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David J. Anderson

Linda Bartoshuk

Malcolm Cohen

Jim Cordes

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Clément Imbert

Maja Mataric

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Zandy Hillis-Starr

Sherri Steward

Manuela Veloso

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Back to Cool Careers in Science
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Photo of Malcolm Cohen Meet Malcolm Cohen.

He's a psychologist who helps NASA astronauts cope with the weightless environment of space. How cool is that?!
Question Why did you decide to become a psychologist?
Answer When I was in college, I thought that the most interesting thing in the world was to understand why people do what they do. Not that a professional career in psychology really allowed me to develop a complete understanding of this, but it did provide at least a superficial start. As a psychologist, I eventually became more interested in how people extract information from the world around them, how they process this information, and how they use this information to develop an understanding of the world and to act appropriately in the world. These processes were easier for me to deal with than those underlying the motivation for complex human behavior, and they are at the foundation of most of my work.
Question What do you do during a typical day at work?
Answer Typically, I will ask questions about perception and behavior, particularly questions about how people adapt to the environment in space, and how they cope with altered environmental conditions in general. I often read journals and scientific articles in this area, formulate ideas about what is happening when people adapt, design experiments that can help me answer some of these questions, collect data for experiments, organize the data, analyze it, answer the questions that I asked and write up summaries of my observations, which I can publish in the scientific literature. I also spend a lot of time in the lab and on the telephone talking with my colleagues about the experiments. When I have some time by myself, I prepare lectures, write up papers and try to organize my thoughts.
Question What do you enjoy most about your work? Is there anything about it you don't like?
Answer What I like most is that I can develop ideas, ask questions and use scientific methods and resources to answer the questions that I ask. That I get paid to do this is really neat! My "work" is often more like play than work. Sometimes, I even get to feel that I'm the only person in the world who fully understands a particular question -- at least until I write up my results and publish a paper in the open scientific literature. What I don't like is the long delay between answering a question and getting the answer published as an article in a scientific journal.
Question If I'm a student thinking about a career in psychology, what can I do now to prepare?
Answer Study, read a lot about the issues that interest you and get good grades -- particularly in science and in mathematics, because these are your basic tools! Remember that you will need to graduate from college, be accepted to a good graduate school, earn an advanced degree and develop an in-depth understanding of your field.
Question Is there anything else you'd like to let Frontiers viewers know about yourself or your career?
Answer I truly enjoy what I do, and can't think of anything else that I would rather be doing on a daily basis!

If you would like to know more about Malcolm Cohen, you can read his biography and check out the questions he answered for Journey to Mars (Show 902) in the Ask the Scientists section.


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.