Teaching Philosophy and Classes Taught

    I. Teaching

I have been fortunate to have a wide variety of teaching experiences across a broad range of contexts. Below I briefly review these experiences and highlight how they have shaped my current philosophy of teaching.

            My direct teaching experience began when I was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, where I received a Derek Bok Certificate of Distinction in Teaching in 2004 for my teaching fellowship in Personality Psychology. This initial experience prepared me for designing and leading my own courses as I completed my postdoctoral training at Tufts University, where in 2005 I was selected by graduates of Tufts as “an influential individual who contributed significantly to the intellectual and personal development of the undergraduate experience.” I felt particularly honored to have one student describe my Laughing Animal course as the “Best course I’ve ever taken.” During this time, I co-advised an undergraduate student, Matthew Hurley, who designed his own curriculum as a Cognitive Science Major. His honors thesis built upon ideas he explicated in my course and I have participated since in developing his thesis into a  book articulating a comprehensive new humor theory (published at MIT press).

               Since at Penn State I have taught four different courses, including three at the undergraduate level: the Psychology of Human Emotion, Social Vision (focused on the visual mechanics of social perception), and the Laughing Animal. Based on student nominations, I was recognized by Penn State’s local chapter of Psi Chi as the 2008 “Professor of the Year” in Psychology. 

            I also teach a graduate course on Social Affective Neuroscience. I incorporate an fMRI study as a lab component to this course to make it more hands on and relevant to the students. I currently train one postdoctoral fellow, and I have two graduate advisees in addition to a number of other honors students and graduate students completing rotations in my lab. I have had numerous undergraduate research assistants train in my lab, and have served on over 20 students’ thesis committees, chairing or co-chairing five.

    My teaching experiences continually remind me of what I originally found most stimulating about psychology, the application it has to real life experience and my own natural curiosities. Social psychologists have long recognized that humans are intuitive psychologists. We are also naturally driven to derive hypotheses and test them as we navigate through our own inter- and intrapersonal experiences. With this in mind, I work to personalize the material and encourage students to draw on their own life experiences. Having students keep journals and write thought papers has been instrumental in my classes. Simple thought experiments have been helpful in demonstrating the importance of becoming informed psychologists, not just relying on intuition. Given that our intuitive conclusions are often askew, this serves learning well. It allows for built-in surprises, “aha” experiences, that spark students’ curiosity. In this same vein, I find it effective to bring the laboratory to the classroom. Mini-experiments run in classes or sections offer data that are tangible, something that students can experience, grapple with, and debate.

    I also have learned to let my students know I have very high expectations of them. I try to couple this message, however, with assurance that I believe they are capable of reaching these expectations. This seems to increase a sense of value in learning, a sense of truly achieving something. Perhaps the most critical ingredient to effective teaching that I have learned is the importance of demonstrating my own natural enthusiasm for the material, as well as my desire to inspire the same in them, whether in the classroom or lab. Psychology is a set of problems that are inherently fun to solve. Seeing my own excitement reflected back at me in my students is the clearest marker to me that they are engaged and learning, and it is by far my greatest joy in teaching.


    II. Courses Taught

Social Affective Neuroscience (Graduate): Department of Psychology, The Pennsylvania State University, Spring, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012. Description: Social affective neuroscience bridges the areas of social psychology, emotion, cognition, and neuroscience. Insights are additionally drawn from work more broadly interdisciplinary in which these parent disciplines naturally merge, including cultural anthropology, evolutionary psychology, ethology, developmental psychology, and comparative psychology. The goal of this course is to appeal to both the student who wants to be a consumer of the neuroscience literature in order to apply it to their subject area without necessarily conducting it, as well as to the student who wants to study neuroscience while drawing from related disciplines.

The Psychology of Human Emotion (Undergraduate): Department of Psychology, The Pennsylvania State University, Spring, 2006; Fall, 2006; Fall, 2007; Spring, 2009; Spring 2010, Spring 2012.
Description: There is hardly a waking moment during which any of us could truly be described as completely devoid of emotion. Throughout this course we explore both historical and contemporary perspectives on emotion, first introducing four classic approaches to understanding emotion, then examining empirical work on the expression of emotion, the neural architecture underlying emotion, individual differences in emotional experience and perception, and emotion management in everyday life.

Social Vision (Undergraduate): Department of Psychology, The Pennsylvania State University, Fall, 2007, Spring 2011, Fall 2011.
Description: Human beings possess an elaborate visual system of nonverbal communication and perception. This course examines four themes related to this extraordinary ability by examining research positioned at the social psychological and visual science interface including how: 1) vision plays a powerful role in moderating social interaction and perception; 2) visual cues serve as the perceptual determinants of social group category and stereotype activation; 3) social factors play an important role in moderating basic visual processing; 4) visual and social perception are in some cases functionally equivalent to one another, where the study of one is essentially the study of the other.

Good Science Good Practice (Graduate: Professional Development): Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Fall, 2003 & Spring, 2004.
Description: This course was designed to offer an informal forum for graduate students to explore issues relevant to their career development. Topics included: How to seek and obtain funding, authorship dilemmas, and the job search. In addition, a co-instructor and I organized a speaker series entitled “From Data to Theory and Back Again,” where research psychologists shared their perspectives and personal stories on how they developed theories throughout their careers.

Advanced Social Psychology at Face Value (Undergraduate): Department of Psychology, Tufts University, Fall, 2003
Description: The human face is arguably the most richly informative and pervasive social stimulus we are likely to encounter. Research on the human face therefore offered a central theme from which to explore topics of broad relevance to social psychological inquiry. Topics included sex and racial stereotyping, social ecology, attraction, Theory of Mind, social contagion, and emotion theory.

The Laughing Animal (Undergraduate and graduate): Department of Psychology, Tufts University, Summer 2004; 2005; The Pennsylvania State University, Spring, 2007, Fall 2012.
Description: Humor and laughter are vital to human functioning, promoting physical and emotional well-being, social harmony, learning, and creativity. This course was designed to explore the origins of this uniquely human phenomenon from a phylogenic and ontogenetic perspective, and to apply insights gained to broader research themes such as creativity, attribution theories, and emotion theories.