make a good social psychologist?
Anyone with curiosity about the way people behave. A healthy dose of patience and dedication helps, and a cooperative spirit will be of help in an increasingly cooperative field.
Q: What job opportunities are available in social psychology?
Oh boy... there are so many: researcher in an academic environment, researcher in a corporate environment, researcher in a government environment, professor, counselor (personal, school, sports, trauma, etc.), consultant (trial, political, etc.), marketing director, not-for-profit researcher, field worker (e.g., going abroad to work with vulnerable populations)... I could go on forever.
Q: Can you describe your typical work day?
It can vary quite a bit depending on what's needed. Some days, I conduct research on our existing product line -- do consumers like it? What could be improved? Other days, I research possible new products and suppliers. I also focus on advertising our products to our target audience, using a variety of internet tools and reaching out to potential partners who can work with us to our mutual benefit.
Q: Can you describe a problem you had to face and how you solved it?
A broad answer is that I was asked, in conjunction with others in my company, to develop a product line and test it for consumer approval. I sampled the products of various suppliers and settled on one, while at the same time researching the specific needs of our target community. Upon developing the product line, I reached out to a retailer with a broad client base and worked with her to test the products and solicit feedback.
Q: What's the best part of your job and why?
I love reaching out to members of our target audience and talking with them to learn about their needs. It's a wonderful community of which to be a part. I also love the creativity involved in generating possibilities of how to better serve our customers, and the knowledge that I'm doing something to provide a valued service to people.
Q: What's the most difficult part of your job and why?
Waiting. Waiting for product to ship, for feedback to come in, for suppliers to respond, etc. It was no different in grad school. Waiting for data to come in or for a research assistant to complete a project was at times torturous.
Q: How have social psychology practices or assessment tools changed in the last few years?
Well, the academic field has incorporated more neuroscience tools, such as fMRI. In general, it's become more interdisciplinary. Broad-based training is more valuable now than ever.
Q: Where do you see the future of your field going?
I think the lines between various subfields of psychology will become blurred. The predominant areas of research will be those that are better able to get funding. Incorporating more neuroscience, or ensuring a greater, more obvious link to practical, societal needs will enable greater funding in trying times. That said, I would like to see greater integration between theoretical and applied psychology, though I don't expect it. The research going on in theoretical psychology has so much to offer; it would be of benefit to all to see it put to practical use.
Q: What advice would you give someone looking to get into social psychology? Why would you recommend this career path to them?
Social psychology has so many opportunities - far more than anyone can ever tell you. That said, for those who may not want the traditional academic path, it may be hard to find information or opportunities to get non-academic experience. Don't be afraid to ask questions or do your own research. Importantly, find a social psychology program and advisor that are good matches for your interests. Also, be aware that it can be very difficult to market yourself to non-academic employers - they don't tend to understand how your skills translate to the jobs they offer (even though they definitely do). One great resource is the Association for Psychological Science.