University Series 020 | Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts Undergraduate


Shauna Costello (00:01):

You're listening to operant innovations, a podcast brought to you by ABA technologies this week on the university series. We're talking with Dr. Thomas Byrne from Massachusetts college of liberal arts. Dr. Byrne began teaching at MCLA in the fall of 1998. He received his PhD in experimental psychology from Western Michigan university, where he also completed a graduate certificate program in alcohol and drug abuse. He has been a BCBA since December, 2001, dr. Byrne teaches drug and human behavior, biological psychology, research in behavior analysis and functional assessment. He has also offered a core curriculum course entitled the science of behavior and has recently developed a course in critical thinking called psychology of superstition in the unexplained. Dr. Byrne maintains an active research laboratory, primarily focused on basic learning principles and behavioral pharmacology. His research has been published in several peer reviewed journals, including the journal of experimental analysis of behavior, the psychological record, pharmacology, biochemistry, and behavior, and the skeptical Inquirer. And today we're going to be talking about the undergraduate program at MCLA and the very different experience and research that dr. Byrne's students get to experience. So we're here talking with, with Tom Byrne, and he's going to give us start off with just a little general overview of MCLA.

Dr. Thomas Byrne (01:33):

Alright, so MCLA is Massachusetts college of liberal arts. Uh, historically we were North Adams state college, uh, that changed in 1998, which was the, when I arrived here straight from grad school. Um, it's a small public liberal arts college. We are right in the Northwest corner of Massachusetts near the borders of, uh, New York and Vermont. Um, and, uh, my role here is I'm the lone behavior analyst among the full time faculty, uh, in, uh, eclectic psychology departments. Um, so I teach a, uh, four-course sequence and behavior analysis. Um, I also teach drugs and behavior from time to time. Um, but those are, those are my main responsibilities here.

Shauna Costello (02:26):

And you say it's unique. And, you know, I could see that when I was online doing some searching, um, and you know, we usually ask about faculty and research. And so, you know what I mean, what makes the program super unique, especially with you being the one behavior analyst?

Dr. Thomas Byrne (02:44):

Uh, so super unique, that's a, that's a nice phrase. Um, I think that what we are able to do a bit differently than a lot of places as, since we are a primarily undergraduate institution, uh, we get to work very closely with our students, you know, regardless of what our specialty is. Um, so I think what that means for a student in behavior analysis, uh, at the undergraduate level, we have four separate courses in behavior analysis. Um, by the time they get to their junior and senior year, those class sizes can be pretty small. Um, for example, my research and behavior analysis course, I have 10 students, I cap it at 10. Um, and the students also get a chance, uh, to work on research, uh, in, in a environment that I think would be closer to what you might see in a graduate school environment. So having a small group of researchers having lab meetings, uh, to developing a research project together. Um, so I think that our students get a lot of opportunity to have individual attention if they want it. So,

Shauna Costello (04:00):

And I, from that, I'm looking, you know, from the website, I can see that there are a couple different options to where students can focus in where they can potentially focus in EAB and or ABA. Um, and I know that in our email communications, you're like, hey, I might have to take a break from recording so I can mess with the rats. And so that's, I mean, a rat lab in general is, especially for undergrads is something that you don't always see.

Dr. Thomas Byrne (04:34):

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Um, uh, unfortunately you see it becoming, uh, rare, uh, among colleges, universities of all sizes. Uh, so I think we're very fortunate to have one here, um, in I'm terrible remembering dates, but, uh, during 2014, uh, we had the grand opening of a new science building here. And as part of that, um, they built a fairly extensive vivarium. Uh, they, the powers that be the state of Massachusetts, our administrative, um, I don't, I don't think they really knew what they were getting into. Um, but by the time they realized it was too late. So I have really, uh, some wonderful resources here. Um, and, uh, I really appreciated that aspect of, of my training as a behavior analyst. Um, I've always had the opportunity to have my foot in two doors, doing both applied work and experimental work, and I think they inform each other and they make life exciting. And there's, there's nothing like being in a lab and seeing how environmental events can control behavior. Um, seeing that that order is, I think, uh, for me was an incredibly powerful experience and I like passing that onto my students. So it's a small rat lounge, you know, we usually have between eight to 12, um, and we're really here for the students. Um, you know, we, we design work together. Um, although I hope that we do something that could potentially make a contribution to literature each semester. The primary goal is training of future behavior analysts.

