Thought Leaders 028 | Dr. Sigrid Glenn | Part 2

This month on Thought Leaders, we are back with Dr. Sigrid Glenn as she answers the questions, "Where do you see the field going," and/or "Where would you like to see the field go?" Dr. Glenn talks about finding your passion and going for it and has some wonderful recommendations on how to do just that.


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Shauno Costello (00:01):

You're listening to Operant Innovations, a podcast brought to you by ABA Technologies. This month, on Thought Leaders, we are back with Dr. Sigrid Glenn as she answers the questions: Where do you see the field going and or where would she like to see the field go? Where do you see the field going and or where would you like to see the field go?

Dr. Sigrid Glenn (00:28):

I think it's growing in many ways. I think we are becoming much more understanding as we mature as a discipline, we continue to expand and things never stay the same and that's my experience in life if things never stay the same. You just expect them to change. This is how I see them changing at this point. I see a much more willingness to consider literally theoretical issues, not just conceptual, but theoretical. I think it's happening that experimental people are branching into that after many years of being basically strictly empirical, experimental and mathematical and that business. There's a cadre of brilliant experimenters who are looking at philosophy of science issues and generally theoretical issues. I think that is a good thing and I hope it continues and can branch out in different ways. It's not like there's some one theory, it's just exploring the possibilities. I think of people like Peter Killeen and Billy Baum and what we're doing, and cultural behavioral science, and a number of other people who are more inclined in that direction. I think that's one thing. The second thing is I think the applied field will continue to grow. I'm a little concerned that some of the pushback that is happening might cause some problems, but I think the way to deal with that is to get better at our applied science and just continue developing the applied science. A lot of what we're doing is really good practice, or some of it may not be so good. I don't know what everybody's doing, but I know that there's practice going on and people are getting better, but a lot of it is not applied science. It's okay, but we need the applied science piece. We need that built out. I don't know that it's going there, but I think it may be and I hope it does.

Shauno Costello (03:39):

The people who are wondering what you would consider the difference between applied science versus...

Dr. Sigrid Glenn (03:49):

Let me tell you some of the people who seem to be taking an applied science approach, as far as I can tell. For example, the Autism partnership in California. John McEachin, Justin... What's his name? I can't remember his name right now. I've gotten better on names. I used to be able to memorize every student in my graduate class the first night of class. Now I can remember most of them, but give me a new one... Shahla Ala'i-Rosales. Not in Autism, but in businesses, Carl Binder, Guy Bruce, they're taking an applied science approach, it seems to me. I don't see any problem with people being strictly clinicians, because we need everything. We need all of the above. Sometimes people argue about, "We ought to have this, and not enough of that, and too much of this." There is never too much of anything. What we may need is more of this, but not less of that [Laughing]. That's what I see coming, what I see as the future. I'm a little concerned about the fact that when these brilliant people such as Bill Baum and Peter Killeen retire, they don't always get replaced with a behavior analyst, which means the basic science part might shrink, but I think probably even more endangered than that, might be the Skinnerian philosophy of science, radical behaviorism, because the experimentalists probably can get a job in psychology or maybe the medical school, doing their behavioral stuff. I'm not sure about the people who are pushing and pushing forward on radical behaviorism, people like David Palmer and Hank Schlinger, people who are really doing a good job on that. I don't know if they'll be replaced where they are, although some of the new programs seem to be inclined to find people who will move that forward. I'm hoping that happens. It's really hard to get those kinds of positions in academia. There's a lot of struggle to get any academic position and to get those that are not immediately bringing in a lot of money. It's harder to get those kinds of positions. I hope we don't see a loss there. That's just kind of a way back, look at it from a far away picture. I think ABA is doing a great job of bringing people in from other fields to have something in common with us. That's how I met Marvin Harris, that's how I met David Hull and that's how many behavior analysts have met people who don't reject us. They see that we fit into the picture somewhere. I think that's really good. I think it has been very critical to the expansion of behavior analysis that I just described.

