New beginnings

Yesterday I started a new phase in my life. I am taking up a position as a PhD candidate in Oslo for the coming three years, and substantially scaling down my consulting work and other commitments. During the last two years I have been running two research projects while working way too much, and I am now excited to focus most of my time on doing research. Since I received word that my PhD application was approved I have had the intent to write about my experiences, although probably irregularly, for several reasons.

I need to practice my writing, especially in English. I also want to keep a something akin to a diary of my reflections on things going on, mostly research related, but there could be other topics too. I read quite a lot, and I really should be better at documenting this, particularly regarding research. My writing might be a bit long and rambling at times, but hopefully that will improve with practice.

Monday 4th of September there was an introduction for new employees at the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, whose Department of Behavioral Sciences I am joining — more specifically, the Cultural Selection and Behavioral Economics Lab led by professor Ingunn Sandaker. This is a brief explanation of my coming research project (which I have sort of started already):

Working under supervision of Ingunn Sandaker and Anthony Biglan, the two central parts of my PhD project are:
1. To develop behavioral measures of Nurturing Environments in groups and organizations (Biglan, Flay, Embry, & Sandler, 2012; Biglan & Embry, 2013).
2. To investigate the effects of multi-tier and multi-level interventions to improve nurturance, using the concept of evidence based kernels (Embry & Biglan, 2008).

I started writing at about 6pm local time on the 4th, sitting at a vegan café/restaurant in central Oslo, a few minutes walk from the apartment I am renting. Since my profile is quite sparse with details, I’ll give some background to how I came to move from Uppsala in Sweden to Oslo in Norway (500km) at this time.

The formal education that made me eligible to apply for the scholarship funding my research is a master’s degree in psychology. Or, perhaps more correctly expressed in 2006 Swedish academic vernacular, a 5 year programme at Uppsala University to become a psychologist, with a license to practice after another year of work under supervision. During the later part of my training I had many supervision sessions with JoAnne Dahl, who provided my first contact with Contextual Behavioral Science, and its progenitor, radical behaviorism. I’ll write separate posts on the implication of these perspectives on my views on epistemology (philosophy of science), as well as applied science and practical work.

My master’s thesis was a randomized controlled trial of chronic pain treatment, comparing treatment-as-usual with a screening questionnaire and a brief Acceptance and Commitment Therapy protocol. The study had 3 groups, each one consisting of 30 patients, and I got some valuable experience of the issues with running a scientific trial in the real world. I went on to do some clinical work at a managed care facility for adolescents with severe anxiety/depression/self-harm problems. This was a setting that gave me a lot of opportunities for learning interventions based in Applied Behavior Analysis. Shortly after receiving my psychologist license I was recruited to the role as CEO for the organization I was working for. These roles gave me two significant experiences: 1. as a manager I can have a significant effect on the work environment, affecting both personnel health and efficiency; 2. background variables (socio-economics, parenting, etc) are very powerful predictors for future (mental) health issues.

Short term, this meant that after leaving the CEO position to start my own consulting business, I focused mostly on leadership development. Moving a couple of years ahead, it brought forth me starting to lecture on the uses of prevention science and how behavioral science can help us make a better world.

The last link is to the website of the book “The Nurture Effect” (2015). Anthony Biglan is the author, and his scientific publications and a previous book on “Changing cultural practices” (1995) had a lot of impact on my understanding of what we should be doing more of to make social and environmental issues improve.

Due to an, in retrospect, unlikely chain of events, Tony Biglan has agreed to be my co-supervisor for the PhD project! This chain of events begun about two years ago, at the ACBS World Conference in Berlin, July 2015. Even though I had been part of the CBS community since 2004, this was my first ACBS WorldCon. I attended a 2-day pre-conference workshop on working with ProSocial group development. Frank Bond and Paul Atkins were scheduled to lead the workshop, but Paul had unfortunately not been able to make it, with short notice. Since Paul was the one with most experience using ProSocial, this put Frank in a bit of a tough spot.

I had dabbled in using the tools of ProSocial with a few groups in Sweden before attending the workshop, and I had met Frank on a few previous occasions, so I approached him during the second day and offered to talk for 30–45 mins about my experiences from using ProSocial. To my great luck, Frank thought this would be a good idea, and I went on to create a presentation in about an hour. This was quite nervewrecking for me, to do my first presentation in English, in front of 60 people, many of whom were famous names — Tony Biglan being one of them.

Things seemed to work out quite well, and Tony actually came up to me afterwards and congratulated me on work well done. This in turn led to him introducing me to David Sloan Wilson, the main initiator of the ProSocial project. A few months later David visited me in Stockholm to co-host a workshop for ProSocial facilitators. And in november 2016, David invited me to Oslo to co-host another similar workshop. This coincided with the HiOA Department of Behavioral Science holding its first yearly conference, with the theme “Highlighting behavioral science applications in social and political developments” so I of course attended the conference as well. My stay in Oslo was a very positive experience, and I talked to Ingunn Sandaker about the possibilities of funding my own PhD through my work as a consultant. Then in January 2017, I saw an ad for a scholarship funded PhD, and after some logistical considerations I decided to apply.

So here I am, starting anew in a new city. September will be a month filled with travels back and forth and moving in to my new living space, and some science paper writing whenever I can sit down for a few hours.

To be continued…