University Series 012 | University of Southern California

Join Operant Innovations as they talk with Dr. Johnathan Tarbox about the Master of Science in ABA at the University of Southern California.

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Shauna Costello (00:03):

You're listening to operant innovations, a podcast brought to you by ABA technologies this week on the university series. We're back in California, talking with Dr. Jonathan Tarbox about USC. Dr. Tarbox is the program director of the master of science and applied behavior analysis program at the university of Southern California, as well as director of research at first steps for kids. Dr. Tarbox is the editor in chief for the journal of behavior analysis and practice and serves on the editorial boards of several scientific journals related to autism and behavior analysis. He has published four books on autism treatment is the series editor of the book series, critical specialties in treating autism and other behavioral challenges. And is the author of well over 70 peer reviewed journal articles and chapters in scientific texts. His research focuses on behavioral interventions for teaching complex skills to individuals with autism, applications of acceptance and commitment training inside of applied behavior analysis, and applications of applied behavior analysis to issues of diversity and social justice. So without further ado, welcome dr. Tarbox. We're here talking with dr. Tarbox about the USC program. So thank you for joining me today.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (01:26):

Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.

Shauna Costello (01:28):

Yeah. And can you give us to start out with a general overview of the USC program?

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (01:34):

Sure, absolutely. So, uh, we're a two year program. That's 100% in person on campus, uh, brick and mortar, and, uh, we keep it small. So we admit about 12 or so 14 or so students per year. And you take all of your didactic coursework with us in behavior analysis, uh, with PhD, all of our faculty are PhD level behavior analysts with lots of experience. Um, and then you also, uh, students also get a job in the community at a real ABA agency, uh, working in the community and that's where they get their super supervised experience hours. And so they get some group mentorship and supervision from the professors on campus, and then they get one to one, uh, super supervision from BCBAs in the community. Um, and, uh, and then that's, that's basically what you do is we take classes with us for two years. Uh, in the second year of the program, you choose either a capstone or a thesis option, which is the thesis is more oriented towards research. The capstone is more oriented towards practice. Um, and, uh, and then you get your degree and that's sort of the big picture.

Shauna Costello (02:39):

And I know that you kind of brought up group meetings and stuff with faculty members. So I'm gonna make sure that you know all your faculty members, who are the faculty members and kind of what are they focusing on right now with research?

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (02:55):

Yeah, yeah. So our faculty, um, we're very selective with who we hire our faculty. Um, you know, a lot of programs out there sort of will hire anybody, uh, to sort of teach one class here or there. And it's sort of like, um, they're kind of temporary sort of lone ranger type, you know, faculty that are, you know, kind of part of the culture of the program, kind of not. Um, and we, uh, don't want to do that. I see why a lot of programs do that. It's actually just kind of more convenient and more efficient to just hire someone to fill it, fill a spot when you need them basically. Um, but, uh, the route that we've chosen to go with our program is to basically take the position that if you're a professor in one of our classes, you are a permanent real member of our community, of our intellectual community.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (03:42):

Um, and we take that responsibility seriously. So all of our faculty, um, uh, only teach at our program. They do not teach at any other programs and they all are either full time like myself or they're part time folks that have a real life full time job in practice and ABA, whether that's consulting or whatever it is. And then they teach classes for us also. Um, and so our faculty are, uh, I'm the program director I've founded it and I teach, uh, the research methods class and I teach the advanced theory class that goes over ACT and RFT and advanced topics like that. Um, and then I also, uh, supervise, I do the majority of the supervision for the capstone and thesis students. And so I do their supervision for their projects, and my specialties are, um, teaching, uh, sort of advanced quote unquote cognitive skills to kids with autism.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (04:34):

So skill areas that the rest of the world thinks are brain functions. Uh, but we in behavior analysis treat them as behavior. Uh, so things like executive function skills, planning, working memory, self management, self control, uh, perspective taking skills, quote unquote theory of mind skills, things like identifying other people's emotions and intentions, uh, adjusting one's own social behavior and self managing one's own social behavior based on one's understanding of other people's perspectives. Um, so really advanced, uh, uh, verbal skills, uh, verbal social skills. Um, and I use relational frame theory as just sort of a useful theoretical tool, uh, for how to understand and analyze these skills that are really sort of complex, you know, sort of crazy sounding stuff sounds really mentalistic. Uh, but what we do is we boil it down to behavior environment, functional relations. What's the antecedent source of control.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (05:25):

What are the consequence sources of control? What are the different operants involved and very frequently, uh, the operants that are involved are involved responding to the relation between stuff. And so, uh, RFT is pretty much the only major theoretical work, uh, that specifically deals with that type of behavior. So we found RFT to be really useful, uh, in helping kind of figure out how to teach those skills. Then my other main area of specialty is in, uh, adapting, acceptance and commitment training to main mainstream practice within applied behavior analysis. So using ACT for parent training for parents with kids with autism, uh, using ACT to help teach kids with autism, themselves, self management skills and quote unquote coping skills. Um, and then also, uh, one of my favorite new areas is expanding ACT work into other areas outside of autism. That BCBAs have a huge potential to work in and yet we're just not doing a lot of work in those areas. So for example, uh, I've got students doing research on using an ACT-based ABA coaching strategy to just get typically developing adults to exercise more. So we've got people who have, you know, zero rate of exercise now going to the gym three times a week and it's changed their life. And it's, they're super happy about it and it's awesome. Um, and then ACT-based, uh, ABA coaching strategies to help people eat more vegetables, for example, right. Just healthier, uh, eating and nutrition. So basically like health related behaviors and people that don't have any particular disorder, just everyday folks like you and me, um, but want to make some kind of important change in a behavior that will significantly impact their life for the positive. Um, so I'm really, I'm having a lot of fun with that.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (07:01):

