What was involved in earning a PhD in Behavior Analysis? originally appeared on Quora: the place to acquire and share knowledge, allowing people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Let’s start with what a doctorate is. A doctorate is one of the highest academic qualifications you can obtain, and it is done mostly independently. Of course, a PhD is very difficult academically, but in reality, it is much more than that. A PhD is an emotionally, financially, and mentally challenging experience. Although no two doctorates are the same, if you are considering doing a doctorate, it is important that you recognize that it will require you to be passionate about your chosen field, self-motivated, and willing to work hard.
Doing a PhD in Behavior Analysis means you have chosen to focus your research on understanding why humans behave the way they do and how to influence human behavior in some way . You will have supervisors, usually two, who will support you throughout this task, but their involvement in your work will be limited.
The first step is to become familiar with reading empirical research. As you get to know your field, it will become apparent that human beings are extraordinarily complex and that understanding human behavior is no small feat. For every theory there is an equally compelling counter-theory, and you must build a rich knowledge base of what is empirically known and learn to decipher solid evidence from pseudoscientific claims. Your job as a researcher is to apply this new understanding and design a research question to expand current knowledge.
For my PhD, I wanted to investigate whether nonverbal mimicry could be used to influence obtaining information from an interaction partner and third-party observers. I also set out to understand the psychological mechanisms behind WHY non-verbal mimicry works to do this.
Once you have a question, you will perform a series of experiments designed to answer that question. Sometimes your research may be conducted online, using surveys or questionnaires, but when studying human behavior, you should expect your experiments to be conducted in person with human participants.
Once you have collected enough data, you can start the data analysis process. As you work on your findings, you will ask yourself questions such as: Did you get the results you expected? If not, why not? Could your findings be explained by an alternative theory? What are the underlying psychological mechanisms behind the behavior you observed? Do you need to conduct more research to effectively answer your question?
Answering these questions will take several years, but once you are confident that you have answered your research question effectively, you will finish writing your dissertation. Your dissertation will be a written account of all the work you have done, usually around 80,000 words.
Finally, you will defend your doctorate in a vocal defense exam, involving a panel of experts reviewing your knowledge. To obtain a doctorate, you must be able to prove that you have produced a new and significant contribution in the field of your choice.
To sum up, a PhD in behavior analysis is inherently challenging in many ways, but contributing to scientific progress in understanding human behavior is immensely rewarding.