Neal Miller “raised” a significant group of students. This page summarizes some of his main messages to his students, lists the students he educated, and features testimonials written by a number of these students and collaborators.
Students (and the research advice he gave them…and others)
All Neal Miller’s students considered him a master of research design and communicator of the conceptual basis of scientific inquiry-so much so that in some respects that may be his greatest achievement-helping psychology grow into a mature science. His colleagues generally concurred. The following are some of his research characteristics in that regard:
1) He always sought for parsimonious explanations of cause and effect but required that the hypotheses involved be rigorously defined in empirically testable ways that allow them to be confirmed or disconfirmed, ideally by a variety of measure.
2) He cautioned against stopping as soon as a hypothesis is confirmed by a single test because, especially in a new field of investigation (such as the brain was in the 1950-60s) it is essential to design careful behavioral tests of all conceivable alternative.
3) He said an experiment should be designed not only to discover something also to communicate it and that it would be best to design experiments so that the results would be rather obvious and wouldn’t demand elaborate data analysis.
4) He warned investigators, while running experiments, to keep an eye out for unexpected findings because sometimes theses are more important than the findings sought for.
5) He said “And regarding things in an experiment that give you a lot of difficulty, it may be something fairly important or wouldn’t be an important difficulty. So, perhaps you may want to change your goal and decide that the difficulty is a more important variable to study than what you originally started out with.”
6) When asked why he took so many graduate students into his lab who did not have an undergraduate education in psychology but sometimes came from quite different backgrounds, he said “If I only took graduate students who new a lot of psychology, I’d know the same things they did but by taking graduate students from different disciples, I’d be taking in people who knew things I didn’t know which at times could come in very useful.”