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Dr. Adele Diamond: Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience; Professor, Psychiatry, The University of British Columbia

Dr. Adele Diamond

1. What is your current position?

I am the Canada Research Chair, Tier 1, and Professor of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience in the Department of Psychiatry at The University of British Columbia (UBC).

2. What major positions have you held in your academic career?

Now, besides being a professor and Canada Research Chair, I am the head of the division of developmental cognitive neuroscience of psychiatry at UBC.  Before coming to UBC, I was at University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMass), where I was professor of psychiatry and director of the center for developmental cognitive neuroscience.  And before that, I was a visiting associate professor in the department of brain and cognitive sciences at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  Before that, I was an assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn).  Last, and prior to that, I was an assistant professor in the department of psychology at Washington University (Wash. U) in St. Louis.

3. Can you name a seminal experience in your youth that most influenced your career direction?

I was not planning on having a career.  My high school yearbook says, “Valedictorian; ambition: Housewife.”  I was going to get married and have children.  That changed sometime while in college.  Although, I do not have a particular experience that changed it.  So, no, there is no seminal experience, sorry!

4. Where did you acquire your education?

I went to the New York City Public Schools  (John Bowne High School) and then I went to Swarthmore College, which is a fantastic undergraduate institution in the United States (US).  Harvard University for my Ph.D. and Yale University for my post-doctoral work.

5. What was your original dream?

My original dream was to be home with my kids.  And then, when I decided to go on, in college and beyond, I was not interested in science.  I was interested in understanding people.  I was interested in society and culture, but I was not interested in science.  So I avoided anything that sounded like science.  I had to take two science courses for distribution requirements.  So I took engineering, but, other than that, I did not even take experimental psychology, though psychology was one of my majors, because experimental psychology sounded too much like science.  When I went to graduate school, I said, “I want to do interdisciplinary studies in what I called “human development,” which I defined as including psychology, sociology, and anthropology. I thought of anthropology as doing investigations that deeply inform us about people, society and culture, however, I did not view it as science.  I thought of’science’ as being something more objective and quantitative.  Anthropology gets more at the flesh and essence of things – understanding individuals in social context as opposed to trying to fit lots of people into some general category.  It is the difference between nomothetic and idiographic science.  Nomothetic being the attempt to apply principles that apply across the board, but it will not apply perfectly in any individual case.  Idiographic refers to studying one case, studying it deeply, but realizing that it will not be able to completely be able to generalize to any other case.

I got two national fellowships for graduate school.  One from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Another from the Danforth Foundation.  I was a freebie.  I got nine years of funding – more than any I could ever use.  So the graduate schools said, “Fine lady, you can study whatever you want!”  I went to Harvard.  Although, my home was psychology.  I spent the first four years primarily in sociology and anthropology.  Harvard had a cross-cultural training grant that funded PhD students for three years: one year to prepare to go into the field, one year to go anywhere you wanted to go (I was going to the South Pacific because it seemed the most idyllic, and one year to write it up.  My idea was…I was reading a lot in sociology, psychology, philosophy… that asserted that people need to feel they are masters of their fate.  If they did not feel they are, you see learned helplessness, depression, and suicide.  Everything I was reading said there was an intrinsic human need to feel we are masters of our own fates.  But everything I was reading was western. It seemed to me that was not necessarily intrinsically human.  It might be that someone from another culture might not feel the same way.  At any social gathering people find my idea intriguing. I felt I was not coming up with a good way to study this, however.  If you think about it more deeply, it gets kind of squishy.  What do you want to have control over?  How do you exercise control?  You can exercise control in subtle ways without it seeming to be control.  The more I went into it, the less confident I was that I could come up with a  good study design. Now, I had very famous people at Harvard advising me.  I did not think they had a solid idea of how to study this either.  This did not seem to bother them.  They said, “You’ll go on and do great work.”  I said to myself, “You guys are loonie. I am not going to paradise to be miserable for a year, worried about how I’ll get a thesis out of this.”  I turned down Years 2 and 3 of the funding.  I gave the money back.  I figured I would re-apply for funding if I ever came up with a good way study it, but I was not going to do a lousy job.  So I had to come up with another thesis topic.

