Brandon Perelman received his MS degree in Experimental Psychology in 2012 from Saint Joseph’s University, and his PhD in Applied Cognitive Science & Human Factors this year (2015) from Michigan Technological University.
What has your experience in psychology been like at St. Joseph’s University? Were there other schools you were considering, and if so, why did you choose this one?
I had a fantastic experience at SJU, both personally and academically. SJU is strong when it comes to basic experimental psychology research. The professors in the Experimental Psychology program are active in their respective fields and tend to study interesting problems. Like most graduate school applicants, I was considering several other schools. However, the strength of SJU’s Experimental Psychology program, and what ultimately attracted me to the institution, lies in the program’s emphasis on real-world skills and employability, especially in research methods, statistics, and physiological data collection. The training afforded by this program is exceptionally versatile. Many of my classmates went on to industry jobs in marketing and medical research, while others went on to complete experimental or clinical doctoral degrees.
What influenced you to pursue a major/career in psychology?
Experimental psychology has always been attractive to me, though I’ve worked in other scientific fields. I actually spent my undergraduate career completing the prerequisites for medical school, and had worked in microbiology and immunology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Ultimately, I wanted the flexible hours of a career in research and versatility in my education. As an infantry veteran with an interest in defense-related human performance research, an education in experimental psychology gives me the tools to address many of the problems facing our nation’s military.
Have you participated in any internships? If so, how many, how were they, and did you find the schools resources to be helpful in helping you find this opportunity?
I’ve participated in a number of psychology internships, some of which resulted in job offers. However, most of these were completed as a doctoral student. Mostly notably, I had the opportunity to work with the Air Force Research Laboratory’s 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and I am actually still an employee of Applied Research Associates Inc., Cognitive Solutions Division.
What are your future career plans and aspirations?
Currently, I’m a post-doctoral researcher with Army Research Labs’ Human Research & Engineering Directorate at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, and a remote employee with ARA, Inc. This is a fantastic opportunity to make connections for future collaborations and potential sources of funding, while keeping the doors open to a career in academia, industry, or a government service lab. At the moment, I haven’t made any decisions about settling into one of those career lines. I can say that I’ve had great personal and professional experiences everywhere I’ve had the opportunity to work, and I look forward to maintaining those relationships wherever I go.
What has been the most challenging aspect of studying psychology, and was this something you had originally anticipated?
The most challenging aspect of my career was switching from basic experimental psychology research to computational modeling and simulation. Computer programming, specifically in languages like PEBL (the psychology experiment building language) and R (the statistical computing language), is incredibly valuable for data collection, and analysis and modeling, respectively. But, the learning curve can be somewhat steep, and learning to program well takes a great deal of dedication and a knowledgeable (and patient) mentor.
What advice would you give someone else trying to break into this field?
To someone interested in a career in psychology, I would advise taking the “hard” classes that many of your classmates will avoid, and that may only be offered elsewhere in your institution (i.e., outside of the psychology program). These classes include things like anatomy and physiology, advanced statistics, computational modeling, computer science, and calculus. Not only will these skills set you apart from many of your peers, but they will give you a great deal of versatility in the work place. In addition, I was incredibly lucky because my MS and PhD advisors were both incredibly brilliant, capable, patient, and everything else you want in a mentor. In addition to classwork, you stand to learn a great deal from your mentors, so choose them wisely!
Is there anything you wish you had known about psychology ahead of time before choosing this career path?
I wish I had known more about two things, (1) the importance of calculus and computer programming, and (2) the great wealth of fellowship opportunities available to undergraduate and graduate students in fields related to psychology. When searching for fellowships, internships, and scholarships, be sure to check government institutions. If there are no opportunities available in psychology, search under related fields such as cognitive science and human factors psychology. A new focus of government funding is students involved in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields, so searching under terms better suited to those fields may yield better results.