Risk the Unpopular and Marry Talent

Courtesy of Robert Blanchard Early Indications: As an undergraduate I was attracted to experimental psychology, because it seemed to provide a scientific approach to understanding animal and human behavior. Pivotal Papers: There were two; one in each area that has turned out to be a focus of the lab. "Crouching as an Index of Fear" (J Comp Physiol Psychol, 67:370-5, 1969) raised the heretical specter of a powerful unconditioned fear response and also provided a neat demonstration of rapid a

Sep 8, 2003
Robert Blanchard
Courtesy of Robert Blanchard

Early Indications: As an undergraduate I was attracted to experimental psychology, because it seemed to provide a scientific approach to understanding animal and human behavior.

Pivotal Papers: There were two; one in each area that has turned out to be a focus of the lab. "Crouching as an Index of Fear" (J Comp Physiol Psychol, 67:370-5, 1969) raised the heretical specter of a powerful unconditioned fear response and also provided a neat demonstration of rapid and potent context conditioning. "Aggressive Behavior in the Rat" (Behav Biol, 21:197-224, 1977) introduced the notions of offensive and defensive strategies in conspecific fighting. We had a lot of trouble getting it published, which is often a good sign.

Mentors of Merit: Judson Brown, at Iowa, was an inspiration because he loved what he was doing. Bob Bolles' approach was more useful, although I met him only a couple of times. My real mentor, and partner in all these endeavors, was closer to home--my wife and collaborator, Caroline Blanchard, also was a graduate student in physiological psychology at Iowa, and was a Bolles' student as an undergraduate. She read ethology on the sly, which was something that could have gotten you in big trouble in Iowa at that time.

Best Lesson: Professional missteps typically involved being a brash young man who believed his approach was better than others and not being very tactful about it. If you are out of the mainstream, you have to both develop the product and sell it: Elaborate your findings in a series of studies; disseminate your findings as widely as possible; network with other colleagues using your procedures and techniques; and prepare to be ignored, possibly forever. Without this persistence your work will probably disappear. Second, try to marry someone who will do the writing. Third, papers with important findings have more problems with reviewers than do humdrum papers, so don't let lousy reviews discourage you. Fourth, remember how easy it is to make enemies in science and how damaging these people can be.

Robert Blanchard
Professor of Psychology, University of Hawaii, Manoa


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