My first year in graduate school, which, by that time, was three years earlier.  My advisor, Jerry Kagan, had been jumping up and down about the cognitive advances seen in babies in the first years of life such as stranger anxiety and finding a hidden-object.  Things like that.  These changes appeared at roughly the same time in babies all over the world –babies living at home, babies in daycare, in kibbutzim, in Africa, Europe, Asia, North America, and so on.  It didn’t matter.  He said, “It cannot be all learning.  It cannot be all experience because their experiences are too different.  There must be a maturational component.”  He was jumping up and down about it.  He was so excited that you could not help but feel excited about it.  However, at the time, I had another thesis topic. But when I gave up my original thesis topic, I came back to this question.  Clearly, the maturational bit had to be in the brain.  So I had to begin learning about the brain.  That’s how I got into neuroscience.  There was no one at Harvard in Psychology at the time studying the human brain, which is hard to believe now.  I said to them, “There should be someone on my thesis committee that knows something about the brain, especially the parts of the brain I am talking about — prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus — just to see if what I am saying makes sense.” (My thesis was just behavioral studies with babies, but the hypothesis behind it was based on the brain.)  Harvard replied, “We don’t have anyone who does this, so we don’t think it’s important.” But they allowed that I could add an additional member to my thesis committee from outside Harvard who had this expertise.  I was very lucky that Nelson Butters at the Boston VA accepted my invitation to join the thesis committee as the fourth member.

Until I did my Postdoc in the Department of Neuroanatomy at Yale Medical School, I was pretty much self-taught because there was no one around to teach me.  I mispronounced all sorts of words wrong – such as pyramidal neurons which I pronounced as pyr·a·mi·dal (ˈpir-ə-ˌmi-dal) but which should be pronounced py·ra·mi·dal (pə-ˈra-mə-dəl) – because I was only learning by reading.

It is ironic that I never expected to be a scientist; I never wanted to be a scientist; yet I have worked not only worked in cognitive neuroscience and developmental cognitive neuroscience but in many different disciplines like molecular genetics and visual neuroscience that even after I went into neuroscience I never imagined do any work in. It was never because I wanted to study another discipline or another technique in themselves.  It was because I had a question that required that I go there.  So I went into neuroscience because I wanted to answer the questioned posed by Jerry Kagan.  All of the other times were that I wanted to answer the next question that came from what I was doing.

6. What have been your major areas of research?

All of my research has been tied to prefrontal cortex and the cognitive abilities dependent on prefrontal, whichare loosely called executive functions (EFs).  That involves being able to exert self-control to not blurt out something you regret.  You think before you act rather than reacting or acting impulsively.  Another part is reasoning and problem-solving – being able to hold different pieces of information in mind and relate one fact or idea to another, to be able to play with ideas in your mind.  That involves working memory.  Another aspect of the inhibitory control component of EFs besides self-control is selective attention, to be able to inhibit extraneous things so that you pay attention to the most important things.  The third core EF cognitive flexibility, involves being able to flexibly react to a situation rather than rigidly sticking to one plan, being able to creatively think outside the box, being able come up with something that perhaps nobody has thought of before.  All of my work has been about that.  It turns out that the abilities, which were beginning to develop in babies in the first year of life all over the world, were elementary EFs: working memory and inhibitory control.  After I got data from monkeys that made an argument that the frontal lobe was involved in these changes, the next question was, “What about the frontal lobe was changing?”  It is too vague to say the frontal lobe is maturing.  It is like saying, “Children develop.”  What about prefrontal cortex was changing?  Probably a lot of things.  But we knew in the monkey brain that the level of the neurotransmitter, dopamine, which is very important in prefrontal cortex was increasing in the whole brain, and particularly in prefrontal.  I thought increasing levels of dopamine in prefrontal might be part of the biological change making possible those cognitive changes in the babies.  So how are you going to study this?