And then this is, I don't even know how to say this without it being awkward, but I'm a white guy now trying to do research on diversity and equity and inclusion. So, okay, that's me, but I think it's important. I think that just talking about diversity and inclusion, isn't good enough in behavior analysis. If we care about something, we need to do research on it and we need to show that we can change behavior in socially meaningful ways. Um, so that's what my lab is trying to do. So I have some amazing students, people like Jacqueline Ramirez and E. E. Wang and Zoe Olray, who are figuring out how to use ABA principles and procedures to move things that matter in this area. So for example, Zoe is developing a thesis right now on, uh, using, uh, behavioral skills training to teach professors how to, uh, be better allies when they notice potential harassment happening on campus.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (07:56):

So, uh, how to stand up and speak up in a way that is productive and professional, but also really effective. Um, so, you know, we all take these like harassment trainings online, if you're in a supervisory position you have to, but like, do they actually change behavior? Do they work? There's no research. So, uh, so we're developing research to actually evaluate like, okay, well the person actually behave differently now that they've had this training. Um, and it's kinda awkward. We're putting people on the spot and it's, you know, uncomfortable, but I think it's, I think it's worth it. Um, uh, yeah, so that, that is one of my other sort of newer areas of research that I'm really passionate about and that I really love. Uh, then we have, uh, dr. Michael Cameron and he, his main area of work is consulting with insurance companies and sort of understanding on the bigger picture level, um, decision-making, uh, at the supervisory or sort of BCBA level.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (08:44):

So his research and his practical work involves creating decision models, creating, uh, it's actually a much more OBM we're talking about OBM earlier, uh, but uh, creating decision models to help, uh, BCBAs sort of guide them through evidence-based practice and making decisions amongst evidence-based procedures, things like that. Um, and so he creates those systems. It's a lot of it is technology based, and then he's also, his students are doing research on those systems to actually see like, okay, you can make a decision model, but then does it actually change behavior? Does the BCBA actually use it, first of all? And if they do use it, does it actually make their, um, let's say for example, does it make their behavior intervention plans that they make a more effective or more ethical or more evidence-based, uh, can a decision model, um, improve the quality of supervision that a BCBA is giving their supervisee during supervision meetings?

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (09:34):

So, uh, so his work is very, very interesting, uh, addressing, uh, issues at that sort of broader supervisory, uh, sort of systems level, um, another area of expertise that he has, it's really interesting is, um, telemedicine, behavioral coaching for treating binge eating disorders. Uh, and so he's got some really, really interesting stuff that he's working on with that where basically he's using an ABA based approach to treat what is, you know, not what we'd normally do in applied behavior analysis. Um, and he's getting some really, really effective results and, uh, it's really, really cool stuff. So we've got, um, we also have dr. Jennifer Harris, who is she's the founder and the executive director of first steps for kids, which is a community based, uh, autism ABA clinic, um, sort of medium sized and, uh, still, uh, privately owned, uh, and not expanding huge and crazy. Uh, and they, uh, they do just top quality skill acquisition work with young children with autism. Um, and her areas of expertise are in sort of ethics and professional issues. So she teaches our ethics course and does a fantastic job with that. She also developed a, uh, introduction to autism course for our undergrads, which has really has been really successful. Um, oh yeah. I forgot to mention what Michael Cameron teaches. He, he kind of is a Jack of all trades. He teaches a lot of different classes. He does a lot of the practicum supervision and then also, uh, skill acquisition and behavioral interventions classes and all of that stuff. Then we have dr. Megan Ackland and she is, uh, she does a private practice work where she, uh, does like sort of outpatient, uh, behavioral coaching, uh, again in sort of unique populations.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (11:17):

A lot of her clients are just typically developing adolescents who are having a tough time. So it could be, uh, they're failing out of school or dropping out of school. It could be that they're having behavior problems at home with their parents. Um, it could be that they're getting into, you know, vaping and drug use or something like that. And she's not treating like serious substance abuse disorder. She would refer out for that. But, uh, again, sort of basic real life, typically developing adolescent stuff that really could have major potential, um, uh, you know, health implications, and then just sort of life outcome implications, uh, if not addressed effectively. And so she uses just straight up, straight up ABA coaching procedures, and then also infuses some ACT into that as well. Um, and she gets great results with that. And then she's also, and so her classes that she teaches for us, she teaches a variety of stuff.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (12:04):

She's teaching principles right now, and then also a skill acquisition, a skill acquisition class, uh, that really focuses in on research, the latest research on teaching, um, a variety of different skills, uh, to kids with autism, but also other populations as well. Um, let's see. And then we have dr. Amy Fuller, who has a really unique background. She is a board certified behavior analyst and has, is an expert in ABA, but also she got her PhD from UCLA, uh, working with Connie Kasari and Connie Kasari is one of the top randomized control trial researchers in autism, but coming from a sort of developmental behavioral background, not a hardcore behavior analytic background. And so, uh, Amy has this really great training in this, uh, type of intervention called Jasper, which is a joint attention intervention. And it's basically, you know, if you were, I looked at it, it looks like natural environment training, like incidental teaching essentially, but it comes from a more developmental perspective.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (13:01):