Shauno Costello (08:16):

I can completely understand what you're saying about some of the EABers, the more basic researchers. I've always wondered too, because I came from a program that had a very heavy experimental side as well at Western. I always wondered, "This is so great that we're doing this, but how is this going to move forward?" Are they going to start merging more with maybe some of the other fields, the other courses of study that are at the school? Are they going to stay in the psych department at Western? Western's psych program is massive and they have four different tracks you can go depending on what you want to do. It's definitely an interesting perspective. I don't know if I've specifically really thought about it, but right now that's exactly where my brain went. What other fields of study could they merge with? My brain just started going from the research that I knew about at the time when I was there. I think one thing that people may be more interested in now is the CBS stuff. This is a question I see a lot on social media. What else can I do with my degree other than clinical work?

Dr. Sigrid Glenn (10:04):

Yes. It's a good question.

Shauno Costello (10:08):

I always try to assist as much as I can and give some examples, but do you have any suggestions for maybe some individuals who are looking to get out and find some of these new areas? Maybe in the CBS realm, public policy, social justice, health, anything like that. Do you have any suggestions for how people should get out there and learn more or get involved?

Dr. Sigrid Glenn (10:45):

I think the way it's going to happen is the way you're doing it. Pick an area that you're interested in where you can make use of your knowledge of behavior. Maybe not while you're in graduate school very much, but when you get out. I think that is one of the main things. People have been working in this area for decades. Steve Fawcett at the University of Kansas did experiments in his seventies. Scott Geller takes a fairly individualized approach. He doesn't take a mass approach, but what he did was very creative like putting up signs to fasten your seat belts and pass out things on an airplane to individual people and stuff like that. He kept pushing that too. He kept telling us we need to do more of this. I think that's probably the way to do it. Get involved with Mel Hovell. Do you know him? He is out in California. He got his PhD from Kansas many decades ago. He's about to retire. Maybe he's retired, but he was in public health and he had a whole career in public health using his behavior analysis. He got a degree, like an MPH, and then he started getting jobs in public health, but he used his behavior analysis in it. I think that's the way to do it. I think the way to do it is to get a masters degree in behavior analysis and then if you're not interested in being an experimenter or you're interested in doing some of the things to connect to other things, then get the PhD in something else. Neuroscience is another one. A number of our students have gotten their PhD in neuroscience. One of our masters level students who got her doctorate in neuroscience from Southwestern Medical School just came back to our faculty. She is also doing work on cultural behavior stuff. She's doing neuroscience, she's connecting at that level, the two fields. She's also connecting the two fields through cultural behavior science. I think that's what I'd recommend.

Shauno Costello (13:29):

I think you make a really good point and this is something that you and I had talked about. When I'm going into this program, it's a brand new program, it's public policy and I know very little. My goal is not to go in there all guns blazing. You're going to burn bridges that way.

Dr. Sigrid Glenn (13:53):


Shauno Costello (13:54):

If you want to go into a field, you have to go in there and connect. You have to learn, you have to be open to learning. I don't really want to use the word infiltrate, but you have to learn, you have to become a part of that community and part of networks and not go in thinking that it's my way or the highway, because that's not going to get us anywhere. I think you've named so many of them. We have some absolutely amazing people who have been able to do this effectively. I think we just need to, like you said, start doing it on larger scales. Something Linda LeBlanc told me when I had the pleasure to ask her opinion on what I should do for continuing forward and at the time I was thinking about business. She goes, "It would be much more effective to teach business students about the science of behavior, than it would be to teach behavior analysts or behavior analytics students about business." That's what really helped me start focusing my search on programs that are not behavior analytic in nature. It was hard for me and I did feel like I was turning my back on the field a little bit and then I realized everything that I hope to do with it one day will bring these together. It's possible to switch [Laughing]. That was probably one of my biggest concerns. I had no background in this at all. [Laughing]

Dr. Sigrid Glenn (16:01):

Yeah, I switched when I majored in psychology, I switched from theater. It's easy to switch. You're right. I wanted to tell you a brief story. It may help you in your work as you go along. I'm going to tell you a story and I'll tell you why. Are you familiar with the name Louise Barrett?

Shauno Costello (16:28):

Familiar? Yes.

