Associate professor of psychology, Cazenovia College
How did you become interested in the field of Psychology?
Two ways. On my thirteenth birthday, I received a book called Sophie’s World, which is an engaging introduction to philosophy disguised as a mystery novel. I became interested in the philosophy of mind, which naturally leads to the field of psychology as the study of human thinking, emotions, and behavior. I also attended a summer camp at the University of Virginia in high school, where we studied parapsychology and why people have odd beliefs about the world. When I entered college at Virginia Tech, I thought I wanted to study computer science, but it turned out that the human brain was a much more interesting computer to me.
Briefly describe your area of specialty:
I am a cognitive neuroscientist, and I have done research in a variety of fields. As an undergraduate, I volunteered in a lab studying attention, hypnosis, and the brain, and my honors thesis focused on the effects of caffeine on selective visual attention. In graduate school, I started out by studying the neuroscience of creativity and insight problem solving and how that relates to attentional style.For my dissertation, I also studied how mood state relates to attentional scope.Subsequently, I did a series of postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Illinois Chicago, Harvard Medical School, and Brown University Medical School, where I focused on the neuroscience of mood disorders in adolescents and adults. Now, I teach psychology and conduct research on attentional styles, mood, and creativity, among other things. Although I am not a clinical psychologist, I do like to give talks about creativity and the neuroscience of insight.
Based on your specialty, what is one piece of advice for our readers?
I would say that it is important to be curious about the world because there is so much that we do not yet know about everything, especially the human mind and brain. It is good to keep many irons in the fire andto work on several projects at once because some will not pan out. However, if you keep at it, you might end up discovering something really interesting about the mind.
Can you provide a recommendation for how our readers can begin to implement your piece of advice?
HTry something new that may not work out – sticking to routines can be very comfortable, but sometimes you need to break out of them to discover the new thing waiting for you. Insights occur when you jump out of the “narrow canyon of exploration” and realize that something you thought was constraining you wasn’t really a constraint. I also tell my students that sometimes I engage in “productive procrastination!”If I find myself having trouble focusing on a particular task, I might take a break and surf the internet or YouTube for something psychology-related, or science-related, or politics-related and see where it goes. It is surprising how many fascinating new topics, such as the impossible colors page on Wikipedia, that I have discovered. I love to share these things with my students, and they enhance my teaching and research.
Tell us something fun about you
I was born in a hospital right on the Tennessee-Virginia state line.I have no idea why they built the hospital across the state line, but the maternity wards were on the Tennessee side, so I have a Tennessee birth certificate even though I have never lived in that state! Coincidentally enough, my twins were born in Rhode Island when we lived in Massachusetts, and everyone in my family besides them was born in a different state.
If you weren’t a psychologist, what would you be?
Possibly a computer programmer. My backup plan if I did go to college was to become a pilot, but I most likely would have needed to join the Air Force. I also thought being an electrician would be interesting work. If I were independently wealthy and did not need to work, I would love to be a science fiction and fantasy novelist.
Readers can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.