Shauna Costello (06:34):

Well, and I think too, another big thing that's, I've sort of seen kind of making a reemergence is a lot of this translational work as well between the lab into applied settings, because, you know, we've had that history of research, you know, for decades, but at the same time, the updates need to continue to happen and it starts in the lab. So I mean, having that type of training where, you know, these undergrads and I mean, just like the website says, you're preparing for careers or graduate study in behavior analysis. And I think that that's just one more way that you're potentially preparing these undergraduate students. Um, I told you that my rat lab experience was one of my favorites.

Dr. Thomas Byrne (07:25):

Yeah. So another thing I think it allows us to do is we can make data based decisions with a fairly high rate of frequency. Um, anyone who's worked in applied settings know that the data is sometimes slow to come in. Uh, sometimes doesn't come in. So, uh, the opportunity to look at a graph and make decisions and change the environment can occur at a much more rapid pace in the lab in the laboratory. Um, so I think that hones some skills in terms of looking at trends, seeing is this a meaningful change of behavior or how do we control for compounds? Uh, so, I think you get a lot more opportunities in that in a much shorter span of time.

Shauna Costello (08:13):

Yeah. And that also brings me to another question are what are types of, you know, like practicum experience or like those types of experiences that your students potentially can get?

Dr. Thomas Byrne (08:25):

So, so that's tough out here. Um, so we're MCLA is located, uh, Northwest corner of Berkshire County, um, which if you haven't been to Berkshire County, it doesn't really match the stereotype of Massachusetts. Um, I believe this is still the case. I haven't looked in a while, but, uh, I believe Massachusetts has the highest per capita rate of BCBAs of all the States. Um, we're crawling all over the place, um, except that's heavily centered towards the Eastern part of the state, uh, and even people in the Eastern part of the state and the Boston area. When you say Western mass, they're usually talking about central mass, so we're, we're way out there. So Berkshire County has about 120,000 people somewhere there. Um, and until very recently, less than a dozen behavioral analysts. Um, so finding appropriate places for practicums applied training, uh, has always been difficult, continues to be difficult.

Dr. Thomas Byrne (09:27):

Um, so we don't have that built into our curriculum. We don't have a practicum course. Um, so if students are looking for hours, um, if they're interested in certification at the BCABA level, there are a few agencies, um, you know, where, uh, they do have behavior analysts in administrative positions. Um, but there there's only few of them. Um, so, so that can pose some difficulty, uh, for those students who are, you know, really get caught up and gung-ho, and get the bug to be a behavior analyst. So we do have relationships with, uh, places in the Eastern part of the state. Um, so, you know, I, I tend to try to boot the students out and say, here, go, go away from here that you got your start with us, please go somewhere else and then come back. Um, uh, cause there's not really a great atmosphere for applied work. It's getting better, it's getting better, but there's, there's it kind of feels like we're about 10 years behind here.

Shauna Costello (10:29):

Well, and you know, with, I've spent a little bit of time in the area. Um, one was visiting a friend in Rhode Island and we actually ended up driving up to Massachusetts for a concert. And so I kind of got to see, you know, just what life is sort of like, and I know that that's, you know, in a little bit of a different area that you're in, but, um, I also was able to interview, um, I actually got to interview around your area as well after my graduate program. So, and I think it was pretty close to where you were. Could I remember it now to save my life? Nope. Um, I've been trying to Google it while you were talking. Um, I often forget that I flew out to Massachusetts for an interview. Um, yeah. And so it's a really cool area though.

Dr. Thomas Byrne (11:23):

Yeah. I love new England. I made kind of a, uh, uh, a circle. I grew up in a town called Sharon which is about 20 miles outside of Boston. Um, I did my undergraduate work at university of Florida where I was introduced to behavior analysis off to Western Michigan for my graduate work and then back here for, for my career.