And so Amy has a really strong, uh, developmental background, developmental training as well as being an expert behavior analyst. Um, so we're really excited to have her as well. And she, she does, uh, practicum supervision for the students. And then,

Shauna Costello (13:14):

Oh my gosh, you guys are just jam packed.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (13:16):

Well, those are our core ABA faculty. And then we have two classes in our curriculum that are developmental they're PhD level classes in developmental psychology that our master's students take. And they, uh, one of them is in cognitive development. And then the other one is in social development and they're traditional developmental psychology courses. They're not behavior analytic at all. And the reason why we have our students take those is because it gives us a broader understanding of human development. And so we kind of know like, okay, we've got these incredible tools to change behavior, but what behaviors should we change? Like how do we understand the broader context of human development to make sure that what we're doing when we work with clients is really meaningful in the big picture and not just sort of moving behaviors this way or that way. Um, so, uh, uh, the core developmental faculty, dr. Frank Manis and dr. Henny Moll, uh, teach those courses. So yeah, that's everybody for now.

Shauna Costello (14:06):

Well, and I mean, I think that even taking those types of courses can even give your students this repertoire of, you know, different terms and to make them more, excuse me, appealing to these outside fields that we work with constantly.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (14:25):

I agree. I totally agree,

Shauna Costello (14:26):

Sort of like, bridging that gap between some of these other professions and behavior analysis.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (14:31):

Totally. And we've got this major PR problem that the rest of the world thinks we're arrogant jerks. And maybe part of it is because we kind of, aren't very good at interacting with other professions and we're not doing enough doing enough, right, to reach out. Uh, so yeah, I, I think I totally agree with you. I think it's really important and that is our students take these courses in developmental psychology so that they can see that psychology is a big field. And it's not just one, you know, psychology is not the only discipline, right? Like you said, there's speech and OT, a lot, social work, lots of other education. And, you know, all of those folks, even though they might not have our secret sauce, they're in it for the right reason, they're there to help people, you know? So, um, you know, we have a lot to learn from them and, and working as a team is, is going to be good for everybody, including us. I mean, that's the best way to be selfish, even as a behavior analyst is to help other people and reach out outside of our discipline. Uh, it helps everybody.

Shauna Costello (15:21):

Yup. And I like the term arrogant jerks because yes, I can. I mean, after, you know, now I'm in, like I said, more of an OBM role, but before I was in clinic schools and homes, and especially working in schools, you can completely see how we can come off as these arrogant jerks, because we come in all gung ho and that's not how you win people over. So, yeah.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (15:52):

Totally, and it's strange too, because if we think that we're so awesome, then what do we have to prove? You know, we don't, we need to make sure that everyone else thinks we're awesome too. We need to be like helpful and useful and make a meaningful contribution. And, you know, to the extent that we do that, or at least what I've found is that to the extent that I do that people generally want to want to have me around and want me to help out. So yeah, I really think we could be doing better. And, you know, I'm not going to name any names, but we have some major, super well-respected people in our field that model jerky, arrogant behavior at conferences, you know, in, you know, talks and stuff. And I don't know, like I, I've probably, I'm sure I've been guilty of that too, you know, like trash talking other disciplines and stuff, but, you know, we should be thinking about that more. We, we, I think we could all do better in terms of the behavior that we're modeling, even just when we're hanging out with each other.

Shauna Costello (16:40):

Yeah. How does the practicum work? You have all of these, you have all of these faculty and you talked about the research and that they're supervising practicum sites. Um, where are your students getting their practicum experience?

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (16:55):

Yeah. Yeah. Great question. So, uh, so what we've tried to do is strike a balance between, uh, having enough practicum sites to where students have a variety of places where they can work. Um, but also keep it pretty small and pretty well controlled to make sure that our students are getting a really top quality experience in, in ABA. Uh, because unfortunately, um, I don't know, uh, how one would really quantify this, but I think that the majority of ABA services out there are being implemented at a level of quality that is not acceptable, at least to me, into, you know, a lot of other folks, uh, that we've been concerned about this for a long time forever. Uh, and so, yeah, so we basically, we, the faculty vet each practicum site individually, we carefully evaluate their, uh, their training program for their employees, uh, their service model, their descriptions of how they do things, their decision making process.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (17:50):

Um, and most importantly, just the, the amount of supervision and mentorship that the employees get when they work in that organization. Um, and if all of that stuff checks out, then, uh, then we can approve them as one of our practicum sites. So when a student comes into our program, uh, before they actually show up for their first day, they get a list of all the possible practicum sites. And we tell them where they're located geographically, what type of clients they serve and specialize in. And then we say, go get a job and they have to go and apply to a bunch of these sites. And, uh, they get a job, uh, and they work about 20 hours a week for the whole two years that they're with us. Um, and that's where they get their, their supervised hours. And then, uh, about, uh, uh, there, they get at least one hour, every two weeks now it's actually going to be more, uh, of one to one supervision from a BCBA that works at the agency. And then on campus, they get group supervision every week with our PhD level professors.

Shauna Costello (18:48):

Cool. And so is it typically like the clinical, the clinical ABA that your students are getting?

