Behavioral Science Graduate Guide

The ultimate collection of resources for graduating students in behavioral science and related fields

This is a collection of resources and advice aimed to make life easier for all graduates in behavioral science and related fields. Whether you are looking to find work in industry or contemplating a PhD, this guide has been created with the aim of providing you with all the answers.

CONTENTS
---------------------
I. Introduction
Part 1: Entering the Workforce?
1. The Job Search
2. Job Listing Sites
3. Starting Your Career
4. Skills and Pathways into Behavioral Science
Part 2: Going (Back) to School?
5. Choosing a Degree
6. Applying to Graduate School
7. Succeeding in Academia
8. Applying your Skills to Industry
Part 3: Advice and Words of EncouragementII. Conclusions

I. Introduction

Normally, you would be celebrating your completed exams and the end of your program now. Instead, you might be finding yourself in quarantine day #67, playing lockdown drinking games (yup, apparently its a thing), dressing up your pet like a Vermeer painting, or baking bread every other day.

During normal times, the choices at these crossroads — where to find a job or whether to apply for a PhD program — can feel stressful and overwhelming. Being in a global crisis doesn’t make it feel any easier.

The good news? This guide has been created to support you during this time and provide you with some clarity on what steps to take next. It has been crafted by us, a group of practitioners and academics with the simple aim of providing you with what we wish existed when we were in your shoes. You are in good hands, and we will do our best to help guide you around the many questions that you might be considering right now.

So here you go; one guide, three parts, 35+ curated resources, and 20+ pieces of advice from leaders in the field. We hope you’ll find it valuable.

Feel free to reach out to us here if you have any questions or let us know if you are missing something in the guide. We wish you the best of luck!

Editors — Samuel Salzer, Natasha Ouslis & Merle van den Akker

For more of the best content on applied behavior science, check out the Habit Weekly newsletter and the Questioning Behavior Podcast — Editors plug💜

Very fancy header right? Well, wait until you see the content… 🤓

You’re a graduate, or soon to be graduate. Congratulations! 🥳 You are swiftly moving onto the next step in your career. And after all the exams and assignments are over, if not during, it’s time to focus on finding and applying to jobs. The transition from school to the working world is filled with uncertainty. This part will help you with starting your job search, including which job listing sites to use, resources for starting your career in the field, and stories of how other people got into the behavioral science field and developed their skills.

“Taking the first step in your career offers an unique opportunity to meet all sorts of new people, and my advice is to practice listening when you do. Wherever you end up, you’ll be successful if you can connect with people, engage their curiosity and explain how behavioural science can help them on their terms. This is not a skill to underestimate and now is the time to put it to work.”

James Elfer, Founder, MoreThanNow

1. The Job Search 🔭

How do you start working in behavioral science? Knowing what to look for in a field with at least four different names isn’t easy. If you’re asking questions like, “What companies are out there?”, “Which roles am I qualified for?”, and “Where do I begin?”, these three resources will help you take that first step towards a fulfilling career in behavioral science.

“Incorporate your learnings in framing and priming to showcase yourself in the best light. Consider how you are presenting yourself to the hiring manager — what is in it for them in hiring you? What problems will you solve and what does that mean to them in ordinary, relatable words (not jargon)?”

Melina Palmer, Founder, CEO, & Podcast Host, The Brainy Business

“[When applying for work], have examples of experiments you’ve run- even if they’re just in your day to day life. It doesn’t need to be a full master’s or PhD thesis, just showing your interest in be-sci outside of study/work is really interesting to employers.

Employers will also look for skills outside your technical be-sci knowledge. Project management, communication and teamwork skills are critical, no matter where you acquired them!”

Meadhbh Hayden, Head of Behavioural Science @ Fractal Labs

3. Starting Your Career 💼

Now you might be preparing for an interview or anticipating your first day on the job. You want to start strong in your new role, so use this advice as a guide to set yourself up for success at the beginning of your journey.

“Become deeply curious about human behaviour. Learn to describe it in detail, predict it when possible, and what makes it change (and what doesn’t). The best way to do this is to start with yourself.”

