Matthew J. Hays
Matthew Jensen Hays, Ph.D. Senior Director of Research and Analytics

I just had the pleasure of leading a discussion at CogFog, the weekly cognitive psychology lab meeting organized by Professors Elizabeth and Robert Bjork at UCLA. CogFog attracts professors, visiting researchers, and graduate students, who present and receive feedback on experiments, analyses, and developing theories. Hotly debated is whether the CogFood (brought by a different attendee each week) should be donuts or bagels1. Equally disputed is the hyphenation, capitalization, and spacing of CogFog/Cogfog/Cog-Fog/etc.

I presented at CogFog because I’m an alum of the Bjork lab who transitioned from academia to the industrial/corporate world. Most PhD students at research-focused institutions like UCLA are on a path to postdoctoral work and eventual careers as professors. Some follow this path because it seems like the only one available; there’s often little exposure to non-academic career options.

CogFog is an exception. The Bjorks have made the effort over the years to introduce their students to opportunities in industry. To that end, I shared my route to EdTech and what I learned along the way about putting a cognitive-science PhD to work.

EdTech corporations may underestimate the business potential of someone with a PhD in cognitive science. They see the value in analytical and statistical skills, but often don’t recognize that those are the cornerstones of a rigorous PhD program.

A new PhD can add yet more value by their deep understanding of research that can make products better. In educational technology, science gets talked about a lot in product literature. The few companies that follow through with real, cutting edge science in their products are the companies that get talked about in the market. That’s a world of opportunity for new PhDs.

When I talked about Amplifire at CogFog, the Bjorks related that a dozen or so EdTech and training companies asked them to be on their boards or endorse their products. They ultimately joined the Amplifire Science Advisory Board because we were the only company where the executives actually knew and understood the research on how people learn, and had integrated it into their software.

That integration of research is why Amplifire is so good at what it does. Students learn more when their homework is in Amplifire. Customers who speak with Amped call-center agents get transferred less often and get their issues addressed more quickly. In healthcare, Amplifire saves lives.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed crossing over from academia to business. I think many graduate students underestimate the intellectual richness of corporate life. I hope I gave them a glimpse. They may continue on a path to research and professorship if that’s right for them. Or they may join our team instead.

Meanwhile, if you’d like your company’s e-learning to have the full power of cognitive science behind it, reach out here.

1I brought croissants once—a mistake never to be repeated.