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (18:58):

Yeah, so right now all of the approved practicum sites are, uh, sites that work with, uh, individuals with autism and other developmental disorders, mostly children, but some of the agencies work with adults also, uh, mostly, uh, home based services, but some of the, uh, sites have center-based programs, really high quality center-based programs. Um, and some of them also, one of them actually has a couple of group homes that serve adolescents and adults. So that's a really great opportunity for students to go work there. Um, and then, uh, uh, and then of course school school-based consultation. So a lot of our, all of our practicum sites work with schools too. So our students will have the opportunity to either work in the clinic in home-based school-based, uh, et cetera, with a variety of ages of individuals with autism. Uh, but the majority of the positions are with children.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (19:49):

Now, of course, we're really interested in expanding outside of autism, right? ABA is not just autism. Um, and so we are, uh, talking to a number of different agencies to look at other options as well. Um, for example, we really want to have a practicum site for folks to be able to work with individuals, uh, survivors of traumatic brain injury, um, working with, uh, elders would be really cool. And then also working in the, um, uh, social services system with, uh, kids, uh, who, uh, who are, uh, in the department of child and family services system, I think would be really valuable experience too. So we're, we're developing those, they don't exist yet, but, oh, and actually there is one placement, uh, right now for, uh, working with Michael Cameron in sort of organizational consulting, decision modeling type stuff. So that is the one sort of OBM thing. That's not just autism working directly with folks with autism

Shauna Costello (20:44):

And well, I mean, I know it's cool too, that something that California has that not a lot of other States have is this school experience. California is way ahead of the game in the school, the, in getting these behavior analysts in schools when I was in Michigan, um, it's still a, do we really want to let you into the school kind of a thing? And so, I mean, that's a really great experience, um, especially teaching your students how to work with those individuals, because I've sat in on countless IEP meetings. I know how IEP meetings can go. And when I, and because Michigan wasn't as accepting of behavior analysts, and I wasn't always working in the school with, I was like their home or their clinic service provider, and the parents invited me to the IEP. And so they looked at me coming in like, oh, great. This behavior analyst is coming in and they're going to tell us to do all of this stuff. And I would actually like, if it was the first time meeting a school, I would literally just sit there and listen, and then they'd be like, well, what are, you would have to say? I was like, oh, I'm just here if you have questions, like, I'm not like, I'm just here if you have questions for me, I'm not really. And they were like, oh, so like building this, building those skills to work with schools is so important.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (22:11):

Well, and it's interesting though, cause like in California, it's it can be somewhat contentious because the reason why behavior analysts are in schools is because parents sued school districts over the last 20 years. And they won enough times to where basically the school districts just say, okay, yeah, like we need you. Um, but, but they don't, they're not inviting us cause they want us necessarily to it's because they kind of know that's the deal now. Um, and so it can be contentious, but you know, that just like goes back to what we were saying earlier about just using our interpersonal skills and being just decent people and treating others with respect and kindness really goes a long ways. You know, there's no reason why we need to be at odds with people from other disciplines or at school districts.

Shauna Costello (22:56):

Right. Exactly. And I know that I was working in a, it was a room for children with down syndrome. And one thing that I always did was, or that, you know, how I tried to build some rapport with some of these outside fields was instead of me just coming in and being like, you need to try this and you need to do this and like judging them and how they did it. I was like, oh no, no, no, no. I was like, don't worry about it yet. I was like, I want to work with this student to make sure it works before I ask you to do it. Because if it doesn't work, I don't want to waste your time. And they were like, wait, what? They're like, you're going to actually give me less work. You're going to take work off of my plate. Yeah. I was like, I want to make sure it actually works. And then you watch and make sure it's going to work for you in your classroom before this actually happens. And they're like, wow, they're like, thank you. So it's, it's really all about like seeing, you know, not just going in and telling them what to do. It's really like showing them that it's showing them that something works. I have found gets so much more buy-in.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (24:06):

Rather than telling them what to do.

Shauna Costello (24:07):

Exactly. Yup. Yeah. So, no, that's really great that California has this, this option that a lot of other States don't always have. Um, so how about the application and interview process? What does that look like?

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (24:25):

So the application process, I think is fairly standard. It's an online application and, uh, applicants need to submit a sort of a letter of intent or a statement of purpose essay. Um, and then two letters of recommendation from former, uh, um, supervisors or, uh, professors. And then, uh, they got to take the GRE score, which or GRE test, which of course nobody wants to do. Um, and a lot of ABA, uh, master's programs don't require it. Um, we do at USC, it's just kind of part of grad school at USC. It's a know sort of top tier research university. They have very high standards that we really, you know, I mean, we know as behavior analysts that standardized tests are not a very good assessment of performance. Um, but at the same time, I dunno it, it does say something. So, um, yeah, so you gotta take the GRE and you got to get at least an average or higher score.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (25:15):

Uh, so about a 151, 152, 153 or so in verbal and quantitative. And then you've got to have a GPA of at least 3.0 and a, you submit all that stuff, you get it all in. Um, if you're an international applicant, you gotta take the TOEFL, which is an English language proficiency test. Um, and then you submit all that stuff. We get about 120 or 130 of those, uh, applications per year. Um, out of that, there's maybe, I don't know, maybe I think about 40 or so that are strong enough applications that we invite for an interview. And then the way the interviews work is if you want to, you can come in person like if you're local, uh, but if you're not, we arrange a Skype interview. And honestly that works just fine. People are not at a disadvantage to do Skype interviews.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (26:05):

Um, we make sure that the interviewee has plenty of time to, to get everything out that they want to. Um, and we basically just, uh, talk to the students about why they're passionate about behavior analysis, what contribution they want to make. Like why, why is it worth it to spend two years of hard work and, you know, basically put your life on hold for two years for grad school. Like, what's the point basically, you know? And so what we're looking for are people who are flexible and curious, um, creative teachable, um, they don't have to already have everything figured out what they've got to be enthusiastic and, and want to learn and they gotta be flexible. So that's, and obviously, you know, they gotta appear to be smart, right? That helps. Um, and so then, uh, out of all those interviews, uh, the faculty get together and we decide who we want to invite. Um, and so, yeah, like I said, we usually take about, uh, we ended up having about 12 or so students per year.