David Perrott, Independent Consultant & Applied Behavioural Scientist

4. Skills and Pathways into Behavioral Science 🤹

What can you expect as you progress in your behavioral science role? We all want to see a clear path to grow and be challenged. By hearing about others’ journeys directly, you can learn about all the varied paths that professionals took to succeed in the behavioral science field. Like the stories below, your journey will have detours and barriers to overcome. There are many paths to success, so learn what you can from others to make your choices work for you.

“There’s no one skill that will make you a great behavioural scientist, but you knew that already. Curiosity. Diligence. Humility. Patience. It’s quite a package, without even starting on the technical bits!

James Elfer, Founder, MoreThanNow

Not looking to work in industry? That’s alright! We put together this guide also for you, to help make your next academic pursuit a success. Here, you’ll find resources on whether to do a PhD, what programs to consider in behavioral science, how to succeed in academia, and tips for transitioning from the ivory tower to the world of industry. Forget the textbooks, we bet this is the most engaging material you’ve studied in a long time!

“If you love doing academic research (research to add to the generalizable body of knowledge) and aspire to a more academic-type role, a PhD could be for you. If your heart is with applied research, you may find the PhD is a long, difficult distraction from your passions.”

Amy Bucher, PhD, VP Behavior Change Design

5. Choosing a Degree 🤔

If you are deciding whether to do a PhD, make sure you really want it and you’re prepared for the pitfalls. Often, in times of economic recession, people enter graduate and professional programs in response to low chances of landing a permanent job. Yet the PhD doesn’t get easier because you have fewer attractive alternatives; it’s a large, uncertain commitment, of at least 3–5 years, depending on the country and institution. It’s not a decision to be taken lightly, so we’ve collected some resources here to help you make an informed choice.

Merle van den Akker (@MoneyMindMerle) also has plenty of great resources on this topic on her blog, including:

“My main piece of advice for people wanting to stay in academia, whether at PhD or postdoc level, or beyond, is to find out who you’d like to work with, and where, and get in touch with relevant people — first by email, and perhaps meeting by zoom or similar. In normal times, visiting is a good plan. In any case, don’t just wait for opportunities to come along (though keeping an eye on this is important too), and be as proactive as possible. If you can convince someone you’d like to work with that you would a great fit with their work, then this is a great start.”

Nick Chater, Professor of Behavioural Science, Warwick Business School

6. Applying to Graduate School 📝

If you know you want to do a degree in behavioral science, behavioral economics, or behavioral finance, there are several sites with overviews of relevant programs. For a research-based program (like a PhD or a thesis-based Master’s), narrow your search by finding out which institutions or specific professors study your topic of interest. Reach out to those who have authored papers on this topic (easily found on Google Scholar) and see if they are willing to talk with you on their topic. Then you can see if you’re connecting well and whether they’d be open to taking you on as a research student.

“I forgot who said this, but it is true nevertheless: ‘A PhD is like great abs. The having is nice. The getting? Not so much.’ So unless you enjoy protein shakes and 6am gym sessions, it will be more frustrating than rewarding.”

Christina Gravert, Assistant Professor

7. Succeeding in Academia ✨

Getting in is much less than half the battle; succeeding once you’re there is an ongoing challenge. To avoid the shock and mismatch of unmet expectations, make sure you know what’s expected of you when trying to do well in the ivory tower. Check out the articles below for some advice about succeeding in academia, balancing the multiple responsibilities of a research student, and finishing the grandfather of all audacious goals, the dissertation.

“PhDs are very time consuming, and their benefits can be uncertain, so you really need to have a deep love for what you’re studying to fall back on. Needless to say, this love for the subject will also help you power through the PhD program as well.”

Matt Johnson, PhD, Neuroscientist, Author of Blindsight, & Co-Founder of PopNeuro

8. Applying your Skills to Industry 🕺

Many research students won’t stay in academia after graduating, especially in an applied field with growing industry opportunities. But if you’ve spent a long time in the lab, you might need a little help to tailor what you can do to what industry jobs are looking for. There’s guidance out there for research students from any field, but scroll down below to find out how to navigate the transition for behavioral scientists specifically.

