Jason Sidman ‘99, Vice President, Business Development, at tool, Inc., graduated from the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences (PBS) with a focus in developmental science. He has worked extensively in the field of Research and Development (R&D) as a cognitive scientist, user experience designer, and director of cognitive training systems. Sidman has developed training and educational systems for a wide variety of schools, healthcare organizations, sports markets, and federal agencies. In a recent presentation for UMass psychology majors, he shared some of his professional expertise and how he got his start working in a non-academic setting.
During his time at UMass, Sidman got the chance to work in many different labs within the various disciplines of psychological science. He was involved in the research process, often receiving volunteer human subjects and running through procedures with them before trials began. This was an excellent way for him to learn how science works in real labs. He acquired a deep interest in developmental science, encouraged by his developmental psychology professor, as he studied how infants and children learn. His senior thesis explored the relationship between motor control and cognition in children.
Sidman highly recommends doing a senior thesis as an undergraduate. It is an opportunity to create a body of work that can be used as an introductory tool for applying to grad school. Sidman suggests that student applicants should try to find similarities between their research interests and those of a graduate advisor when considering where to apply.
Sidman went on to study experimental psychology at Tufts University for his doctorate. He continued to study infant subjects, examining how they gain the ability to use objects and toys. It was very fun and engaging work. He felt that his graduate experience helped him to reach an expert level in his chosen discipline.
Despite his interest in becoming a professor, as Sidman progressed through the doctoral program, he also noticed some of the challenges of that route (e.g., tenure, being willing to move to any part of the country) and wanted to have a plan B. The subject of psychology has many interesting subjects to learn about. But students may be asking themselves, “What do I do with my degree?” In Sidman’s case, he went onto a job site and saw a posting for a cogntive scientist position at a company. This piqued his interest in opportunities within industry, and he started out by accepting an internship as a cognitive scientist through an internal contact he made at Aptima, a human performance assessment firm.
Sidman put his background in psychology to use in the R&D field. He soon began working for Aptima full-time on projects in the government and military sector. One of his first professional projects was to design computer-based training exercises to promote the safer operation of a certain type of military boat. He used research methods and developmental science theories, such as dynamic systems theory, to aid his work. His team applied these theories to how they studied the various environments the boat operator was exposed to.
One way his team collected information was to capture videos of personnel working in the field to discover the techniques that were used by experts. During additional research phases, experts would be presented with multiple scenarios to walk through. Cognitive task analysis was used to try and understand why certain tasks were being done in specific ways. The scientists wanted to figure out how these trainings could improve the cognitive processes and decision-making skills of novices working in the field.
Sidman also developed game-based trainings for healthcare organizations. These projects had the common goal of developing new cognitive skills for patients with traumatic brain injury.
He later moved to the position of Vice President, Business Development, at tool, Inc., a product design firm. This firm designs a wide range of products including personal protective equipment such as helmets and mouth guards. Members of tool, Inc. study the user experience behind their products. They want to know what decisions users are making as they interact with their designer’s latest prototypes. Sidman’s background in psychology has helped him to lead successful research initiatives, helping his team to learn about the needs of consumers and produce innovative work.
Sidman offers the following collection of helpful advice to psychology students taking the next step in their career:
Department of Defense Labs
- ARI, ARL
- Aptima, Charles River Analytics, Sonalysts
- Boeing, Lockheed Martin, L3
- Consulting firms
- Seek Company, Cambridge Consultants
- Netflix, LinkedIn
- Product Companies
- Ocean Spray, Gillette
- Gaming Companies
- Valve, Hasbro, Neurable
- Neuromarketing: NeuroPlus
- Brain Fitness
- Sharpbrains, Cognifit, Posit Science, Lumos Labs
- Ed Tech
Skills and Experiences
- User Interface / User Experience (UI/UX)
- Industrial and Organizational Psychology (I/O)
- Lab experience
- Senior thesis (helps to match you with a graduate advisor)
- Coauthor publication(s)
- Attend conference(s)
- Ask for opportunities to write grants
- Project management (multidisciplinary team)
- SBIR/STTR (federal R&D funding for domestic small businesses)