An extremely integral field of psychology, yet somewhat less known, Quantitative Methods is the study of research methods and techniques used to analyze and collect data. The advancements of this field in psychology are essential for the publication of all research and findings in disciplines across the board. This month we feature a Q & A with Dr. Jeremy Biesanz who gives us a detailed look at the inner workings of Quantitative Methods.
Q: Please tell us about the Quantitative Methods area in Psychology.
A: The Quantitative area is focused on developing the tools and teaching the expertise on how to analyze psychological data. [We ask] questions such as, how can we develop better tools and can we teach people to use them better? We’re different than assessment which is focused on how to assess specific abilities and how to develop tests that are free of specific biases. I’ve been involved in trying to develop [quantitative] tools that allow us to ask the questions really want to ask, not the questions that we know we can get an answer to using the tools we have. The analytical tools that we have at our disposal are critical for developing our research disciplines. Psychology flourished in the 1950’s with people using basic analysis of various techniques. That really allowed Psychology to move forward.
Q: What work do you do in Quantitative Methods?
A: I work in a lot of different techniques in Quantitative Psychology. I don’t have a straight coherent program, it’s more topical, related to problems that I feel are frequent in the field and that we can develop a better tool for addressing. For example, finding better ways of getting confidence intervals for some the effect size estimates that we use, that’s a paper I’m finishing up right now that I’ve had in the works for a while. Also, other work I do that is more in the personality line and blends with quantitative is really trying to develop new analytical models for assessing things that we didn’t have the ability to assess before. In the end, these models come down to their utility, making sure they help you, and that they provide better answers than the tools that we had previously.
Q. How would this be conducted? How do you test for finding the effectiveness of these tools?
A: One of the ways we do this frequently is by using simulation studies, where we simulate data under known conditions and evaluate all the different options there are for examining the data and then just to see which ones perform best and in what circumstances so we can know theoretically this approach will work best. We do simulation studies to also test real world conditions with limited sample size.
Q. What is the focus or goal of Quantitative Methods?
A: I’d say there are two parts here. Developing better methods, and developing methods for more complicated structures. Dealing with the complexities of real life data is never so easy, [so we ask] what methods can we apply and how well do they work in addressing the problems that we have. It’s never as simple and easy as is taught in intro classes, even if you have a simple two group experimental design, you can run into problems such as differential attrition which can bias your results. So you have to have tools [for] addressing that and correcting it.
Q: What do graduate students gain by studying Quantitative Methods?
A: It’s very simple and very pragmatic: job security. There was a broad survey done in the 1990’s on the ratio of advertised academic positions per PhD produced. For most areas such as Personality, and Developmental, the ratio is that there are .4 jobs per PhD produced. So two and a half PhD’s per job which is, not that great. That ratio flips over for quantitative psychology. There are many more academic positions than there are positions produced. At the same time, Quantitative PhD’s are much easier to move over and get a job in industry. I’ve had colleagues that were not Quantitative Psychologists but took lots of quantitative courses ended up getting positions with American Express, and Intel using their quantitative skills that they acquired in graduate school.
With the expansion and growth of this field, it is hoped that more researchers are aware that the findings in Quantitative Methods can influence their studies and help produce more reliable research of their own in the future.