Shauna Costello (11:48):

And I mean, even like, so I've spent, I've spent like a day in North Hampton and driving to North Hampton, beautiful area, even as well. Um, but I know from kind of when you said you like to kick your, kick your students out and then come back. Um, one thing I noticed too on your website is that you seem to have a partnership with, with NEC the new England center for children. Um, and so is that like a, I don't want to say study abroad type of thing,

Dr. Thomas Byrne (12:20):

Actually study abroad is, is about the best way to capture the essence of the program. We're one of a handful of schools that NEC has this relationship with. Um, and so essentially the way it works is a student that's taken, uh, one or more of my behavior analysis courses, uh, appears to be a good match for the field, are excited about it. We have an opportunity where they apply. Um, and then if they're accepted to the program, they, they pay their tuition fees here as they always would. But then we ship them off, uh, to Southborough mass where, where they live and work for a semester and follow a schedule, pretty similar to what you would as if you were an employee and a graduate student in their program. So they, they work with the students there, they're under close supervision and they take some graduate coursework. And, uh, it's, it's a great opportunity because it lets, you know, do you want to do this? Um, and sometimes the answer is yes. And sometimes it's no, but either way, it's important. It's, it's sometimes, you know, you can come to a class and we look at job articles and we introduce the terms and I talk about rat research. It seems very exciting. And then you go and, you know, maybe you get bit or you see that first bottle of drool, or are you,

Shauna Costello (13:47):

If you get bit, it's not if it's when.

Dr. Thomas Byrne (13:50):

Yeah. Or you have that first IEP meeting, which is even worse than getting bit, you know, uh, and so that's okay, you know, it's okay that you don't want to do that, but it's good to learn that before you really go to grad school. Um, so that's a relationship that I really cherish and it's benefited dozens of our students through the years.

Shauna Costello (14:09):

And that's really exciting. Um, just because personally, I've, I've got to hang out with Billy Hern. So, um, I hear, I mean, from, you know, I learned about NEC back when I was at Western, but also like now that I'm an ABA tech, um, Bill's come down and then we've talked and done other stuff as well. So, um, just, you know, getting to even meet some of the faculty and staff that are there running it is really cool to see it from the student's perspective, but then you also get to see it from the faculty admin perspective as well.

Dr. Thomas Byrne (14:42):

Yeah. It's a, it's a really impressive place, uh, you know, in terms of, you know, not just the treatment and research that they do, but the opportunities they, that they provide your employees. It's, you know, uh, they're really, uh, I think a role model of what training should be in an institution.

Shauna Costello (15:02):

Yes, definitely. And I would love to go out there, you know, and just visit. So I know that Bill has told me I need to come up for the conference as well. Um, that's in the area he's like, you guys have to come up. He's like, yeah, I'd love to.

Dr. Thomas Byrne (15:18):

So he was talking about BABAT?

Shauna Costello (15:21):

He was talking about BABAT

Dr. Thomas Byrne (15:22):

That's kind of funny because the, you know, it's the, uh, Berkshire association of behavior analysis and therapy, except it's never been held in the Berkshires. Um, and when I first arrived here in, in, you know, the late, uh, you know, 1998, um, you know, there's probably about a hundred people that would attend the conference. And I, I might've been the only one from the Berkshires. It was actually held at UMass Amherst, which is pioneer Valley, which isn't really the Berkshires and now it's in Worcester now they know they moved it even further. So I wonder how long they're going to hold on to that, the Berkshire's association name to it, but it's, it's, I think it's one of the best regional conferences. They do a fantastic job.

Shauna Costello (16:05):

I've heard nothing but good things about it. So yeah, I would, and I, I love new England and the new England area, and I've only been out there, you know, for a very extended weekend to explore Rhode Island, but, you know, then going up to driving through and I, it was like a three-state weekend is what it turned into just because everything is so condensed. Um, but that kind of brings me to, you know, what is the, what is life like there for the students?

