How bright is the future for Psychological research?

By Kelly Murphy

In essay season, many of you will know what it’s like to type your fingers to the bone, looking for the most hot-off-the-press articles, looking for papers asking questions you wish you’d thought of, for a paper that is ground-breaking and revolutionary.  Thanks to our beloved internet, these papers are just a bony finger tap away if we look hard enough.  This just goes to show that psychological research is a fast, dynamic and exhilarating wave to be riding.  I for one am proud to call myself an MRes student, ready to get off my belly and stand-tall on my academic surfboard…  But there’s a problem… surfboards are notoriously wobbly.   To ensure a steady ride in a research career, I have to figure out exactly what it is that I want to know.  What has the world lived without knowing that’s so important that I must write it down and wave it about until I’m blue in the face with a pocket of funding?  Sure I know what bits of Psychology excite me and I know which researchers are on par with God.  But that’s just it, these God-like researchers have done stuff.  It’s ground-breaking and they have beaten us to it. Yes, I still have BIG questions but can I compete with their wisdom and experience?  Would they not have answered everything by the time I finally secure that dream PhD position?  Will there be ideas left to have that will bring findings that mean something to someone somewhere?

It turns out, us psychologists are relatively safe – just think of the limited freedom of investigation in the pure sciences: Physicists have already probed everything from deep space to the inside of atoms until the fundamental laws of our universe are all that are left to question.  Does gravity have mass?  Even this current CERN project was a brain-child of the 60’s.  As for Chemistry, is the only mystery left embedded in the end of the word?  Ask the most dishonest of biologists and they’d admit that their job from now on is to prevent things dying.  I mean, hell yeah it’s all very important and interesting stuff; but what will happen afterwards?

What will happens for us?  Previously shunned for being pseudoscientific, we have now joined forces with our neuroscientific cousins, stole little bits of what we need from the pure scientists and embarked on a new journey delving into the grey matter to find out how the mind works (or how it doesn’t for Clinical Psychologists).  I mean, the brain look like a 1.4 kg lump of fats and proteins but it does remarkable stuff – it put us on the moon, makes us laugh, cry, love, dream, discover – so there’s loads to find out, right?

So, what do we want to find out next?  The answers to all our future questions are all there inside our heads somewhere.  But how far can we look?  Where does it stop?  We may be getting close to having all the tools we will ever need, so it’s all about asking the right questions in the right order.  We also have to accept that some things will require a little more investigation than the revolutionary studies in our textbooks would have us believe.   I mean, let’s face it, fifty years ago, twenty even, there simply was more to find out!  So we see that we have been left with a tough job and maybe we should stop worrying about what we can find out by ourselves and put our grey-matter together!  Working as cooperative teams improves problem solving abilities and nowadays psychological researchers are doing very well to exploit that.  (Come on, psychologists pretty much discovered the power of the collective-consciousness!)

So maybe I have been wrong.  All the ideas don’t have to be in my head right now.  It just can be hard to see far off into the future of psychological research when all I’m armed with is a handful of plausible ideas. Even Isaac Newton only saw so far for standing on the shoulders of giants.  The world of psychological research DOES inspire us as individuals but maybe we have to stand on each others shoulders in order to see a little clearer.  This as a good thing because I don’t know about you what I see now is, well… still pink, squidgy and a total enigma.  To hell with unravelling its every network being a solo mission!

Alas, the big question remains: is there space in the room for another Newton, Mendeleev or Darwin? Well probably not, an elephant has just walked in, so scientists need to address it and get past it by maximising on group efforts and initiatives.  Is there room too for budding psychologists?  Sure, but we too will have to admit that it would be hard answer BIG questions on our own.  So, how bright is the future of psychological research?  It seems it can only be as bright as those who collectively pioneer it – we think therefore we are.

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