Ravi Iyer occupies a unique space at the intersection of data science and moral psychology. He is the Chief Data Scientist for Ranker, a consumer internet platform that collects millions of monthly consumer opinions, and the executive director of Civil Politics, a non-profit that uses technology to bridge the divide between practitioners and researchers in moral psychology. He consults with numerous technology startups that leverage psychology into their products, publishes in both popular and scholarly publications, and speaks at academic, industry, and popular events. He obtained his Ph.D. from USC, and has been a member of SPSP since 2005.
Why did you join SPSP?
Initially to get a discount to the conference, but the field has ended up being far more central to my non-academic career path than I thought, helping me transition from technologist to data scientist.
What led you to choose a career in personality and social psychology?
I wanted to understand myself and the world around me better, but in an empirical, systematic way.
Briefly summarize your current research, and any future research interests you plan to pursue.
Most of my research is in collaboration with colleagues who run YourMorals.org and the applied work that has come out of that with Civil Politics. We do basic research on people's values, including the antecedents and results of those values, as well as on how knowledge of values can be applied in the "real world", especially toward reducing morally charged conflicts. The worst divisions these days involve political divisions, in that it is far more normative to dislike conservatives/liberals than to dislike people of a different race, so we see a lot of ways our research can be helpful to those who would rather see fewer divisions in the world.
What is your most memorable SPSP Annual Convention experience?
In Memphis, I solicited a meeting with Jon Haidt, who had no idea who I was, but was kind enough to meet me, after I saw him speak at a previous conference. He brought along a few others and together we've worked on YourMorals.org and the resulting publications for years. That evening changed all of our careers.
How has being a member of SPSP helped to advance your career?
The "hot" field of data science largely involves analyzing the thoughts and behaviors of people, positing variables like credit scores or affinities that look a lot like personality variables. Being a social psychologist has been key in differentiating myself in the technology industry.
Do you have any advice for individuals who wish to pursue a career in personality and social psychology?
There is a huge need for people who can think about all phases of the data-driven research process, from collecting data, to cleansing, to analyzing, to presenting results. A lot of that demand is outside of academia though and so I'd encourage people to learn the skills necessary to be competitive in those domains. Often, it just involves reframing already existing skills that are taught well in most psychology programs.
Outside of psychology, how do you spend your free time?
I have 2 young kids so that takes up most of my time. I play them guitar or sing with them. I play beach volleyball when I can. And I love keeping up with the tech industry and read Wired or TechCrunch when I have time.