“While not directly for behavioral science grads, I like “The Professor Is In”. She has a section on how to show how your skills matter for a job outside of academia. Behavioral science grads often need to build their own job profiles because companies don’t know that they are looking for them.”

Christina Gravert, Assistant Professor

Want to really maximize your chances of a long and illustrious career? Well, then take this opportunity to read some of the additional curated advice from leading practitioners and researchers in the field. There are several gems here so we advice that you really take these words of wisdom to heart.

“In normal times we have the normal style of making decisions. In these times there’s a lot we don’t know about making decisions. If I was trying to get into a PhD, or a job right now, I would try to show some agility and innovation. If you are applying for a PhD program, maybe sketch out some ideas about research related to COVID-19. Maybe even collect some interesting data that you wouldn’t have been able to collect years ago. If you are already faculty, talk about how you plan to take research initiative in these complex times. Don’t ignore it. Embrace it. All the best.”

Dan Ariely, Professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University and founder of the Center for Advanced Hindsight

Please clap 👏👏 if you find this list helpful. Thanks!

“How to best showcase your be-sci skills:
1. Find which of your talents have the best ‘skill-market fit’ and build that into a personal branding strategy.

2. Produce content regularly and consistently. But in doing so, strive for authenticity above all else. Make sure YOU are reflected in your content production.

3. Find your people. Build a community of like-minded practitioners and band together.

4. Treat it as a non-zero sum game. This is a field of altruists and good people. Showcasing skills by seeking cut-throat competitive advantage is a losing strategy — for you and for the field.”

Nick Hobson, Chief Behavioral Scientist at The Behaviorist

“Try to craft a good elevator pitch about besci. I often talk about how our real behaviour differs from what business leaders and decision makers assume.”

Krisztian Komandi, Behavioral Consultant

“I’m a believer in the power of community. Talking to others in the field is a great way to see examples of how a career might grow, learn of opportunities, and be exposed to new perspectives. Attend meetups, conferences, and events as much as you can. Start conversations on LinkedIn with people doing interesting work (but please don’t just ask to “pick their brains”; have 1–2 specific questions and think about what you can offer in return, even a few links to interesting articles related to the person’s focus area).”

Amy Bucher, PhD, VP Behavior Change Design

“There’s a high likelihood that you’ll regularly find yourself working on teams with people who aren’t behavioral scientists, whether they’re from different industries (such as civic , financial, and healthcare organizations) or trained in different disciplines (like design, business, and social science).

Each will bring different expectations about modes of inquiry and ideas about what “good” looks like; you’ll also find that you all frequently use the same words (“design”, “research”, “bias”) but mean radically different things by them. At worst, this can cause confusion, tension, and distrust. But avoiding — or at least reducing — this can sometimes be as simple as collectively getting clarity about the end goals and purpose of the work, the honest strengths and limitations of each discipline, and how each is positioned to contribute to good outcomes.

Listen as much as you advocate, and consider these interactions an opportunity to learn about, and from, alternate methodologies: no approach is right for everything, and respecting and integrating ideas from other disciplines can both amplify the value of a behavioral approach and help you personally become a better collaborator.”

Ruth Schmidt, Associate Professor at the Institute of Design at IIT

“What makes a successful behavioural scientist doesn’t translate from one domain to another. A great academic might struggle to apply their work in a large organisation, and a brilliant consultant might never have a research paper published. The dynamic will change depending on the people around you, the organisation they work for, and the maturity of your chosen field.

The amazing thing about the behavioural science community is that we’re all so passionate about our work, but this can make us a slightly odd, inflexible, bunch. We forget that most people aren’t behavioural scientists and may find our work confusing, unfamiliar or even threatening. We steam in with biases, RCT’s and statistics before we’ve explored who they are or the problems they’re trying to solve.”

James Elfer, Founder, MoreThanNow

“You do not have to know everything or do it all on your own. The BeSci community is one that is always willing to share and mentor. We are all scientists at heart and love to talk about our work and hear about other people’s work too. Plus, you can’t do behavioral science in a vacuum no matter where you work.”

