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One's Legacy Through Others

One my former students just had a birthday and used the occasion to announce the upcoming publication of his third (fourth? I’ve lost count) major book. It got me thinking about the many who passed through my lab over the years, where they went, what they ended up doing and how their careers reflected the years they spent studying with me.

I was, I guess I still am, a cognitive psychologist with a long-standing interest in human intuition, unconscious cognitive mechanisms, evolutionary biological models and the psychology and philosophy of mind. I’m still at it with a paper on the origins of consciousness just accepted by the journal Animal Sentience. It should be out in a month or so.

Update (8/29/16): It’s out and, if anyone cares, can be downloaded here.

One of the things we research-type academics do is train the new generations of scientists and the “standard approach” is to take them into your lab, school them as best as you can and try your damndest to give them (or allow them to find) the skills, confidence and wisdom to become great teachers, educators and scientists.

Typically, that “standard approach” means you end up with newly minted Ph.D.’s who go out and do research in the area of their training. Now, over a decade since I supervised my last Ph.D., I took a look back at what my students ended up doing and where they’re doing it. And I realized with a bit of surprise but a lot of warmth and good feelings that they are all doing “their own thing.” The “standard approach” obviously wasn’t operating in my lab which, FWIW, was named The Institute for Experimental Epistemology. I called it that because I thought it was an oxymoron. On my last visit to Brooklyn College I noted that the plaque was still affixed to the door (though someone else was occupying the rooms).

In no special order here’s a partial list of what my many students are now up to:

1. Professor and chair of the psychology department and a member of the Board of Governors of a Midwestern college. We still collaborate on research on sport psychology.

2. Clinical psychologist with a focus on sexuality and sexual disorders who has published a number of well-received books.

3. Researcher on the roots of autism and associate director of an autism center in the Southwest.

4. Professor and chair of the psychology department in a New York City liberal arts college and developer of a program for using Internet platforms for research.

5. Senior researcher specializing in outcomes assessment for the New York City board of education.

6. Senior researcher specializing in outcomes assessment for the New York City board of education (yes, two of them ended up in the same department).

7. Senior research fellow in an applied science firm in Israel.

8. Professor of psychology at a university in the Middle East who studies the links between creativity and bilingualism — also a published poet (and, of course, multilingual).

9. Director of clinical services at a community mental health center, now retired.

10. Professor of education at a university in the Pacific Northwest, retired. It’s amusing to realize you’ve been around so long your students have joined you in retirement. It’s like having your grandkids getting married — and that’s happening later this month.

11. Research fellow at a think tank in New York city.

12. Professor and chair of the social sciences department at one of the CUNY community colleges.

13. High school teacher (a job she had when she came into my lab) who continues to do scholarly work in collaboration with her psychologist husband.

14. Clinical psychologist in private practice with a specialty in sex therapy.

15. Distinguished professor of forensic psychology in a CUNY college and the CUNY Graduate Center.

16. Professor of psychology and ESL in a Japanese university. Now fluent in Japanese, he is the university’s liaison with English language institutions.

17. Researcher and clinician with a specialty in marriage and counseling.

18. Professor and chair of the psychology department in a liberal arts college in Pennsylvania. Dozens of his undergrads have gone off to top-flight PhD programs.

19. Professor of clinical psychology at a New York university and a leading expert on family violence and adolescent suicide.

20. Distinguished professor at a Tier I university with a research program on computational models of human cognitive functions.

21. Chair of the psychology department of an elite liberal arts college in upstate New York and a leading authority on the psychology of education and the teaching of psychology.

22. Partner in a market research firm who also retooled and became a psychoanalyst.

23. Professor in a liberal arts college in Connecticut.

24. Researcher in information technology in his native Ontario, Canada.

The thing that just jumped out at me as I compiled this list this was that none of them followed up in research areas even remotely close to mine. This, I can tell you, is not typical. But, in retrospect, it’s not surprising but it is satisfying.

I always tried to nurture ideas, creativity and an expanding vision. I never wanted my students to parrot my ideas or mirror my interests. My favorite students were the ones who fought me at every turn. I never marched in lock-step with my professors and ended up the better for it. And that became my model.

I was startled to see how many of them ended up chairing their departments and heading up programs. I did three years as department chair and was awful at the job. You’d have thought they’d learned. Maybe they learned by watching my screw-ups and knew what not to do…

What’s also intriguing is how many moved into applied and clinically oriented lives. My approach was pure science but I was always ready to support any and all extensions of basic research into applied domains. I’d like to think that my broad vision here was part of what they ended up doing though I suspect that some of them came into my lab because they realized I’d give them a longer leash with more slack in it than others.

So it’s all cool and I think I did the right thing and the world is better for it. Barkeep, pour me another — make it a double.

Reader Comments (1)

What an incredibly rewarding profession, especially given your methodology. I respect professors and teachers greatly. Growing up it was always my "dream-job." I can only imagine how good you must feel, knowing that your influence helped shape and inspire some (or perhaps all) of your students. A loose leash is so important - people often trap themselves because they never approach often harmless boundaries that might stimulate the greatest passions of their lives. I enjoy the way you write as well.

August 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterIrena Booth

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