Shauna Costello (26:58):

And are your, are the applicants applying to work with a specific faculty member? Or is it just the program as a whole?

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (27:06):

No, it's the program as a whole, and once you get here, you kind of shop around for which, um, which faculty members you kind of feel like are the best fit for your interests. Um, and yeah. Yeah. And then, you know, and you get paired up with, uh, with a faculty member who will supervise your, your work, uh, in terms of your capstone or thesis project.

Shauna Costello (27:26):

Awesome. Yeah. And I know that sometimes, you know, coming in and having to pick a faculty member before you're even there can sometimes be a little bit daunting.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (27:35):

Yeah. And kind of silly. Cause why would you have everything already figured out before you show up for your master's program? You know, that's part of the first year of the program is really learning a lot of different stuff, trying a lot of different stuff and kind of figuring out what the best fit is for your interests.

Shauna Costello (27:49):

And so when are the applications do for you?

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (27:53):

March 1st, if, if students, we have kind of a late deadline, if students want an early decision though, then the deadline for that is December 1st. And so the way that works is you get, if you get your whole application before December 1st and you request an early decision, then we'll give you a decision in the month of December. And, uh, basically, uh, the deal we're making with you is we're betting, uh, that we're betting on you by saying like, yeah, okay. We do want to save a spot for you, for sure. Uh, and so we give you that early decision and then you have to make the commitment to us if you want it. Uh, if you take it that, okay, you're going to be basically we're betting on each other early. Uh, and yeah. So if, you know, you want to come to us and we know we want a slot for you, then we'll, we'll accept you. And if, if you accept our offer, then that's that you get, you get the whole thing done a few months ahead of time.

Shauna Costello (28:37):

And I can see how the early decision could be an option for some people, especially if they're shopping around and going to some of the other, some other schools as well, because like you said, the March deadline can sometimes be a little, can be later than some of the other schools. So I could see how the early decision would be a good fit.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (28:59):

For just for people listening to your podcast that don't know this. Some schools will really pressure you to make a decision quickly with them, you know, cause they want to get you in which, which I understand. I, I feel tempted to do that, but we don't do that because we really want people making the best decision for them. Like we want a good fit, you know? So we don't want to pressure you into committing with us if you're not a hundred percent sure you want to be with us, you know? So, um, so yeah, just something to look out for and I'm pretty sure that most programs, even though they tell you, oh no, you have to decide within one week or something. That's not really true. If you, if you tell them you need an extra week or two to make a decision, they're not going to just say, forget it then if they want you they'll, they'll hold a slot for you. Um, I mean, at some point they're going to fill that spot with somebody else, obviously, you know, but, uh, but I, the ones that really push you, like, okay, you only have one week to decide my guess is that's not a hundred percent the truth, but I don't know.

Shauna Costello (29:48):

So what can the students expect from, because I know we've talked to some Northern California school, but you guys are in LA. And so what can students expect from Los Angeles and where you're located in LA and the campus and what's around there.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (30:10):

Yeah. So LA is really interesting. I mean, it's sort of a bag of contradictions. Like people like, especially people from Northern California, you're raised to like hate Los Angeles if you're raised in the Bay area, like San Francisco Bay area. Um, but, uh, you know, there's a reason why the real estate, uh, value is so high in Southern California and that's simple supply and demand. There's enough people that want to be there that, you know, that's why it's, and there's a reason for that. It's not like random. Um, the weather is basically perfect. Uh, there's maybe a couple of weeks when it's too hot. Uh, it's never too cold. Maybe. Like, I mean, I, you know, it's just great weather. I think it's, I forget the number of days of sunshine per year, but it's huge. Um, you you're like an hour, if you're in Los Angeles, you're less than an hour from the beaches an hour from the mountains, you can go get snow in the winter, if you want it.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (31:01):

You can go to the desert and go hang out in the desert, all of that within about an hour drive. So it's really geographically diverse. Um, and then culture, the cultural diversity is, you know, among the best in the United States, you know, there's every kind of food, every kind of music, every kind of entertainment you could possibly think of. Uh, so it's, it's a great place to live. The downsides are the real estate value is high, so yeah, that's gonna be tough. Um, we, you, you will need to have a roommate basically if you're a grad student, um, and then the traffic stinks, you know, so you, you, you have to kind of plan your life around where you're going to live and work and go to school so that you're not having to drive all the way across the LA Metro area, or you're going to be spending too much of your time in the car.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (31:43):

Um, so, but you know, we, we figured out how to live around that and make it work. Um, and yeah, I mean, you know, some people don't like the sort of Hollywood culture or whatever, like everyone that you meet in LA is not from there. They're all trying to be a famous movie star or something. You know, like if you go out to dinner, your waitress or your waiter is basically trying to be an actor and failing, you know, that sort of thing. Um, but I don't, I don't know. I don't really care. You know, people are people, you can just be a decent human do stuff that you love and that you care about and enjoy the good weather. I mean, that's the main thing. Um, and, and so then, uh, the campus is a really, really nice campus. It's a big, beautiful old campus.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (32:21):