Dr. Sigrid Glenn (16:29):

She came to ABA a few years ago. She's a brilliant researcher in animal social behavior. She is at the University of Lethbridge in Canada. One of our masters degree students is earning her PhD with her. When I say "our', by the way, I've been retired for 10 years. It's not really "our", but I think of them as "our". Louise Barrett is really brilliant and she's very behavioral. She was giving a talk one time and she was talking about the behavior of the animals that she was studying and what she was learning. Somebody in the audience said, "You're sounding an awful lot like a Skinnerian." She said, "What's wrong with that?" She didn't try to defend it. She put the onus back on him to say what's wrong with it and so I give you that because somebody will accuse you of being a behaviorist, even if you never tell them that you're a behaviorist, because just from what you say, they'll say you sound like a behaviorist. You say very sweetly, "What's wrong with that?"

Shauno Costello (18:02):

I like that a lot.

Dr. Sigrid Glenn (18:08):

I thought it was brilliant. She wrote a book you might be interested in. It's kind of a fun book to read. It's called "Beyond the Brain" and it's basically about learning that involves the whole body, the brain, and the rest of the body. It's not the brain that learns, it's the organism that learns and she gives examples of spiders and other animals demonstrating that. It's a really wonderful book. Easy to read, fun to read, not too long [Laughing]. For people who it's not their field, throw that out.

Shauno Costello (18:59):

Adding that to my Amazon wishlist.

Dr. Sigrid Glenn (19:03):

Yeah. She also gave a talk our former student who's working with her sent me a link to. It may have been a TED talk. No, it was a talk at her University, but it was wonderful how she combined JJ Gibson. Do you know who that is?

Shauno Costello (19:29):

I don't.

Dr. Sigrid Glenn (19:30):

Okay. JJ Gibson was a psychologist in the 20th century who studied perception and he basically said perception is more than what's coming in. It involves the whole body. She was combining Gibsonian ideas and then he has a concept of the affordances, the environment affords opportunities to the organism.

Shauno Costello (20:08):

Okay. It sounds familiar.

Dr. Sigrid Glenn (20:11):

Yeah. Those are some people who are outside of behavior analysis per se, but whose work is very consistent with our work.

Shauno Costello (20:22):

I love hearing that and I love getting reading recommendations because my entire bookshelf is full of recommendations from other people about, "Hey, this is really cool." It's not necessarily exactly behavior analytic, but it mixes it in there. That's perfect because that's what we need and we don't need to shove it down people's throats.

Dr. Sigrid Glenn (20:55):


Shauno Costello (20:55):

All we have to do is show them what happens and they will come. It's really all it is. [Laughing] It's the best way to describe it.

Dr. Sigrid Glenn (21:06):

It really is. As you said, you don't cram it down their throat and you don't force them to buy the whole nine yards. All you try to do is sell them a square inch because once they get that square inch and they find out they're going to go on to another inch and another inch and so forth and eventually get to the whole nine yards. [Laughing]

Shauno Costello (21:33):

Yeah. Honestly, probably a personal example of my own that really made me realize that was when I was doing some independent consulting. I started in clinical and I knew I didn't want to stay in clinical. I knew that going into it, but I found out once I got to the pro, the behavior analytic program director side of it, I really loved the systems and the training and the "this and the that." It was a lot of fun. I learned a lot and it made me want to keep learning even more. Two years wasn't enough. [Laughing] My mom has always said, "You are my child that if they pay you, you will just go to school for the rest of your life."

Dr. Sigrid Glenn (22:27):

[Laughing] Me too.

Shauno Costello (22:28):

You are correct, Mom. That is me. Really quick, just so I don't miss anything because it's very easy for me to get off track and talk about everything else. Is there anything else that you want to say to any of the potential listeners who may be in school or looking for a new program or looking just for a switch about the field? What they could be doing or anything to any of the listeners?

Dr. Sigrid Glenn (23:05):

Well, my advice to students has always been, or anybody else as far as that's concerned, find what you're really deeply passionate about. Find what you have an abundant interest in and do it. You can find a way to do it.

Shauno Costello (23:29):

I think that is absolutely wonderful advice. Thank you so much for talking about everything today.

Dr. Sigrid Glenn (23:37):

You're very welcome, Shauna. I've had a delightful conversation with you.

Shauna Costello (23:42):

Thank you for listening to this month's episode of Thought Leaders. Come back next month as we talk with Dr. Bill Heward and learn about his story and his life. And as always, if you have questions, comments, feedback or suggestions, please feel free to reach out to us at


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