Tag Archives: courage

About the new banner image

Suddenly it dawned on me… my website is woefully out of date. Time for a renovation! I’ll try not to let it get so dated next time. Well, I’ll try to try. There’s always next sabbatical in 7 years!

I chose as this site’s banner the image of the Hohensalzburg Fortress in Salzburg (Austria) because of how I felt while taking that photo (and because I like the look of it). I was travelling on sabbatical (March 2017), and had uncharacteristically ventured off by myself up the mountain in the middle of the city on a sunny spring day. All morning I simply followed my curiosity and was rewarded by stunning views of mountains, ruins, forest, city, and the medieval Fortress. I learned about that place and myself in equal measure that day.

On finding my “big idea” in undergrad

I was asked to speak at tonight’s Jumpstart ProfTalks event on the topic of “finding your big ‘idea’–how you want to change the world–and developing the toolbox you need to translate that passion into practice”. Here’s what I came up with. What was/is your big idea?

On finding my “big idea” in undergrad…

I feel like if I had expected to find a “big idea” (how I wanted to change the world) in undergrad, I wouldn’t have found it. In fact I didn’t. It sounds terrifying! What I knew I wanted was to change my world. Nobody asked me to change the world. Nobody expected me to. People who come from where I come from don’t change the world. A high school teacher told me—told my class—this much. That remains one of my life’s worst memories. Janitors come from my neighbourhood. Not CEOs. Thankfully, he wasn’t my only high school teacher. I had others who said things like of course you’re going to university! and then helped me get there.

So my “big idea” was rather small by comparison. I wanted to learn. To do my very best. To be afraid and lonely and make my way anyway. To succeed in the face of odds stacked against me. I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing, but I knew how to get good grades by working really hard. In hindsight, I consider my “big idea” was learning to think for myself. I changed my world by questioning it. I stumbled into psychology because my family situation was rather unconventional and I’d already seen a counsellor, so I thought hey psychology might be a helpful thing to take. What I found there changed me. I wouldn’t have said this at the time—I don’t think I was that aware of it, I just liked psychology—but psychology gave me a method, a way to ask the questions I wanted to ask about people and relationships and identity, and it was a way to get answers. When my TA said she was looking for research assistants, I stepped up, which led to invaluable experiences learning from faculty and graduate students.

The coursework in undergrad that was most annoying and frustrating and challenging is what prepared me best for my little big idea, and what I still find useful today. Example 1: Dr. Burris asked me to collaborate on writing a paper. WHAT? I wasn’t 100% in control of my grade! That was really frustrating!! But guess what, all the papers I’ve ever written in my position have been collaborative. Just today a group of us finalized Terms of Reference for the Instructor Network, a committee I helped develop… it was collaborative writing. Most of the things I write professionally are collaborative. Example 2: Another thing I had to do that I hated at the time: statistics. And even worse, I had to take intro to university math before I was allowed to take stats. Nightmare. But if I hadn’t taken stats, and kept working hard at it, I wouldn’t have been selected to TA stats in graduate school… and it was while TAing stats in graduate school that I realized I love teaching. Every time I got to plan a lesson, I wanted to do that first before any other work. I wanted to perfect it. It was (and still is) an immensely creative endeavour for me. And then… I get to test it out to find out if it works to help people learn… aha! There was my big idea. But not until years beyond undergrad. My original big idea was to change my world. And so I did. I’m still trying to figure out how to change the world.


As of last night, I have completed draft 1 of Cozby and Rawn (2013), Methods in Behavioural Research, First Canadian Edition! My stomach did a somersault when I hit “save” on that last chapter. Excited and relieved to be done; nervous of what other instructors and students will think of it. I did my best work on every chapter, but of course it’s never going to be perfect (where’s the fun in that?).

