that influence attitudes and behaviors.
We use a collaborative process to
design questionnaires, and part of what
I do as a psychologist is listen to how
people on the team are interpreting
the phrases. I can then help guide us
toward a meaning that people hold
in common. For instance, we had
to decide which term to use on the
survey, “genetically modified food”
or “genetically modified crops” or
“genetically engineered food.” The
terms are intended to convey the
same concept, but they hold different
connotations for many people.
Where did you get the training
and experience for this job?
I studied psychology as an
undergraduate, and my first job after
college was working for CBS News on
pre-election surveys that looked into
public opinion about political issues
and campaigns. I was always interested
in people, their attitudes and how they
think about issues, which prompted me
to enroll in a social psychology doctoral
program at the University of California,
Los Angeles. After that, I worked in
academia teaching survey research,
but I was not designing surveys for a
number of years. I realized I needed to
supplement my psychology training
with real-world survey experience.
While I was a faculty member at
Virginia Commonwealth University, I
Survey, which was a new series of
nationally representative surveys
focused on public attitudes related to
science and biotechnology.
How did you learn about the job?
A colleague let me know there was an
opening at the Pew Research Center. I
was well-established in my career at that
point, and the Pew Research Center had
known of my work surveying the public
about their understanding on a variety
of topics, including science.
What do you enjoy most about it?
I really enjoy the fact that I work in
an unbelievably collaborative research
group where we come together and share
ideas. By working collectively, I think we
develop better research projects. Getting
data back is also endlessly fascinating
because we get a window into what
people think, and to me that is always
It’s also important to me to have a
hand in all the phases of research, and
the team is involved from the beginning
to the end of a project. I’ve had jobs in
which I only focused on the design phase
or the analysis phase, and I love seeing
something from beginning to end.
What’s difficult about your job?
Our aspiration is to do more research
What else can you tell readers
on more topics, so “our eyes are bigger
than our stomachs,” so to speak. As an
organization, the Pew Research Center
is nonpolitical and nonpartisan, and
sometimes it can be challenging to study
topics that are controversial. We always
work to take every perspective into
account when designing a survey, but
when we comment on our findings, we
can only speak to our data. When a topic
is particularly divisive, such as climate
change or the relationship between
religion and science, people may find it
hard to hear information that does not
align with their views.
about this job?
This is not the path I planned to take.
I allowed my path to evolve over time
and I’m glad I did. When I went to
graduate school, I thought I would be
a professor for my entire career, but
instead I did a blend. I kept one foot in
traditional academia and one foot in
applied research by doing surveys for the
university. Eventually, it all came together
with my job at the Pew Research Center.
It’s also surprising to me how versatile
my training has been. People in the
public are increasingly aware of the
principles and concepts of behavioral
science, such as cognitive dissonance and
the fundamental attribution error. I think
that speaks to the value and relevance of
this training in any job setting.
— Heather Stringer
“This is not the path I planned to take.
I allowed my path to evolve over time
and I’m glad I did.”