Julie Miller PhD, SVP Behavioral Science, Bldg25 Consulting

“Think carefully about what types of tasks you enjoy doing, what gives you energy, rather than takes energy away.

If designing and conducting research studies and analysing research data energises you, pursue a PhD. If you are more energised by product development and design, don’t pursue a PhD but rather get your design thinking and practical design skills up to scratch so you can complement behavioural insights with design insights. If you are interested in working directly with people, helping them to change their behaviour, consider avenues such as becoming a coach, therapist, or consultant.”

Dr. Silja Voolma, CEO & Founder of Behavioral Design Global

“A good way to exercise your BehSci skills is to connect with a local charity during your degree programme. Charities are a great platform for practical applications of theory. They are often more receptive to outside help than private organisations or governing bodies. The risk of suffering failure is low, while the potential to bring mutual benefits is high, due to the nature of volunteer work. Charities are connected with other local organisations, which can increase your professional connections and offer niche knowledge of the sector. Connected networks also help increase the dissemination of your work through their own websites, media and political connections, and newsletters. This provides a great ‘paper trail’ when trying to establish your reputation with a potential employer. A key to any field work, though, is documentation. So a personal blog or website, and/or git hub for your programs, can house all your work (pre-print or published) in one place which can be represented as a simple link on your CV.”

Megan M. Crawford, Phd (ABD)

“Observe people’s behaviour, and ask yourself why they do what they do. Seek as many possible explanations for what you see (there will always be several) — some will be conventional economics (e.g. incentives), others will be much more behavioural economics. Practise this, and make sure you can come up with an example that is relevant to the person you want to showcase your skills to (e.g., something that fits in the industry sector of the company where you are applying for a job, or that is relevant to the person you want to ask out on a date :-)”

Koen Smets, Organization Development practitioner, adjunct assistant professor, special adviser to the BVA Nudge Unit

“Read the classics (Nudge, TFAS, etc) but also read widely (data science, systems thinking, complexity theory, network science, etc).

Apply the processes and frameworks (Ideas42 BD process, EAST, BASIC, The Behaviour Change Wheel, etc).

But most importantly, keep an open mind, and continually work to update your mental models of human behaviour. If you think you understand it well, you should see that as a red flag. [Human behaviour] is arguably the most complex thing in the known universe.”

David Perrott, Independent Consultant & Applied Behavioural Scientist

Conclusions 💜

Hooray! Don’t you feel the community’s support from those pieces of advice? Like a lockdown-appropriate hug, we hope you feel a little bit closer to the behavioral science community with this guide. We’re excited for you to join us, the behavioral scientists, economists, and designers, as you build a fulfilling and impactful career. Best of luck on your endeavors!

— Samuel, Natasha & Merle

For more of the best content on applied behavior science, check out the Habit Weekly newsletter and the Questioning Behavior Podcast 💜

Please clap 👏👏 if you find this list helpful. Thanks!

Acknowledgements

Credit to everyone who helped make this guide possible through your eagerness to help and share advice. It is humbling to have so many great people in our wide-spread community be so willing to help out and contribute.

Thank you to everyone listed below, we greatly appreciate your contributions.

Dan Ariely | Amy Bucher | Nick Chater | Megan Crawford | Dan Egan | James Elfer | Sebastian Fonzo | Matt Johnson | Christina Gravert | Nick Hobson | Aline Holzwarth | Meadhbh Hayden | Krisztian Komandi | Julie Miller | Melina Palmer | David Perrott | Ruth Schmidt | Koen Smets | Silja Voolma

--

--

--

One place for everything related to behavioral design

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Samuel Salzer

Samuel Salzer

Behavioral designer, author and keynote speaker. Helping organizations create habit forming products. Curator for the popular newsletter www.HabitWeekly.com

More from Medium

The Current State of Behavioral Science Teams and Their Techniques

Animated Insights — The Most Important CX Touchpoints for Research

Workshopping, a healthier way of working remotely!

What is Design Sprint, and What Makes a Good One — Lessons from ‘Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems…

The Sprint book