Becoming Scientific: Objectivity, Identity, and Relevance as Experienced by Graduate Students in Psychology

Jeffery Yen, Romin W. Tafarodi


The adoption of a rigorous experimentalism in the discipline of psychology has imposed tight constraints on what can be asked in psychological research and what sorts of answers given. Over the course of psychology's history the interpretive agent has receded into the background to make way for a more concrete observation language and a mechanistic, functionalist description of mind and behavior. In this context of disciplinary loss and gain, how do psychology's fledgling practitioners—its graduate students—understand the significance of their own research efforts? In this paper, we present thematic and discursive analyses of interviews with a sample of psychology graduate students at a large, public, research university in North America. We explore the manner in which the imperatives of "objectivity," as applied to psychological research, serve paradoxically to enhance the validity of what students feel their research permits them to claim while reducing its personal and social significance. We look at how, in this compromise, students struggle to define their identities as scientists so as to allay doubts about the significance of their work. Their comments provide insight into how psychological knowledge is critically evaluated inside and outside the discipline, and how these two perspectives are dialectically related.


psychology; graduate training; identity; objectivity; science

Full Text:


Copyright (c) 2011 Jeffery Yen, Romin W. Tafarodi

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.