Since 2018, Professor Stefan Stieger has worked in the area of psychological methodology research at Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences. As a scientist, he is particularly fascinated by the technical foundations that he can establish for developing theories when working with his interdisciplinary team.
Embarking on an academic career is like embarking on an exciting journey that never ends. There are many forks in the road and the route is often unpredictable because it depends on many factors. This is how Professor Stefan Stieger, Head of the Department of Psychological Methodology, describes his career path, which he also considers his vocation. When he started his psychology studies at the University of Vienna, Stefan Stieger was clinically oriented, but towards the end of the first phase of his studies, a research internship gave him a taste for scientific work. “I was one of the first at the University of Vienna to collect data using online surveys. It was a completely new method at the time. My technical background from a higher technical school was very helpful in that context.”
Transferring knowledge from the laboratory to the field
The interplay between technology and psychology has played a secondary role for a long time, but is becoming increasingly important, the researcher explains. “I think we are one of the few methodological departments within psychology where these two areas are so closely integrated. Interestingly, this is different in other scientific fields – bioinformatics or neuroinformatics are already established fields. While psychoinformatics is still in its infancy, it has great potential when we think of the ever-increasing digitalization of our environment.” This development also means that the department at Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences deals intensively with field research. “To immerse ourselves in the everyday life of test subjects, we need appropriate methods. For example, the ESMira framework we developed enables us to investigate many research questions in the natural environment of the test subjects – we are practically transferring the laboratory to the field.”
A wide variety of methods and software solutions
When working as a scientist, your main tools are those that you studied, such as statistics and methodology. However, a thirst for knowledge, persistence and a good personal attitude are also very important, explains Stieger: “You have to get used to the scientific way of thinking – this then influences the development of your own personality over time until you can no longer distinguish between your work and your private life, or even want to. I would go so far as to say that science is an attitude to life.” Stefan Stieger and his team bring the appropriate mix to the Department of Psychological Methodology that enables them to effectively combine the fields of psychology and technology. “Everything is included, from psychology to methodology and computer science, to statistics and imaging processes.”
When working with international scientists, five to ten projects at various stages are always running in parallel. “These range from classic, fundamental methodological questions, to applied topics such as the mental health of people in crisis areas, where we are currently conducting a study with a Ukrainian university.” Stefan Stieger and his colleagues are also developing software solutions that are made freely available to the scientific community. The ESMira tool was developed to carry out experience sampling method studies in field settings (i.e. closely timed measurements in the field over a defined time period). “This allows us to immerse ourselves in the everyday life of our test subjects in order to record our measurements. And of course, we are very pleased that other universities are now also using our open-source tools.”
Theoretical and methodological developments go hand in hand
Theories can only be tested if the appropriate methods also exist to test the question empirically, he explains: “Answering the research question results in the development of the theory which, in turn, further stimulates development of the methodology. It's a cyclical process.” Digitalisation brings many new opportunities, but also shows that in the future more and more experts will be needed who, in addition to dealing with psychological methodology, will also have programming expertise.
Stefan Stieger is in the fortunate position of being able to combine work and leisure. “I also deal with technical issues in my private life. However, the advantage is that I can usually implement projects within a few days – that wouldn’t happen so quickly in the scientific world.” To compensate for his often very demanding everyday working life at the university, the scientist also likes to go hiking with his family. “It helps me to switch off and get a clearer view of things, which raises another psychological question...”.