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

  • Jeffery Yen University of Toronto
  • Romin W. Tafarodi University of Toronto
Keywords: psychology, graduate training, identity, objectivity, science


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. URN:


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Author Biographies

Jeffery Yen, University of Toronto
Jeffery YEN has worked as a counseling psychologist and lecturer at Rhodes University in South Africa, and is currently a doctoral student in social psychology at the University of Toronto, Canada. His research in theoretical and historical psychology is based on textual and discursive analyses, and he is presently researching processes of psychologization in public interactions with popular science journalism.
Romin W. Tafarodi, University of Toronto
Romin W. TAFARODI earned his Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Texas at Austin in 1994. Since then, he has taught at Cardiff University, the University of Tokyo, and the University of Toronto, where he is currently Associate Professor of Psychology. He has contributed research articles and book chapters in the areas of self, identity, and culture; and taught undergraduate and graduate courses ranging from statistics to philosophy and media studies. He is a strong proponent of multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary scholarship in an age of increasing academic specialization.
How to Cite
Yen, J., & Tafarodi, R. W. (2011). Becoming Scientific: Objectivity, Identity, and Relevance as Experienced by Graduate Students in Psychology. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12(2).
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