Dr. Thomas Byrne (16:36):

So, uh, here in our section of Massachusetts, it's relatively rural, you know, for Massachusetts, it is. Um, but it, it has a really neat combination of leisure activities if one seeks them out. So I've lived in a lot of places and no matter where I've lived, uh, you know, people from the age of 18 to 22 always say there's nothing to do around here. Um, but there, there certainly is. So North Adams is right next to Williamstown in between those, those two towns. Um, there are a lot of art museums and theater and all sorts of interesting cultural attractions. Um, but meanwhile, there's also a lot of natural resources. So we're right off the Appalachian trail, Mount Greylock is here, which is the tallest mountain in Massachusetts. So there's, you know, hiking trails and waterfalls and rivers and all sorts of wonderful things to do outdoors as well. Um, so if you can, you know, walk off campus or drive off campus and then take advantage of those things there, they're certainly, they're certainly there for you. Um, a lot of students do that, a lot of students don't. Um, but you know, I think you find the same thing, uh, at any Institute of higher education.

Shauna Costello (17:54):

It kind of, I think that's something that I actually started getting into probably in grad school and after, but I can completely understand how, you know, when I was 19, 20, I might want some, you know, maybe it'd be a little bit closer to Boston or something else.

Dr. Thomas Byrne (18:14):

Right. We don't we don't have city life here except for cultural resources. Like I said, I mean, we have a mass MoCA, a mass museum of contemporary art, which, which is an incredible place. Um, and over at Williams college, they have their own art museum. There's also the Clark, which is a world famous art museum. Uh, and just recently, uh, we had a nightclub open up that has live music. Oh, you know, so, you know, there, there are things to do. Um, but yeah, if you, if you want the, the vibe of a large city, no we don't have that.

Shauna Costello (18:50):

No, but it still sounds like a lot of fun.

Dr. Thomas Byrne (18:52):

So we're about three hours from Boston. Um, a little over an hour from Albany and about three and a half hours from New York city. And so there are bus trips, et cetera, to go to any of those places.

Shauna Costello (19:03):

Yeah, and I mean, that would be perfect too, especially on like a weekend or something like that. Um, so what else about the program, do you want to make sure that we talk about, because it is an undergraduate program?

Dr. Thomas Byrne (19:16):

Yeah. So I mean, that's one thing that, that I think is interesting is that there has been an explosion of graduate programs across the country. Um, there, there was once upon a time where I could say pretty confidently that I pretty much knew everyone who was teaching, you know, and now I know other programs at schools, I don't know. I don't even, I've never heard of this coastal college program in behavior analysis. Um, so, you know, it's incredible to see the growth, but I don't, I don't necessarily think there's been much trickle down to the undergraduate level. Um, so for example, this is sometimes something I hear when I talk to the folks at NEC is they might not be able to recruit many students from the undergraduate level for teacher positions, who've had more than one course or even a course in behavior analysis. Um, so you know, the new training programs that are popping up don't necessarily mean that we've put more behavior analysis into your curriculum for those getting a bachelor's degree in psychology, it's, it's still surprisingly rare.

Dr. Thomas Byrne (20:22):

Um, so I I'm, I'm I find myself in this position, which I think is a wonderful one where I get to introduce a lot of people to the field. Um, and my, my favorite course to teach is my intro to behavior analysis course. And it's my favorite for a couple of reasons. One is I've been, I've been doing it for so long now that I can just look at the syllabus and walk in and talk and, you know, it's just so easy do, um, but also I can confidently look out of that class and tell them the first day of class, no matter what they do with their lives, this course will be of practical value to you. It doesn't matter what your career is going to be. You are going to encounter behavior problems. Uh, even if you decide to live by yourself in a cave somewhere, you're going to deal with your own behaviors.

Dr. Thomas Byrne (21:10):

So it's gratifying to teach something that I know people are going to use and kind of turn them on to that. Um, so you know, that that's sort of where my primary passion is. Um, and then not to be redundant. Um, but also, you know, students really have the opportunity to be co-investigators here. Um, the, the way I teach my research and behavior analysis classes, the first couple days of class, I hand out my Vita and I say, okay, take a look at, you know, some of our recent work. And let me know if anything's of interest to you. We don't have to start there, but it makes sense because at least I know what I'm talking about a little bit with stuff that I've done. Uh, and I know that we can do it, uh, with the resources available and just, just let me know.