I never expected to be writing a textbook at this stage in my career (i.e., early!).  Then I got the opportunity to take an existing textbook that I had been using for a few years and update/adapt it for a Canadian audience. It took a long time for me to decide to do it–it’s so much work!–but I immediately knew that I would ultimately agree. See, here’s the thing about me: I have built my life by jumping on opportunities that have passed my way, and then carving my own opportunities to grow, which has led to more and more opportunities. I had to. I was raised by a very large, very loving extended family, and for them I am grateful. But I don’t come from money or big connections or a tradition of higher education (let alone post-grad). I was once a kid with modest dreams and a mountain of people who cared for me.  My earliest teachers offered enrichment and suggested extra-curricular activities. I jumped on every chance I had to do more, learn more, grow more. As I did, my circle grew too. Fifteen years ago I could never have imagined I would be here, writing a textbook and teaching psychology at a world-class university in a world-class city 4000km away from what I used to call home.

But opportunity means risk. Taking a leap into uncharted waters is not for the faint of heart. Heading off to undergrad a mere half hour from home felt devastating at the time, but I knew I had to do it. It was the next opportunity. Then four years later, with a well-developed independence in tow, I moved across the country. In many ways it wasn’t as difficult that time. I didn’t end up with the same set of opportunities here that I initially expected, but I worked hard, seized the opportunities I found, and created more.

So if you’re about to start your time at UBC — or start a new year here or anywhere — I encourage you to figure out what opportunities you want, and go find them. Don’t be afraid to jump on them when you do. Or if you are afraid, but you know it’s probably best for you in the long run, take a deep breath and do it anyway.

Reflecting on Student Evals, 2010-2011

Because I pour so much of my heart and soul, sweat and tears (never blood, yet anyway) into each course, I find it necessary to wait a while after a course is over to view the student evaluations of those courses. It can be very emotional to read them, full of breathtaking highs and, occasionally, devastating lows (I appreciate criticism, but not one worded disrespectfully). I have posted summary graphs of my scores and some commentary here, and will share some further reflections in this blog post. Links to all my course syllabi are available here.

The first thing I noticed was how students rated my introductory psychology course overwhelmingly positively. Those ratings are the highest I have ever received. This was absolutely thrilling! I had felt throughout the year a special rapport with this class, despite its large size (N=260). Their energy, curiosity and astute questions continually kept me on my toes, and this in turn fueled my own passion and excitement. I want to share with you a particularly thorough–and not 100% positive!–comment that might give you a feel for what to expect from me (if you’re shopping for courses):

At first, I didn’t like the way Catherine Rawn taught. She was a little too flamboyant and enthusiastic. I felt like she babied us a little. But as the year went on, I really began to appreciate it. I found that I paid attention even to the material I wasn’t particularly interested in. I appreciated her invitational office hour. I never would have gone to her were it not a “requirement,” and that was actually the point that caused me to like her better. I realized that she actually cares about her students (enough to LEARN OUR NAMES, which impressed me) and she was willing to be challenged and she was very respectful to students with opinions different than hers. I have to say that she is one of the better professors I have had in my first year of university. She was interesting, prepared, open, enthusiastic, and positive. She may have babied us a little, but only in the sense that she was so open to help. She still gave challenging and stimulating assignments. Overall, I would say, I thank her for doing a good job.

It’s an interesting comment, to me anyway, in part because it uses a term I’ve received in evaluations before: “babied.” This always intrigues me because I suspect it has something to do with people’s notions about what learning should look like in the university classroom: It should be serious! I attempt to infuse some fun in my courses (e.g., cheering!), I enjoy and find value in exploring with my students, and starting with the basics is important especially in an introductory course. My intention is never to baby, but I also want to dispel the notion that learning has to always be serious. Learning can be fun! Overall, I’m very pleased with the ratings of this course, and will not be making major changes to it next year… with one fabulous exception: the introduction of Peer Tutors! Ten fantastic “grads” of my course from last year have volunteered to help answer questions and act as role models as new students transition to my course and university more broadly. Looking forward to introducing them soon!