Um, that's like a city in itself. Uh, we have our own like target grocery store, our own trader Joe's grocery store, our own police department, like everything, you know, it's like a huge, a huge, beautiful campus, really nice lots and lots of support for the students on campus. There's a writing center that you can take one writing to per week, and they'll give you one on one tutoring on how to make it better. So if you're, if you're having a tough time learning the writing skills, go to the writing center, they'll give you one on one tutoring every week for free. Uh, and you just have to get there a few days before your paper is actually due and they'll tutor you and really build up your skills and people really benefit from that. So, um, I would say like the overall quality of life is really good. Our students seem like they're stressed in the sense of working really hard and taking it seriously, but also like they're smiling a lot and they're having fun and they're having like the adventure of their lives, you know? So it's, it's fun to watch the students have a great experience.

Shauna Costello (33:18):

I mean, I like that you use the desert as a selling point. I think you're the first one to use the desert as a selling point.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (33:25):

Well, it's cool, man. Like listeners do a Google images search for Joshua tree national park. It's like one of the beautiful, most beautiful places on the planet. Just like stark desert beauty. It's right there an hour or two outside LA. So,

Shauna Costello (33:37):

And I mean, I can't even say anything cause I've actually never been to California. So, um, yeah, I can't even, I can't speak, so I need to, yeah, I do. I need to do some more traveling. I, um, Florida has kind of made me, I'm not a sun or heat person as you can tell.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (33:56):

From the midwest.

Shauna Costello (33:57):

Oh, I am. As you can tell, I spend so much time outside in the sun with my pasty white skin, but I am a ginger. So, um, I try to avoid it as much as possible. Um, but no, I, my selling point that you said would be trader Joe's because the closest trader Joe's to me is an hour away.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (34:22):

Oh, wow.

Shauna Costello (34:22):

I know, it's in Orlando and it's an hour away. And I used to make that drive almost once a week, just so I can go to trader Joe's and Costco.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (34:31):

Yeah, there are, it's trader Joe's on every street corner in Los Angeles. It's just, it's a great store for folks who don't know what it is. Just an awesome grocery store. Really good food and good prices actually. Yeah, it;s great.

Shauna Costello (34:41):

There's currently a meme going around on Instagram about how everything at trader Joe's is fire. Like you can't get anything bad at trader Joe's and I think that that's probably almost true. I mean, I mean, they have

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (34:54):

Yeah, it's really curated, they don't have just any miscellaneous stuff. Like every single item in the store has been handpicked by somebody.

Shauna Costello (34:59):

Yup. And I mean, they have cookie butter and cookie butter cheesecake and they have three buck chucks and they have, yeah, you can't go wrong with the $3 bottle of wine. So,

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (35:11):

It's actually, it's not that bad.

Shauna Costello (35:12):

It's really not bad. Like that's the surprising part. Um, but yeah, I love trader Joe's, so that would be my selling point for sure. Um,

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (35:21):

And probably like the most important selling point for our program, I think, well, I don't know. I don't know if it's the most important, but it's really important to me is, uh, the student culture. So like we, when we founded this program, our goal was to create, uh, a model for the type of change we want to bring about to the outside world. And so we thought like, well, what do we really care about in terms of making the world a better place? We care about kindness. We care about respect. We care about creativity. We care about enthusiasm and innovation. And so we said, well, what would it be like for us to create a graduate program where that actually was how we interacted with each other all the time? Like that's, those are our values that we're trying to move towards in everything that we do.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (36:00):

And, um, and somehow it just kind of worked and the students are carrying that forward. And, uh, really, uh, they created a culture and they maintain a culture that's really positive and really supportive. Um, they, they get together and help each other out and prop each other up hold each other up, encourage each other. Um, we teach, we have a pretty dynamic, uh, sort of pedagogy. That's a fancy word, but our way, our way of teaching our classes is pretty intensive and it requires, uh, it involves students participating every time, every class meeting. Uh, and so we actually use behavioral principles and procedures to actually teach our classes. So we do a lot of behavioral skills training in class. So we read the articles, we talk about stuff, then we actually model it and role play how to actually do it for real in class. And at first people feel really like nervous about that the first few weeks. And then by the end, they're all cheering for each other and they're having fun and feeling so confident and so proud that they actually are learning how to do stuff for real, not just sort of talk about it in an ivory tower way. Um, and so it's, yeah, it's a really fun, uh, supportive and kind and respectful learning environment.

Shauna Costello (37:14):

Well, I mean, and I think that I'm biased. Like I said before, I went to a brick and mortar program and when I was supervising, I tried to push my students to a brick and mortar program, but it's, it's such a different and more intensive learning process. Um, then I've seen from this is, you know, from my limited experience with, um, with online programs and I hate to overgeneralize and say, cause it's not, cause that's not every online program. It's not, there are very, very good quality online programs that are incorporating all of this, but I am still biased to brick and mortar programs. And yeah, it takes a lot of commitment, but you're gonna get, there's something different that you get from a brick and mortar program than you get from an online program.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (38:07):

Yeah, my wife and I just celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary yesterday and she gave, this will be on topic. I promise she gave me a,

Shauna Costello (38:18):

Honestly, like I said, they said, I can do whatever I want with this podcast. It can be off topic.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (38:23):

Well, so she gave me a gift, uh, this, this journal and on the cover of the journal, it says, uh, life begins at the edge of your comfort zone and the brick and mortar real life, small classroom, small professor to student ratio experience takes you out of your comfort zone and doesn't provide an opportunity to hide from real intensive learning experiences. Um, and so we don't push people in any kind of aversive or pressure bullying type of way, but we do create a context for them to get out of their comfort zone. And, you know, uh, I've heard twice now from two different students who describe, and they don't know each other that each other said this, but, um, they came to me and said, when I started this program, I thought I was an introvert and I couldn't public speak, I couldn't participate. And I didn't, I didn't have a voice basically in front of other people. And they said, uh, this program has changed my life and my family has noticed it and my family has described it to me. Um, and I am someone who has a voice now, and I know that I can just talk and say what I need to say. And, and to me, like, that's the greatest reward a professor can possibly have. So if we have one small piece in that, I'm so happy.