Dr. Thomas Byrne (22:02):

And if you're not sure, ask me some questions. And, uh, sometimes that works, the students come in and they they're, they they've got some, they've got some real intellectual interest in one of the topics and we design your study together. That's pretty exciting. Um, sometimes it works in a different way. They come in and they say, yeah, a few of us were talking and we're interested in doing X where X is something I have no idea about. Um, but maybe it's useful. The time I remember about that, the most distinctly was it was over, it wouldn't be probably about 15 years ago. And it just so happened that about class, about 10 students, about five of them are really great friends. And, uh, so I talked about some of the research we had done recently. I kind of made a pitch for it. And I say like, you know, but here's some questions we still don't know if you guys are interested.

Dr. Thomas Byrne (22:54):

And they came in and they said, well, what really we're really interested in is eating disorders. I thought, okay, well, we talked about all this rat research and, you know, delayed reinforcement and choice studies. And they were like, okay, well, I don't really know anything. And they kind of cut me off. I said, no, no, no. We found some rat studies on this. Um, and so we ended up investigating activity anorexia, which something, I had no idea what that was, but the students introduced that to me. And we ran the experiment and which happens about 50% of the time. We didn't really have anything worth sharing with the scientific community afterwards, which is okay, it's still the training, but that's sort of an example of something I think is probably rare at a larger place wherever students really get to come in and really have their say in terms of what research we're going to be doing this semester, you know? So my job is oftentimes saying actually, no, we don't have access to a functional MRI machine. Or we can't really do contingency management with, with people who are actually substance dependent, reign it to something that only going to cost $200. Um, but I, and you know, sometimes that works really well. Well, we have semesters that are kind of duds, where that class, where I say, what are you guys are interested in? And no one says anything, so sometimes there I'm kind of heavy handed. I said, okay, this is what we're going to do, but when it works well, I think, um, and it sounds like I'm tooting my own horn, I guess I am. Um, I enjoy it immensely. I know some students really are excited about the opportunity to say, well, I helped design this study and run it out,

Shauna Costello (24:40):

Honestly. Yeah. Like you said, that's not always, you're not always able to do that, um, at bigger universities. Um, and I actually really enjoy teaching undergrads. I really do these undergrads. They get so excited about all of this new stuff and figuring out where they're like, you can just see this light bulb going off in their head when they realize like how much behavior analysis is in. And then when you get to teach them, like, then, then when you teach them like, okay, these are the fields that you can apply. And then they're like, yeah, but what about this one? Like, okay, let's explore that one today. I don't know. You see them like expand all of the sudden.

Dr. Thomas Byrne (25:23):

There's always that student or two who for the first few weeks of semesters making kind of an angry frown, because what we know is going on is, is, is they're having to reject some things. Um, they were great psychology students, and, and now they're realizing, you know, how much they've been talking about explanatory fictions. Uh, so their, their first responses, I guess it's sort of like some covert escape behavior. Um, but those are oftentimes the students who become most on board by the end of the semester. Um, and yeah, I really enjoy that. And even for me, um, even if they can come through my course and get a better understanding of a natural science perspective, um, even if they're not going into a behavior change career, if they can learn about experimental design, if they can learn about confound, if they can learn about, uh, what, what sort of explanations, uh, only have, um, some verbal behavior behind them and what kind of explanations have some facts, uh, cause because that, that can be applied to anything, to have a populous with a more scientific repertoire, if I could contribute to that, even with one student a year, that makes me really happy.

Shauna Costello (26:51):

Sometimes I find that these, that the faculty who are in teaching these undergrads are, they're so passionate about, you know, getting behavior analysis, just teaching behavior analysis and really showing these like the younger generations that are coming up, what it is and showing them what they could be getting into.

Dr. Thomas Byrne (27:13):

One thing right now is it's probably how you found us. We do have a verified course sequence for the BCABA level. Um, but once the new task list kicks in, I'm not planning to keep the VCS. Um, and there, there are practical reasons for that. And some philosophical ones, the practical ones being that if a student gets through my four courses and does well, they should go and get a graduate degree, they have that potential, they have the repertoire to be successful. We, we, you know, there's sometimes there's not really a huge difference between what you learn from there. You know, it's a matter of depth typically. Um, and so as a result of that, my encouragement for them not to bother with the BCABA you know, most go on and get their master's degree. Um, those who do not it's it's for, there are some personal reason why grad school can't be in their future right now, um, which is fine, but moving to the fifth edition, it's not really terribly justifiable for those handful of students.