The second thing I noticed was that although my scores for Psyc 217 Research Methods are solidly and largely positive, I’m still having a challenge as students are perceiving my evaluations to be less fair than is average across campus (though not unfair per se; see the means on my “evaluating teaching” page, linked above). It is possible that this is simply perception given that this is a very tough course (which is true for all Psyc 217 sections), as it should be because it provides the foundation for all further study in psychology and other behavioural sciences. Yet it’s also possible that my evaluations are in fact less fair than is average across campus. In order to address this consistent rating, I am vowing to critically re-evaluate my exams and assignments this fall. One of those, the group research project, is common to all sections and has a common grading key/rubric, so there’s little to change there. My action plan for evaluating my exams and assignments is to gather all my learning objectives together from every lesson of the course, as well as the broader course objectives stated in the syllabus, and the readings for each unit. I will then consider every question on every evaluation, specifically in terms of how well it links to one or more objectives. Then I will consider whether any question isn’t measuring any objective, and toss it. Then I will consider whether any objective isn’t being addressed, and consider whether the objective should be changed/tossed or measured. After I conduct this analysis of content validity, I will use data from previous years (as I often do) to inform changes to the individual questions to improve their ability to accurately measure learning in my course. I expect my students to use my stated objectives as a road map; it’s time to re-check that they’re aligned with the way I’m evaluating that learning.

Third, I was pleased to see that my scores for Psyc 208 Section 2: How Social Psychology Can Help You Succeed (Special Topics) have improved much from the first time I offered it in 2009, as I used the feedback from 2009 as well as inspiration from a talk by Michael Wesch last summer to make substantial changes. It’s an unconventional course, with lots of teamwork and interaction. For one, I implemented the validity analysis process for exams I explained above (for Psyc 217), which resulted in much fairer exams. As for improvements based on this year’s feedback, I will shorten the midterm a little, and make some small adjustments to the grading of the team project so that individual work related to the team project is weighted more heavily relative to the team grades. Also, I’m considering making grading keys available for the team assignment to improve the clarity of what’s expected for each. Given this feedback, I’d like to share one of my favourite comments from this course, because it reflects my intention in creating this course and in how I structure each and every lesson/experience. Of course they’re not all this positive, but indulge me:

Easily the best teacher I have had at UBC. She should hold workshops for other professors! Or publish a book, or work w ith the Chapman Learning Commons to develop a free, non-credit version of the course that students can take to learn how to improve their university experience. I would recommend her course in Social Psychology and its application to academic success to any student regardless of faculty or major and consider it an invaluable tool to my success. Catherine was always helpful, expected the best of her class and demonstrated an unparalleled concern for the personal and academic development/wellbeing of her students.
I have offered these (lengthy!) reflections to you as evidence that I take student evaluations very seriously, and make real changes to my courses in response to them. Teaching psychology to learners is my passion and, I believe, my calling. I am delighted that so many students report valuing the way I teach and what I contribute to their university experience.

Why did I choose Psychology?

Or did it choose me?

I’ve been reading Parker Palmer’s book, “The Courage to Teach,” and as I expected it’s sparking many ideas. I teach psychology… but how did I get here? Why did I major in psychology as an undergrad? When I was first introduced to psychology (by Dr. Chris Burris, who still teaches at SJU at Waterloo) I was fresh out of high school and had no idea what to expect from university, especially because I was (am) the first generation in my immediate family to pursue such a degree. What I found in psychology was knowledge about people that I could connect to. But much more important than that — for the first time in my life I learned I didn’t have to believe everything I was told about how people work. Psychology gave me the tools and concepts and a language to question what I formerly thought was some sort of truth. There was a method to test whether these ideas were correct or not — huzzah! Learning about psychology helped me see through advertising scams and times when the media misinterpreted research (correlation does not imply causation!). It helped me point out flaws and assumptions in the reasoning of others (and, with time and maturity, my own reasoning). This ability to question using an established language and methodology was an immensely powerful experience for me, one that I had come to take for granted.