Shauna Costello (39:38):

And that's, yeah, that's awesome. And I mean, we are behavior analysts, so we like to talk and hear our own voices, as well. So, a lot of us, me, okay I'm talking about me.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (39:51):

No, it's all of us.

Shauna Costello (39:53):

No, it's all of us. Yeah. Um, but I mean, no, that's, that's great. And I know that it's so funny because even like, I try not to compare myself to other people, because I know that that's horrible to do, but I mean, I even look at my co like my lab mates that I had in grad school and like where they are and what they're doing. And then I'm like, oh, well, what am I really doing? You know what I mean? Like, but again, it's what I'm doing is different. And it's really where I liked my experience in grad school with the brick and mortar program. Because as much as like, it can as much as, as hard as it is, it's very hard. I'm not going to say it's not hard, cause it was hard. But at the same point I came out of that program, knowing that I, I knew what I was talking about and I could apply it to so many different areas and that now, like we were talking about earlier, like my focus now, and it kind of always has been, but my focus now is dissemination.

Shauna Costello (41:02):

Like I love teaching. I took over our practicum students that we have at ABA tech and I love teaching and you know, my supervisor, Alison has commended me. She goes, I just love what you're doing with the practicum students. She goes, it's so cool to see how you interact with them and how you get them to really like answer questions and this and that. And just like you were saying, it's, but I learned that from, from Jessica, from my faculty member at Western. And so, I mean, you're fostering that within your program. So it's like, you're not only, you're not only creating like these behavior analysts, you're also teaching them and showing them the skills to then do it to the next generation.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (41:52):

Yeah. That's our goal. That's our mission.

Shauna Costello (41:55):

Yes, so where are some of your students going?

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (41:58):

Uh, when they're done with us, you mean? We're a really new program. We're a really new program. We just graduated our first cohort, uh, this last May. Um, and so, yeah, really exciting. Uh, and we placed one student, uh, Vinny Campbell in, uh, uh, Tom Higbee's PhD program in behavior analysis at Utah state, so we're proud of him. Uh, and he's doing great job. They're doing good research, good work. Um, and then our other students are doing really cool stuff, getting promoted in the agencies that they work for, uh, you know, getting promoted into supervisor positions, staff trainer positions, things like that. Um,

Shauna Costello (42:36):

I know California kind of has a tendency to hold because there are so many agencies in California.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (42:43):

It's nuts. Yeah. There's so many jobs out here and that, and that's actually another benefit of coming to grad school in Southern California is you just get exposed to hundreds of agencies. And there's just, it's a great place to be a behavior analyst. There's so many jobs. Um, but yeah, so they're, so they're just keeping, doing good work, you know, and then some of them are continuing to do research and, uh, yeah, so they're, they're doing good and moving forward with their careers, really proud of them.

Shauna Costello (43:07):

That's awesome. And I know we kind of talked about what makes USC's program unique, but is there anything else that you want to say about the program to really hit it home?

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (43:19):

Yeah. So, um, you know, one of the things that makes us unique I think is that we are stepping out on a limb a little bit by being willing to really look at what the, sort of the next, what we believe the next evolution of the science of behavior analysis is going to be. So, uh, that sounds kind of lofty and hoity toity, but all, I mean by that is we're saying with open arms and open eyes, like what, what's new what's next, and how can we push the envelope of our science and behavior analysis to be a more comprehensive science by addressing a larger array of topics than we've done in the past by addressing human behavior, that's more complex and frankly, more confusing than what's been done in the past. And so, um, so for one example of that is all the students in our program take, uh, an advanced theory course with me, where you learn about acceptance and commitment training and how to do that in the context of, uh, ABA services.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (44:17):

Um, and it's, it's really cool because it's, it's, it's a way for behavior analysts to remain within our science and retain our scientific rigor, but address questions like this. Like, what do we really care about in life? What do we really value, you know, what do we want our lives to be about as parents, as colleagues, as behavior analysts. And that's not just some philosophical mentalistic conversation, there's a science around that. There's a whole bunch of research on that and the acceptance and commitment training literature, and, and, and what, what happens when you bring that stuff to bear, and what we do on a day to day basis is pretty incredible. I mean, it changes lives. Uh, we get, we see big, big behavior change in positive ways. Uh, when we don't just do direct acting contingencies, like yeah, reinforced the behavior, obviously, right. Set goals that stuff's important.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (45:06):