Dr. Thomas Byrne (28:27):

Plus basically the, the, the education contact hours, uh, would require an basically an additional course, a hundred percent. And since it's just me, uh, that, that presents some scheduling difficulties, I do have some great adjuncts that work with me, but it's a bit frightening to have a program on the books where you absolutely need adjuncts to take a little work. Um, and so those are the practical reasons. And then philosophically too, I don't, I, I, I would have more freedom as an instructor to say, okay, do I have to check off all the boxes on the task list? Uh, not making any judgment there, except that that's not necessarily the way I want to introduce people to behavioral science. You know, it's definitely set up to, to train clinicians, which is fantastic, but that's not really my goal. My goal is to introduce students to the science of behavior. If they want to go a clinical route, that's fantastic, but it's not really how I want my program to be. Uh, I see it kind of as a limitation, so to speak. Um,

Shauna Costello (29:34):

I completely agree, but that's still really cool, somebody who might be very interested in behavior analysis, but they're more interested in like the business aspects of it. They can, they can find these types of programs as well. And so it's been really, really nice getting to talk to everybody and figure out where these people are so that, you know, and that's my goal, whether it's undergrad or graduate is that's, our goal is just to disseminate these programs. Because I know undergrads, you usually get students who are more in your area, but at the same time, even the students who are more in your area might not necessarily know the specifics of a program. And you can really only get so much from reading a webpage.

Dr. Thomas Byrne (30:22):

Yeah, absolutely. Right. And now I think it's a valuable service too, because, uh, you know, one thing that, that has changed with the professionalization of the field and the growth of the field is I have freshmen coming in who already know what behavior analysis is, uh, that was something that would not happen until quite fairly recently. Um, and so if for them to really understand what does this path look like? What type of training might be available to me at the undergraduate level, I think is really valuable.

Shauna Costello (30:54):

And really showing these like the younger generations that are coming up, what it is and showing them what they could be getting into. So yeah, I really, really enjoy it.

Dr. Thomas Byrne (31:05):

Yeah well, we're, we're under a very different set of contingencies or pressure, you know, so, uh, this, this is going to be a false dichotomy, but you, you have maybe the longer standing graduate programs, uh, at research institutions. So, so those faculty members, you know, are, they might be under a publish or perish environment, you know, so they come into work and they need to get some, some good data so that they can get grants or keep their job. Um, and then with a lot of newer programs, um, I don't have numbers. This is just couch observations. Some of them are set up for the purpose of training, BCABAS, BCBAs, excuse me, I say BCABA so much gave you an extra A.

Dr. Thomas Byrne (31:50):

And sometimes those programs are kind of self standing there. They might be loosely affiliated with the education department or the psychology department, but clearly their role is to train clinicians. Uh, and you know, one of, one of the more interesting things that I get to watch is, uh, anyone who is the coordinator for BCS gets emails of all the questions and the answers. And it's a lot of work to making sure your practicum site is meeting all the criteria and, oh my goodness, the stress and panic that's going on now. Um, you know, so I, I think that I have more of a free operating environment well, my goal is to try to turn these students on to a scientific view of behavior. Really, that's it. I, you know, if I can do that. Um, I think I've done a good job that day. Um, so I'm a bit freer, I think in some ways and maybe, and maybe that, that can lead to a little bit more enthusiasm about, oh, my job is to teach rather than, you know, to get a grant or, or make sure I'm signing off on hours and things along those lines.

Shauna Costello (33:02):

And we've talked a lot about the program and the area. And so is there anything else that you want to make sure that we cover?

