April SPSPotlight: Beyond the Ivory Tower

Ever wonder what careers lay outside of academia? We explore the non-academic job market by talking to social psychology PhDs who have gone into different career paths. This month, we speak with Greg Gunn, Senior Psychometrician at Multi-Health Systems in Toronto, Canada.

What is your job?

I am a Senior Psychometrician at Multi-Health Systems, a publishing company that develops assessment tools used within educational, clinical, corporate, and public safety settings. Mainly, my duties are to help construct and score psychological measures, standardize the measures, and to design studies and analyze data to evaluate the measures’ reliability and validity.

What academic skills do you use most often? Anything you didn't expect to use?

A knowledge of and experience with statistics and research design are crucial to my current position. Critical thinking and problem solving skills are also important, as well as the ability to communicate effectively. One skill that is emphasized more than I was accustomed to in my own research as a graduate student is teamwork. In the private sector, I often have to interact and coordinate my efforts with others who have expertise in different domains – for example, working with the marketing department to make the results easier to understand for pitching to customers.

What was the most surprising thing about moving out of academia?

All the other considerations that go into developing a psychological measure other than just theory and research. For example, in my company, there are also programming, user experience, quality assurance, sales/marketing, user training, customer service, and project management departments that all have input into the final product. It has been very valuable to learn about these different perspectives of a measure as it goes through development, but such collaboration does require extra steps to be taken to ensure that the measure is developed into a final product that customers want and can use without compromising its psychometric soundness.

Any advice for graduate students who would be looking at a similar career path?

Don’t shy away from statistics. Even just a familiarity with statistical analyses and a willingness to learn more can open doors and put you at a competitive edge over others. Other advice would be to look into professional organizations (e.g., Psychometric Society) that interest you early on in your graduate studies. This should enable you to begin acquiring the skills required for those positions as you complete your studies. For instance, if interested in a career as a psychometrician, take courses on classical test theory or item response theory, and familiarize yourself with advanced statistical software (e.g., R, Mplus) in your thesis/dissertation research. 

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