EARLY CAREER PSYCHOLOGY
First year on
the job, part 2
No matter how many years you spend in school, the real lessons begin when you enter the field: That’s been the clear take-away from four psychologists the Monitor began following in our January issue. Here’s what’s new since then.
Rachel Casas, PhD, 32
When Casas began her tenure-track position at California
Lutheran University last fall, she felt uneasy lecturing students
who were close to her age, if not older. But her confidence is
building. “I am surprising myself by how long I can be up there
lecturing,” she says. “I realized I am the expert.”
Casas was also surprised to discover how much she enjoyed
teaching a course in cognitive and affective aspects of behavior,
even though her background is in cultural neuropsychology.
She wove in aspects of her own expertise by challenging
students to put everything in a cultural perspective, such as
how people in disparate parts of the world perceive visual
stimuli differently. In some cultures, for example, people focus
on an object, while in others, they pay more attention to the
background. “All textbooks are silent on [that issue], but we
[explore] it in my class using a whole lot of empirical articles,”
Casas’s relationship with a faculty mentor in the political
science department has proved fruitful, too: This summer, the
two are collaborating with another colleague in the chemistry
department to determine how pesticide exposure affects
cognitive skills, such as memory. They are also measuring how
much those affected know about the risks of exposure.
When her students return in the fall, Casas plans to make
some changes to her syllabi based on student feedback. She will
lecture more and post discussion questions online before class,
rather than spend most of class time facilitating discussions.
“It was too unstructured before,” she says. “Now I know what
works and what doesn’t.”
One other thing that didn’t work was her hour-and-a-half