How can local, state, and federal government best communicate and collaborate with the public? Why doesn't a more diverse population take advantage of our nation’s natural beauty? How can fire management agencies nationwide work together on research and conservation issues? These are among the questions addressed by Dr. Pat Winter, a Claremont Graduate University alumna working at the Federal Forest Service.
Dr. Winter began her work at the Forest Service by using social psychology to better the lives of those who may not be taking advantage of nearby national forests. Her recent work has pointed to the importance of ethnic media as a mode of outreach to diverse urban publics. She is also currently completing a program evaluation of a national information clearing house for the fire management community.
Past work has includes a study that drew on persuasion research to guide experiments on the effectiveness of different wording on signs. On a broader scale, she led a socioeconomic assessment of 26 counties in California to provide the four southern California national forests with extensive demographic, historical, environmental, social, and projection information to be used for their forest plan revisions. All of this leads towards more informed and sensitive decision-making by the government. Dr. Winter's research on trust between managing agencies and publics has focused attention on the importance of communication and collaboration with citizens.
Her official duties include all aspects of planning and conducting research. This includes face-to-face interviews, on-site observations and surveys, and quasi-experiments in a field setting. It also means lab-based work (archival analysis and synthesis, lab experiments, surveys, focus groups, and telephone interviews).
Dr. Winter's training has provided career flexibility that, in the end, returned her to her undergraduate passion for social and environmental psychology. "In grad school, my interest had been in organizational behavior and health care research. I pursued some hands-on research at a rehabilitation hospital at that time. But when I started teaching, I turned back to environmental and social psychology, an early interest before I started at Claremont. Then, as the serendipitous story goes, I ended up in the Forest Service!" A solid research background, she testifies, can lead almost anywhere.
Patricia cautioned that there is not just one path to an applied career. Rather, students should seek a wide range of experience in applied settings. She especially recommended developing writing skills, taking statistics and research methods courses, and gaining publication experience. Grant writing is likely to be a useful skill in most applied settings. Networking with faculty and fellow students is important; connections are likely to be useful in the future. However, students and faculty need to understand that an advanced degree is not enough; graduates still must prove their value by applying their knowledge and skills effectively. Work experience in applied settings helps students develop their understanding of how they can contribute most successfully.