IDA Research Master

On several points in the existence of this blog, the Research Master Individual Differences and Assessment (IDA) has already been mentioned, but it has never been fully described, and it is about time that we get to explaining it!

The blog was originally created to talk about recent scientific studies that have been done in the field of individual differences. Maybe you are reading this blog out of interest in these kind of topics. Maybe you feel inspired by these studies. But, maybe you are reading them and also thinking that there are a lot of questions still unanswered, that there are paths left to explore.

And that... is exactly what the IDA master is about! It is aimed towards educating students to be experts in the field of individual differences. Teaching you, so you are able to read, interpret, criticize and use scientific studies, but specifically how to do sound research on the topic yourself as to make some progress answering those pending questions. 

The IDA program is a master program that is taught at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. It is very new, and me and my fellow classmates are part of the first batch of students.  As all formal/practical information can already be found on the official site of Tilburg University (which can be found...here), I thought it would be valuable to give you some of the student experiences. What we find most important for you to know when you are considering signing up.

I have always been interested in understanding why individuals, given the same circumstances, can take such vastly different roads in life. I think the IDA Research Master offers a very well-rounded insight in better understanding these differences, but also in studying them. The program is a healthy mix between on the one hand in-depth theory and state-of-the-art methodology and statistics, and on the other hands-on experience. In the program, students are expected to both learn theory but also be able to take a critical perspective and not be afraid to form an own opinion about it. As such, I think one of the most important aspects of an IDA Research Master student is an open, critical mind and an independent work attitude.”

“Being an IDA student is a challenging but rewarding path. I get to sharpen old skills, and constantly learn new ones. However, in my opinion, the biggest reward of being an IDA student is getting the chance to work with people who are regarded as experts in their fields. Nevertheless, being part of this Research Master also comes with great challenges. One needs to manage his or her time wisely, quickly figure out his or her interests, and adopt a proactive and assertive attitude towards the academic life. All in all, this unique combination of challenges and rewards makes IDA a suitable program for prospective students who want to do more than just a master. Did I mention that you get to attend five internships?”

“I was interested in the IDA program because of the strong empirical underpinnings of the curriculum and the emphasis on the individual. I believed it was going to give me the opportunity to get a more complete picture of all aspects of psychology (besides clinical). After studying at Tilburg University, I found confirmation in developing myself along the lines I wanted. Because the program is so flexible, I was able to focus on those topics that I believed I ‘needed’ to do research throughout my studies, I found that very attractive to the program.. At the same time I learned about the fundamentals in methodology, and development- and personality psychology.”

“As a second-year student from the IDA master, I think it is fair to say I have gained enough experience to critically reflect on this master program. I am very, very pleased with how the master is arranged. Professors truly value the input of students and acknowledge them as independent researchers. Because of the fact that there are so many professors from different departments involved, you could definitely state that this is an unique interdisciplinary program. When I graduated my bachelors degree, I was not entirely sure in which direction I wanted to take my studies. The IDA program was an absolute blessing for me, since it combined so many of my interests. I learned so much about the different possibilities and perspectives, and it enabled me to engage in many different directions. Because of this, I became knowledgeable about what I would like to do and what I am good at. During the research internships you get an unique insight in what the working life at the university might look like. Working together with professors does not only expand your network and knowledge, but it also provides you with an one of a kind opportunity to learn from your mistakes. My biggest eye-opener was that in practice, things don´t always run as smoothly as that we have dealt with it in our lectures, and it´s both a delight as a responsibility of the researcher to properly act on this.

All in all I think this master program helps you get insight in all the different perspectives on Individual Differences, and provides you with the opportunity to focus on what you think is interesting. You are able to make solid decisions and be critical about the information that you come across. For me, and I believe for others it can be as well, the IDA Research Master program brought me to a higher level of understanding of individual differences.”

"It is an intense and challenging program that will provide you with all the skills necessary to carry out research independently. Lectures are given in a small group which promotes an interaction between students and a group discussion about the most relevant issues in the field. Due to its flexible nature, students can tailor the program according to their own needs and interests. Last but not least, the internal internships are spread throughout the entire program. These will give you the opportunity to learn more about your field, to apply knowledge acquired during classes, and what is most important, to decide if this is the right path for you."

“The IDA program is one of the most professional educational programs a student can wish for. The level of abstraction and statistical methods, as they are provided, go a couple of steps beyond what is offered in other master programs. Often we dive into in depth discussions of the mechanisms that constitute proper analyses methods and research techniques. Also there is an emphasis on state of the art statistical techniques, such as network analysis and item response theory. The assumptions underlying methodological techniques are discussed extensively over several courses. Truly understanding the assumptions underlying certain methods (scientific or otherwise) substantially increases the amount of depth a student can bring to a discussion, as to why hypotheses might be supported by the data or why they are not. Furthermore, it allows students at the end of their Research Master to display a much wider range of potential discussion points towards any topic of investigation (scientific or practical), in terms of why hypotheses do or do not turn out to be true. These capacities can then be carried out either in science, but are equally valuable in applied practices, such as business life.”

So in short, we all think that the research master is as challenging as a research master is supposed to be, but this is also what makes the program great. You need to work hard, but at the same time there is a lot of flexibility to make this master really fit your own interests.  The program is both specific to a field, but at the same time very broad. As is clear from the blog, individual differences can influence almost every aspect of our lives.  So, whether you are interested in health, work, personality, development, psychophysiology, etc it is covered in this master, together with learning you the necessary skills to do sound research. Through the internships, the paper you write in your first year and your master thesis you are able to fit the research master to your specific interests or explore various routes you can take in the field. 

Another very important point, next to the content of the program, is the atmosphere. And if I may speak for myself, I love the atmosphere in our classes. Teachers really value your opinions and treat you like an equal. You are only with a small group of people which are all motivated to be there, and have something interesting to say. I think it is very special that all of us are doing the same master, but have widely different interest in topics.

I would like to add that although this masters has a specific focus on preparing you for a phd, this doesn’t mean that it is the only path you can take after finishing the master. For example, you could do research, or act as an advisor for a company or the government. You will also be very capable in understanding research, so being a science communicator (by writing a blog for instance) is also a career path that would fit very well! Nevertheless, if a phd is your end-goal I would say that this is a perfect way to get you where you want to be. It can even provide you with the opportunity to already publish an article before you start applying for jobs, which gives your resume a great boost. 

If you are interested and want to talk to a student, you can always send an e-mail to: character.studies.tilburg@gmail.com or if have any specific questions regarding the master itself you can e-mail: j.j.a.denissen@tilburguniversity.edu