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Graduate Pursuing Advanced Degrees in Dual Psychology-Law Program

March 14, 2019

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Josh Haby ’09 always had a general interest in psychology. However, he decided to really dive into the field after Dr. Tiffiny Sia called him out for being lazy. With that added fuel to the fire, Haby pursued a double major in both psychology and sociology. Now, as a Ph.D. candidate and Master of Legal Studies student at the University of Nebraska Lincoln (UNL), he focuses on the connections between law and the mind.

“I've always been torn between social psychology/personality and a more clinical route, but my work with Dr. Sia, and her mentoring, led me to pursue an advanced degree in Social Psychology,” he said. “I ended up applying all over the country, including UNL. They have the first joint Law-Psychology program and it seemed interesting, and now I'm here... and frequently cold.”

Haby also works as a graduate research assistant and business manager for Scientific Resources for the Law at the UNL—a group that provides research and support services to trial consultants while offering students the opportunity to gain applied trial consulting experience.

While working and pursuing advanced degrees has been challenging, Haby says the faculty at TLU helped him realize his potential and piqued his interest in research.

“I can honestly say I would have likely never pursued an advanced degree (let alone multiple) if it hadn't been for Dr. Sia, Dr. Mike Czuchry, Dr. Scott Bailey, and Professor Carolyn Turner,” he said. “The opportunity to work closely with them and develop relationships helped me recognize my own ability. In addition to giving me the spark (or kick in the tush) to pursue a graduate education and relationships I genuinely cherish, TLU also showed me that research can be fun and interesting.” 

Although psychology and law seem like an odd pairing, Haby says they actually make quite a bit of sense and are necessary from both clinical and experimental areas of psychology.

“From the clinical perspective, which I don't do, clinicians are able to work with criminal populations working with those affected by mental illness (which is a pretty large proportion of the criminal population),” he said. “They also conduct assessments of inmates and provide expert testimony. That's not my area, but my work is more experimental: understanding behavior. From this perspective, we are often interested in the behavioral assumptions the legal system and especially the Supreme Court make about individuals. Studying the intersection of law and psychology allows for an understanding of critical decisions made by legal actors (e.g., judge, attorneys, defendants) and may result in policy implications.”

According to him, some of the more common examples of experimental law-psychology are eyewitness memory, police line-up techniques, factors affecting and leading to false confessions, and how jurors and juries understand evidence and make their decisions.

“Some of the research I've worked on involves examining situational factors that may influence plea bargaining decisions as well as a large multi-study and multi-year project funded by the National Science Foundation into factors influencing consent to search decisions, led by my advisor at UNL Dr. Eve Brank,” Haby said. “Studying psychology and law together helps us to examine the behavioral assumptions the law makes, which are not always the most accurate. An understanding of the law helps to inform our psychological research questions to ensure the questions we ask and the policy recommendations or implications that stem from our findings are legally relevant and useful.”

As for his dream job, Haby jokes that after this much time researching and working toward two advanced degrees, it better be trial consulting. At least until his comedy career takes off. 

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