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Patricia Coburn: Graduate Student, Simon Fraser University


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2012/11/03

1. Where did you acquire your undergraduate education? Where do you conduct your graduate studies?

I graduated with a BA Honours in Psychology from Kwantlen Polytechnic University. I recently began my Masters in the Forensic Psychology Program.

2. Where did you work prior to researching in Psychology?

I had various jobs. I was a farmer, a sign-maker: my most recent job was at a Casino.

3. You worked in a cognition lab with Dr. Daniel Bernstein. How did you become part of his lab?

There were two reasons. Mainly, I was interested in going to graduate school, but I felt unsure of how to get there. As well, I received good advice from the current Chair of Psychology at Kwantlen, Dr. Wayne Podrouzek. He suggested if I wanted to go to graduate school, I should acquire some research experience. I had taken memory with Danny and really learned a lot while enjoying the experience. I thought he was a friendly and approachable person.

4. How would you describe your experience working in a Psychology Lab? What positive and negative parts come with managing a lab?

I would describe the experience almost entirely positive: necessary to go to graduate school, and probably a big component of my education. I have recently realized that a lot of my education that is relevant did not come from the classroom alone, even though I really enjoyed my classes, learned a lot, and appreciated the instructors. However, there comes a point where you are so proficient at learning material in a textbook that you need a new experience, such as a lab setting with all concomitant experience. It brought me out of my comfort zone. It gave me all of the skills that I needed for graduate school. I can only recommend it for anyone wanting to go to graduate school specifically in Psychology. Additionally, I think it prepares people for graduate school in general because of the workload. Managing a lab of 12 people really took a large amount of time: scheduling the studies, trying to get rooms for the studies, keeping track of everyone for their studies, overseeing data entry, ethics applications, and contacts with people in the research office. Even though, it was challenging and time-consuming at times, it probably, in terms of graduate school, was the most valuable experience I had at the undergraduate level.

5. What kinds of research have you conducted up to the present? For your graduate studies, what research do you conduct?

Up until I graduated from Kwantlen, my research mainly focused on perspective taking, different cognitive biases, theory of mind, theory of mind deficits, individual differences in perspective taking, and a lifespan approach to theory of mind. As well, I did a bunch of hindsight bias research with Danny and worked on one of his false memory studies. I acquired a fairly well rounded experience, in terms of research, but most of it looked at perspective taking. My research now looks at perceptions of child witness credibility. In particular, I look at how adolescents are perceived in legal settings. I try to incorporate what I learned at the undergraduate level. I look at the way certain biases and stereotypes influence decisions, when people are dealing with children and adolescents. Although, my undergraduate research has influenced or transferred to some degree I have taken a slightly different path.

6. With your expertise, what topic(s) seem most controversial to you? How do you examine these topic(s)?

Maybe not controversial, but in my area because Judges do not like to talk about the way their decisions are determined and jurors are prohibited from talking about the deliberation process, my research is limited. It could be considered controversial because it is different from the American system. Jurors are allowed to discuss the process, making the system more transparent in a sense. Although, I understand the reasons for why jurors are prohibited from discussing the deliberation process in Canada, it makes my research difficult. I end up having to do many mock juror designs, which could be criticized. Many people might question the ecological validity of that type of research. However, I use university participants, as many of us do. I try to argue that certain cognitive processes are inherent to all human beings. So, we can look at university participants and how they make a decision in a certain area, or if presented with a certain scenario. Some of that will transfer to a juror or even a judge. I believe that judges are better trained than the average person is, but some of these biases will be inherent to the fact that they are human.

7. How would you describe the evolution of your philosophical framework?

My philosophical framework, I would say that my philosophical framework has evolved even since I entered graduate school. I am still a strong believer in things that can be measured empirically. I subscribe to the empirical model, especially that model of acquiring knowledge. Taking Law courses and looking at the operation of the legal system, I have begun to understand certain questions cannot be understood in the lab. I am beginning to gain a broad perspective on how to best answer questions in different areas. I have acquired a better appreciation for other approaches to knowledge. I have gained some practical experience in court and feel there are some questions we simply do not have the answers for, and we cannot necessarily find them using measurement and experimental design. From this, I have gained an appreciation for people that simply spend a great deal of time thinking and debating the hard questions.