Dr. Thomas Byrne (33:11):

Mmm, that's a good question. Um, here's, here's, uh, here's something else that I would want people to know is that I, I think it's important for anyone trained as a behavior analyst that they do see, uh, other perspectives, other technologies from someone who's not a behavior analyst. Right. I, I think there is value in contrast. So if I'm only told about behavior analysis and that this is the way to do things, it can become dogmatic. Um, unfortunately I'm sure you've bumped into BCBAs who are BCBAs because that was the way to get the job they wanted, um, in a clinical setting, which is fine, but they're not necessarily a behavior analyst in terms of their view of the universe. Um, and that's where I think the contrast makes sense. So I think it was valuable for me that I actually had a bunch of courses in cognitive and social and developmental, and then I saw a different way to do things.

Dr. Thomas Byrne (34:21):

Um, and, uh, so one thing that I think is beneficial here is that my colleagues are not behavior analysts and that you're going to, as a student, get to see different perspectives from people who are trained and are experts in their sub fields. Um, and we, you know, the remarkable thing is we get along very well. Um, we have very different views on psychology, um, but there's a lot of mutual respect. And I think the students benefit from that is they can take developmental psychology from someone who's dedicated their career, to that field, um, and make a decision for themselves. Is this speaking to me, you know, is this, this is this, this, is this matching my covert verbal behavior. How I see myself, uh, existing in the world.

Shauna Costello (35:12):

Those other professionals is it's ideal because you have to learn to speak another field's language

Dr. Thomas Byrne (35:20):

Precisely, precisely, and, and people who are a lot more eloquent than I am have spoken about this, but there's a contrast. And at least at the time Western was one of these places, but there's a history in our field about really tightening up our verbal behavior, right? So they're really strict reinforcement, punishment, contingencies, you know, um, God forbid you say, hey, I'm hungry, you want to go for lunch? You know, and they, someone jumps down your throat for saying you're hungry, uh, instead of identifying the MO, you know, and you know, there's, there's a value to that, of course, but you then can't take your strange verbal behavior and then be successful working with other professionals, you know, and in my opinion, there's nothing terribly difficult about sharpening up your verbal repertoire in behavior analysis that that can be done. What I think is a challenge is to be able to translate that into language, the lay person can understand, another professional can understand, so that you're understandable, but without losing the integrity of the approach, you know, that's the real trick.

Shauna Costello (36:28):

Yeah. And I mean, I even see it with my coworkers because most of us are behavior analysts, but one person on my team, she has worked in business consulting for decades. And so she has, you know, she doesn't really speak in behavior analytic terminology. Does she practice it? A hundred percent. But she's so used to making it approachable for people in business, people that are, you know, on the front lines, doing stuff that she has even said to us, like when we're sitting there at dinner or something talking and we'll, I mean, you can completely see a behavior analyst, verbal behavior change when they're with a group of behavior analysts or not

Dr. Thomas Byrne (37:19):


Shauna Costello (37:20):

It completely changes. And she would even say like, you guys, I don't know what, that, I don't know what you're talking about. Becuase, she's just been like, you would just explain it different, she's like, Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Okay. No, I know what that is. I just, because of the field of practice she's been in, she's been calling it X while we call it Y, but having that ability is, is it's a very good ability to have.

Dr. Thomas Byrne (37:49):

It would be a mistake to have a meeting with a sped director. Uh, and you're, you're going to say SD is going to come out cause it's a strength. And then the sped director gives you a quizzical look, if you rattle off Jack Michael's definition, you might not be asked back there anymore. But if you're willing to, you know, ease up and say, Oh, just signals that the reinforcer's available, I'm not supposed to use that word signal. But my gosh, that explains it really fast. Or if you say MO you know, are you going to really get along? Say, it's been a long time since they had attention. They want it right now. Right?

Shauna Costello (38:29):

Yeah. And so, you know, being able to, you know, even starting from undergrad, being in this diverse community of faculty, you're, you know what I mean, the types of skills are getting to learn are just so much more well rounded to get you ready to go into, just depending on where you want to go with your career, it's gonna make you much more of a well rounded. Um, but thank you so much for chitchatting today.

Dr. Thomas Byrne (38:55):

You'r very welcome.

Shauna Costello (38:57):

Thank you for listening to operant innovations. If you have questions, comments, feedback, or suggestions, please feel free to reach out to us at


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