Q&A with Developmental Psychologist, Kevin M. David, PhD
Q: What is your current position?
I am currently Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology and Counseling at Northeastern State University in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.
Q: What is developmental psychology and how is it different than other types of psychology?
Developmental psychology is the study of psychological change and constancy across the lifespan. I kind of view it as a meta-psychological field in that it spans many of the other areas [of psychology]. For instance, in cognitive, social, personality, and clinical psychology, a number of variables are looked at including development.
Q: In your work, what types of issues do you typically encounter?
My average day is pretty hectic. As a college professor, you're constantly multitasking. I get and respond to a lot of emails. [There is a] lot of meeting with students, going to committee meetings, working on research projects, and preparing for class. You've probably noticed I haven't even said teaching yet. There's a lot that goes with it, on top of just teaching.
Q: Can you describe your research?
I am what we call a "social developmental psychologist," as opposed to a "cognitive developmental psychologist." I study social processes in particular. I'm really interested in family experiences and children and adolescents' social development. How do they get along with their peers and do at school? In adolescence, what are their romantic relationships like?
My own specific research has focused in the past couple of years on marital relationships. I've been looking at how both positive and negative marital relations are associated with children and adolescents' social competence. Right now a few colleagues and I are designing a new questionnaire to assess early adolescents' perceptions of positive aspects of their parents' marriage.
Q: How did you get started in this field and what kind of preparation does someone pursuing this career need?
I was an undergraduate psychology major, and I was drawn to psychology because I was always very interested in how people tick. I did always wonder about how people become who they are, and so that naturally led me to psychology. It was through my undergraduate training that I discovered a passion for developmental psychology, which is devoted to studying why people become who they are, and what factors contribute to that.
To be a developmental psychologist, you pretty much have to get a doctorate in psychology. That's going to take anywhere from four to six years beyond the undergraduate degree. Having a strong background in psychology before graduate school is very important.
Q: In general, are there any specific traits that work well for a developmental psychologist?
There are particular skills that are valuable in being a developmental psychologist. Some of those involve being very good at critical and analytical thinking - being able to write very well, for example. Something that a lot of people may not realize is incredibly important is quantitative skill. Statistical analysis is very common in our research.
Q: What do you wish someone had told you about the profession?
With developmental psychology I don't really have anything in mind, but with regard to being a professor, there are definitely things that I was not aware of. I was not aware of the level of service requirements that are expected of professors[clerical work, advising and similar things].
Q: What kind of changes have there been in your area of practice in the last few years?
Many of [the changes] have to do with technology. When you look at the classroom, we're seeing a tremendous increase in the amount of online courses and blended courses.
On the developmental psychology side of it, we've become increasingly sophisticated in our technological advances with regard to statistical analyses and [modeling theory].
Q: What do you see for the future of this field?
I think this is actually something that's true for all of psychology - the field is growing more and more biological. You can't separate the psychological phenomena that we study from the biological phenomena going on underneath. With advances in other fields like molecular genetics, we're starting to get a much fuller and more complete understanding of human development. Related to that is an increasing recognition of the dynamic nature of human development. We no longer believe that there's this kind of static "genes vs. environment."
Q: You are also involved in education - how did you move into this area?
The way I got into it was actually in graduate school. After my first year of graduate school I was thrown into a classroom to teach as a teaching assistant, but I was actually teaching the class. Once I got up there - and I'd worked extra hard to make sure that I knew everything - I found that it was my calling. I knew that I loved reading and studying psychology, in particular developmental psychology, but I didn't know that I loved teaching it as well. [Being an educator] has been a major part of not just my professional, but my personal identity, too.
Q: What are some of the critical questions potential students should ask themselves before entering the field?
It's not specific to developmental psychology, but it's kind of the age-old guidance counselor question, "What would you do if you had all the money in the world?"
What do you think about when you're just on your own? I think the best sign you're in the right field is if you think about it when you're not forced to. It's that kind of intrinsic motivation that will lead to the greatest chance of success and satisfaction in the field.
Q: What do you look for in students entering the field?
Some important traits are: intrinsic motivation and creativity. We often don't think about [creativity] in terms of research, but it requires a great amount of being able to think outside the box. You need be able to think about novel ways of measuring variables and new research questions to explore. Passion [is important] as well. A field is only as strong as its most passionate leaders.
Q: Any other recommendations for aspiring developmental psychologists?
If you're seriously interested in pursuing developmental psychology as a career, I would say learn as much about it as possible, as early as possible. Try to get as much research experience [as possible] as an undergraduate. That's really important because, as I said, most people get a doctorate, and in order to get into those programs, you have to have some research experience as an undergraduate.