On Being a Student Again

Last fall I decided, with the instructor’s permission, to enroll in Psyc 312A History of Psychology (see an earlier post on it here). It had been quite a few years since I sat facing the board rather than facing the classroom, and I wanted to re-cultivate my empathy for students in my classrooms. I chose History of Psychology because it was one of those courses I didn’t have to take when I was an undergrad, but now that I am teaching broad courses like Introduction to Psychology and Research Methods, I find myself increasingly interested in the breadth of our discipline. My educational trajectory was, I believe, rather common: as I moved through my three degrees, what I studied narrowed at each stage until I produced a 200+ page dissertation that addressed one single question from one tiny subtopic (self-control) from one subarea (the self) from one subfield (social psychology) of my discipline. When I started teaching Intro after that, the shift to thinking about the entire discipline was a rough one. Yet I believe that challenge has made me a more thorough, curious scholar. And the experience certainly made me more interested in the roots of our discipline.

I attended each lecture and took copious notes (as was my usual method as a student), I typed my class notes after each class (as usual), I read all the chapters and took copious notes (as usual). I adjusted how I studied for exams by emphasizing empirically-supported techniques self-quizzing and concept-mapping methods that integrated both text and class notes, which I did a bit of before. I dropped what research has shown doesn’t work well for long-term retention (and what I used to emphasize at one point): rote memorization and rewriting. I wrote the exams and the paper, because research shows that testing is much more effective than simply studying knowledge if I wanted to remember it… so why waste my time on auditing? Of course, I was teaching three classes and doing all the other things I do that in my work. I definitely felt the intensity and pressure of upcoming deadlines and balancing my own study time with my primary responsibility — my students!

One of the experiences that surprised me the most was how much I enjoyed writing the paper. Dr. Perrino (Andrea) offered the option for us to research an historical figure in psychology and write the paper as a compare and contrast with our own lives. What a fascinating experience! I couldn’t help but wonder how my fellow students approached this exercise; as someone whose career is devoted to psychology, I imagine I had a distinctly different experience set from which to draw. In any case, I offer my paper for you to read, if you’re interested. I cut out some of the personal details, but left in most. I compared my life to that of Mary Whiton Calkins (1863-1930), the first female American Psychological Association President.

Disclaimer: Please note that by posting this paper, I am by no means offering an example of a typical paper for that class. If you’re taking Psyc 312A this year, I highly advise against using this paper as a model for your own, for reasons expressed above.

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