There are certain things where we never know what ground truth is. However, even though I have an appreciation for debate or discourse that attempts to get at questions that do not, or appear to not, have an answer, it does not mean we cannot move closer to the truth through replication and good methodology. We can move towards the direction where we become more confident with those results. Of course, we have to be open to the fact that we could have been wrong. Having good methodology and replicating studies will increase our confidence in those questions that seem difficult to answer. Sometimes it is really more of a philosophical question such as “What is a natural human right? What are human rights?” these sorts of question can only be debated and not measured, as far as I am concerned. However, so many questions can be measured. It is about getting the right study, asking the right questions, gathering the information and bit by bit we get closer to learning the answers.

8. If you had sufficient funding, what would you most enjoy researching?

I am notoriously bad for being interested in too many areas. If I had unlimited amount of funds, I would probably, staying in my own area, travel to different countries and observe different legal systems. I would talk to jurors that I am allowed to talk to, and do decision-making research. I would compare the different country’s legal systems, and their different approaches. These are important questions. I consider how we treat people in the legal system from the time they are arrested to the time they are acquitted or convicted says a lot about our society as a whole, and looking even to our most direct neighbours there is a good deal of difference. It is evident in the standard of living and the quality of life for the citizens. I would love to do a kind of thing that’s international – it seems somewhat idealistic, but you have given me unlimited funding – I would like to do an international comparison of different legal procedures and look at which ones seem to have the best outcomes, and the least consequences. I think the treatment in some countries in some areas less than humane and there is a lot of room for improvement, just through the legal system, e.g. through prosecution, conviction, acquittal, wrongful convictions, how people are dealt with in the community, how people are released and rehabilitated in the community.

9. For students looking for fame, fortune, and/or utility (personal and/or social), what advice do you have for undergraduate students aiming for jobs/careers in Psychology?

For students looking for fame, write a good ‘catchy’ book, because you will not become famous doing the hard-core science: being an experimental psychologist. Some do, but much of your hard work and time will be spent in front of a computer. I do not think it is about being famous. One of the things I have learned over the past couple years is a lot of my time is spent writing…alone- writing for myself and not really for other people. It is something you do because you are simply motivated. You will not have that constant positive reinforcement, especially those looking to become famous.  If you are lucky, I think you can become a successful psychologist. Yet, I truly think those who become famous are rare. I suspect for the most part an academic career, in experimental psychology, means spending a number of hours in solitude in your room, office, or lab with your own ideas…But there will always be time for fun…… conferences.

10. Whom do you consider your biggest influences? Could you recommend any seminal or important books by them?

I tend not to have famous people as influences. I tend to look up to people who I have contact with on a regular basis. Those are the people that I consider my role models. Obviously, my current supervisor. I think she is a great fit for me. I have a great deal of respect for her. She is a very hard worker. She knows a lot about the area and is very dedicated. She is someone I consider a role model and has a lot of influence in my current life. Of course, Dr. Danny Bernstein is perhaps the most influential in my undergraduate career. He pushed me to work harder than I ever imagined. If it were not for him, I would not even know what I could do. In addition, he helped me become a better writer, which is a difficult skill to improve on once you begin to get A’s on all of your papers. Working with him really improved my skills. I am grateful to the entire Psychology department because it is a good set of instructors. I find, probably across my lifetime and especially in my time at Kwantlen and SFU, teachers have had the greatest influence. So, I can only recommend two books because I do not really read many books, unless they are assigned to me: the Road and the Count of Monte Cristo. Although, if you are like me, and kind of a crier, then you might not want to read the Road. The only famous person that has really influenced me is Camus. I do not even really know why, but I think his viewpoints or writings during World War II are moving. If I was to pick a famous person, it would be Camus, and the book would be the Plague or perhaps the Outsider – not the Outsiders – but the Outsider. I did not read the French version of either, and I will admit to that, but the Plague would probably be my favourite.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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