Chris Aberson, Professor, Humboldt State University
I recently participated in an Unofficial Biography project sponsored by SPSP that will likely be of interest to junior scholars. The goal of the project was to highlight the unique circumstances surrounding academic success. What really struck me reading these biographies was how starkly the unofficial bio diverged from the official, often highlighting the chance circumstances and privileges that shape academic careers rather than the seemingly intentional path laid out in official bios.
Here is an example comparing aspects of my unofficial and official biographies.
Official: Christopher L. Aberson, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology at Humboldt State University…He is the author of Applied Power Analysis for the Behavioral Science (2nd ed., 2019, Routledge). He serves as Editor-in-Chief of Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy.
Unofficial: In middle school, Chris failed Algebra several times. In high school, he consistently earned C grades in math. Chris enrolled in community college and later transferred to a large anonymous commuter public university. He was a Biology major. However, this path requires being good at stuff like Chemistry and Physics. Chris was not good at Chemistry and Physics… After changing majors, Chris started to get a bit more focused. After randomly going to a talk about graduate school, he decided to apply to Ph.D. programs, despite having zero research experience. Chris applied to 7 or 8 schools, he was admitted to none. The next year he applied again and was admitted to a program at the Claremont Graduate University, a school he’d only heard of because someone in one of his classes applied … At some point in graduate school, he realized that he was good at statistics. After graduate school, Chris applied to around 100 faculty positions. He ended up with a 1-year position … largely because he went to graduate school with the daughter of the hiring committee chair…Despite his terrible math skills, Chris has taught statistics for 25 years, had written statistics books, and given numerous workshops on various statistical topics. He fights the urge to contact his middle school algebra teachers to tell them this every day.
Some other examples:
Susan Fiske had a totally alienating undergraduate experience at Harvard, where everyone else knew what they wanted to do and had very sharp elbows. She avoided meeting anyone important, hung out with an inappropriate crowd, left for a year's travel, nearly dropped out, and got credit for a lot of dubious independent reading courses.
She found the motivation that she needed to take the GRE (three times since she is horrible at test taking; Sarah Gaither).
But while she found a research direction, grad school was not exactly great for her vita. Too many complicated studies resulted in lots of ambiguous results. To this day, she has 0 first-author empirical papers associated with her graduate training (Tiffany Ito).
Were he not a straight white male, Kevin Lanning probably never would have made it where he is today.
Marrying Bethany Teachman in 2001 was a good professional move as Bethany received many job offers and one, the University of Virginia, agreed to hire Brian too. (Brian Nosek).
For more unofficial biographies, please see https://spsp.org/sites/default/files/psychological-scholars-unofficial-bios.pdf