Meet a Psychology Spartan: Andrew Defever

September 12, 2022 - Shelly DeJong

Andrew Defever faces camera head on and smiles.Andrew Defever earned a Ph.D. in Social and Personality Psychology in 2018. As a student, Andrew realized that he wanted to work in industry rather than academia, so he began to figure out where he might fit best. Now as a senior manager in the research science division at J.D. Power, Andrew applies the data, research, and mentorship skills he learned while at MSU.


What drew you to psychology? 

I was studying a lot of philosophy as an undergrad, particularly topics like epistemology, and that got me really fascinated by the human mind and human behavior. Philosophy is very abstract and nebulous, it's lots of talk and theorizing. Psychology takes that one step further and says, ‘Let's figure out how this stuff works. Let's observe, let's apply the scientific method and empiricism to these philosophical topics.’ To me, that was kind of the marriage of two topics that I was passionate about.  

Coming to psychology from a philosophical background gave me an interesting perspective. A lot of people think of clinical psychology, but I don't think a lot of people associate psychology as much with the theoretical topics of how the mind works. I studied social and personality psychology which looks at what psychological constructs impact how we relate to other people in groups in the broader society. That's the part of psychology that I really like.  

Can you tell me what you're currently up to and what you enjoy about it? 

Broadly, I work in market research for J.D. Power. Specifically, I do customer experience research, sometimes called CX research, which looks at the satisfaction of customers within markets. I work on a lot of things, for example, banking research, banking customers, and customer satisfaction. I look at which brands within that market are doing the best or the worst and how we can improve the customer experience within those markets 

Do you think that your psychology training uniquely prepared you for your current work? 

I would say absolutely. It has been invaluable. The training that you receive in a graduate-level psychology program is all about how you assess things within the minds of people that you can't directly see. When we’re looking at difficult-to-measure customer sentiments, like enthusiasm and dissatisfaction, my psychology background has uniquely positioned me to evaluate those things, especially from a scientific perspective.  

In this industry, a lot of people are kind of backed into research roles from the industry itself, but I'm coming into the industry from a research background. I’m able to bring a behavioral psychological perspective to the table which is an interesting perspective to have in this industry. 

Can you tell me how you pivoted from an academic focus to working in the industry? 

In the last year of my graduate program, I decided that I wanted to work in the industry, so I started looking for internships to get some actual experience in the world.  I didn't know much outside of academia, so I tried to figure out what was out there. I got a yearlong internship at J.D. Power in operations and logistics. That experience was interesting because it gave me a good survey of the world of market research from a ground-floor perspective. That experience, combined with my research and training combined into a solid skill set that prepared me for transitioning right into a full-time position in their science department.   

Was there anyone at MSU that had a particularly big impact on you? 

Absolutely, Bill Chopik. He's a great guy that is so personable and funny.  When I was a grad student pivoting from the academic track into the industry route, I changed advisors to Bill.  He was instrumental in helping me transition into my career path. 

And I would say, pretty much everyone in the social personality department is just fantastic. It's a good, tight-knit group that works very closely together. I just had a fabulous experience. 

Do you have any advice for current MSU psychology students?

For undergrads, my piece of advice would be that it's okay to not know what you want to do. I started off as a computer science major and then switched majors three different times until I found what I really liked. You don't know what you like, or don't like until you try it. There can be feelings of being lost or uncertainty about what you want to do. At that point, it's good to just get out there and explore a lot of different topics and different areas and just see what sticks. Get out there and explore!  

For grad students, I'll say self-care is important. It's very easy to let your work consume you. And I know a lot of grad students, including myself, struggled a lot with work-life balance. It’s okay to step away and take some time for yourself.  

In terms of academics, I would say that sometimes it's good to get out there and have experiences.  Talk to people and build connections with people who work in academia and outside of academia. Explore a little bit and talk to people to see what the day-to-day is like because that will make a big difference once you’re out of school. It's okay to take time to explore alternative options.  

What's one of your favorite MSU psychology experiences? 

One of my absolute favorite parts of the grad school experience was teaching. I saw teaching experiences very early on and I fell in love with it. It was great. I got to work with a lot of students in an academic capacity as well as a mentorship role.  Michigan State students are sharp and motivated. They want to do something with their lives, but sometimes they just don't know what it is. Being able to help guide them and ease their transition by sharing my own experiences meant a lot to me.  

Sitting on my desk is a stack of thank you letters from many of those students.  It's a reminder that even the small things can have a really big impact on someone, and you might not even know it. 

 That experience immediately transitioned into my current role. As a manager, I’ve found myself tapping into those same feelings of mentorship. I've got new employees who are fresh into the industry who are trying to find their way. I try to help them navigate their way through the working environment, through a career, and in market research in general. To be able to mentor younger employees has been very rewarding to me. 

Andrew, do you have anything else that you'd like to add? 

You never know what skills you're going to learn and how those might apply later in life.  

For example, the skills that you learn in your statistics class, like SPSS, can get you a job as an undergrad. You can use those skills and directly market them on the job market and get a job right out of school. It's important to think about what you’re learning in your courses, like how to manipulate data, and how you can apply that in an increasingly data-driven world. If you can learn how to package those and market them in a convincing way to employers, you can get a job with those skills.