You can't get rid of that. But then when you add in, uh, really what's a higher order, verbal behavior intervention, but what by verbal behavior, I don't mean like the basic verbal operants with kids with autism. I mean, the verbal behavior that I'm engaging in right now, as I talk to you and frankly, the verbal behavior you're engaging right now as a listener, right. You're engaging in a bunch of private events and that stuff matters to human complexity. It matters a great deal to parents of kids with autism, to you and I, when we show up to work, how are we going to perform, what contribution are we going to make? Um, and so the, the literature on acceptance and commitment training, I mean, by the way, there's like more than 300 published, randomized controlled trials showing that it's effective for things like depression, anxiety, chronic pain, all different areas of application, including OBM, there's some really cool ACT OBM research. Um, and so

Shauna Costello (45:55):

I'm pretty impressed my, a couple of my IPT students are working on like social skills and I have my air quotes going, can't see me in like a business setting, this kind of, yeah. They're working on creating a seat, continuing education course for

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (46:12):

That's such a good idea. That's so needed, right? Yeah,

Shauna Costello (46:15):

Yeah, exactly. So, yes. Keep going.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (46:18):

Yeah. Well, no. So just the bigger picture here is what we're trying to do at USC is really, um, is, is be as flexible and courageous as possible in terms of expanding the horizons of the science of behavior analysis while also retaining our hardcore behavioral analytic foundation. So we're not going to compromise on our, our basic philosophy of behavior analysis and our, our basic principles, but we are going to stretch those, uh, to accommodating just more stuff that matters in, in human affairs. Uh, so yeah, that, that's what we do. And we do it with kindness and we do it with a respect and dignity and, uh, we treat each other well and we get stuff done. So, um, and research opportunities. So I should have mentioned that to all of our students go to conferences, at least one or two conferences, they're all presenting posters or giving talks, um, they're publishing data. Um, so that's something unique about us too, is you get a lot of mentorship and supervision on research from people who have an established track record of publishing research. So that's, um, I think something that's also a big plus and a reason to come to our program.

Shauna Costello (47:25):

And I know that you said that you have, these might seem like lofty goals, but at the same time, our presence in the developmental disabilities realm was, it seemed lofty 30 years ago as well,

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (47:42):

That's a really good point.

Shauna Costello (47:43):

It may seem lofty, but we need those people taking the risks to get it out there because we need a lot of people doing it because as much as one person can do we need multiple people taking these risks.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (47:56):

I agree. I totally agree. And we need, I mean, Skinner's vision from the beginning, you know, from his book science and human behavior, uh, was a comprehensive science addressing all of human behavior. It was not, uh, to keep ourselves in a little pigeon hole where we only talked to each other and talk to ourselves that at that point was not intended pigeon hole, but that's kinda where we are. Right?

Shauna Costello (48:19):

Yeah, we have been, we have blinders on our field right now.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (48:22):

And that was not Skinner's dream. That was not the point. The point of the science of behavior analysis was comprehensive application, change the world. And to do that, we got to reach out, we got to look outward and we got to open our arms and we gotta be brave with that and flexible and thoughtful and values driven, you know? So I don't know, that's where we're going. That's what we're trying to do. And so far it's working.

Shauna Costello (48:44):

Yeah. And I mean, one of my favorite books that I've ever read and in general, in all the books that I've read is beyond freedom and dignity. And it's one of my favorite books. And from, for outside people to read it, I can see how it seems absolutely insane. I can see that. Um, so I might not be suggesting that to like a ton of people to read, but, um, but if you're in the field and you haven't read beyond freedom and dignity, like you need to read beyond freedom and dignity because it like I've read science and human behavior. I've I think I have every single now I do have every single one of Skinner's books. I have every single one I have made sure I read them all. Just even how hard they are to some of them are to read the cumulative record. Cumulative record is hard to read, but I did it, but yeah, but beyond freedom and dignity is one of my favorite, favorite books of all time. And it's really just like motivates me to really start pushing the envelope and we need those people. So it's good to hear that we have programs out there that are pushing the envelope and want to continue to do so.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (49:59):

Yeah, we're trying, we're trying so far. And the cool thing about it is man, if we just make ourselves useful and we use kindness and respect, uh, people want to invite us, you know what I mean? We just have to show up with, with, uh, and make a contribution in a useful way. And, um, and it, it seems like that usually works and it, and we need to offer something that inspires people, you know, not just here's the research, do it 'cause I said so. We need to connect with people in a way that inspires them. And, um, yeah. So that's important stuff.

Shauna Costello (50:33):

No, that's awesome. Well, have we missed anything?

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (50:38):

Uh, no, I think, I mean, I could talk on and on about my program for years, but yeah, I think, I think we hit the main points research, uh, cutting edge, uh, ACT, RFT, cutting edge topics. Uh, lots of mentorship, really small student to staff, student to professor ratios, uh, lots of personal attention. Um, and, uh, yeah, that's, that's what we do.

Shauna Costello (51:00):

Yeah. And as always, I always include the website, but I will, you're very informative and very easy to get in contact with. So are you the best contact for students?

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (51:12):

Yeah. Yeah, if people have interest in the program. They should email me direct directly. So my email address is And to find, uh, our program's webpage. I think if you just Google USC, ABA, and then you scroll down past all the ads, you'll, you'll, you'll find our program quickly.

Shauna Costello (51:36):

Yup. And I'll make sure to include your email as well in the description just in case anybody does want to reach out. Um, but thank you for sitting down with me and talking to them.

Dr. Jonathan Tarbox (51:46):

Yeah, no problem. It's been a lot of fun.

Shauna Costello (51:49):

Thank you for listening to the university series. As always, if you have questions, comments, or suggestions, please feel free to reach out to us at


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