It so happened that at a conference a colleague mentioned that she was looking into children with the disorder called Phenylketonuria (PKU).  These kids cannot metabolize an amino acid called phenylalanine.  If you do not treat this disorder, levels of phenylalanine become so high that they are toxic to the brain, and you have gross damage brain and severe mental retardation.  The treatment is to try and remove phenylalanine as much as possible from the diet.  However, phenylalanine never occurs in isolation.  It is a component of protein.  So the only way to take out phenylalanine is to take out protein.  You do not want to deprive kids entirely of protein.  Doctors needed to do a delicate balance between getting a child some protein and not having the child have too much phenylalanine.  Phenylalanine competes with tyrosine to enter the brain.  So if the compromise the doctor works out involves the level of phenylalanine in the blood being a little more elevated than it should be, the level of tyrosine reaching the brain will a little less than it should be.  Now, what the person at the conference told me was kids with PKU on the dietary compromise prescribed by doctors had EF deficits, but doctors were ignoring those reported deficits because nobody could imagine a mechanism by which only certain functions of the brain would be affected.  Besides, the kids looked great on IQ tests, and they had normal head circumference.  So the doctors did not want to hear about problems.  They said, “We solved this.  They are no mentally retarded.”  Well, when I was a postdoc, on the floor below me, there was a lab headed by Bob Roth who happened to be studying the competition between tyrosine and another amino acid.  What they showed was that if tyrosine is lowered only a little bit (tyrosine is the precursor of dopamine, by the way) it does not affect most dopamine systems in the brain.  They are robust in the face of having a little less raw material (a little less tyrosine from which to make dopamine).  However, Bob Roth’s lab showed that prefrontal cortex is different; it is affected by even small reductions in tyrosine.  So I said, “This fits what is happening with these kids with PKU.”  If they are on diet, phenylalanine levels are only slightly increased, which would reduce the amount of tyrosine reaching the brain only slightly.  So it should selectively affect prefrontal cortex and selectively affect EFs.  We did an animal model to show this.  We followed children with PKU longitudinally to show this.  We showed the mechanism causing the EF deficits in PKU children and we showed the EF deficits more definitively than had been done before.  In response, almost overnight, the guidelines for medical treatment of PKU changed because once they had a mechanism, once they understood the cause and what to do about it, it was easy to react.

In the course of doing the longitudinal study, I got some information I did not want to hear – which was that the special property of the dopamine system in prefrontal cortex that made the effects of PKU selective to prefrontal were also true of the retina.  Every last one of the special properties.  To be consistent, I had to predict that the retina would be affected in kids with PKU too.  I contacted the world’s expert on the retina at Harvard.  He got all excited because ”we know this”  and he started telling me at the cellular level.  But I wanted to know at the behavioral level so I could study it!  He said, “Well, we do not know as much about that.  However, we do know that if dopamine is dramatically reduced, as in Parkinson’s disease, there is a deficit in contrast sensitivity.  So I teamed up with a pediatric optometrist, Chaya Herzberg.  We studied contrast sensitivity in the kids.  Sure enough, they were impaired.  We had two totally different behavioral deficits predicted by the same underlying mechanism.  I can keep going on, but I will not.  There is a paper in a book called Malleable Minds, edited by Rena Subotnik and others, which talks about how I went from one thing not finding, or that I did not understand, to investigating what might be going on there. How can I try to understand the thing that is not fitting?  Or, what are the implications of what we know now for something else? Or, now that we know enough to help kids, how can we go about helping kids, and showing that it helps?

7. If you had unlimited funding and unrestricted freedom, what research would you conduct?

That’s easy.  I want to study the benefits of theatre, music, dance, storytelling, youth circus, and so on, for kids.  EFs are like the ‘canary in the coal mine.’  They are the first to show the effects, and they show them most dramatically, if you are sad, stressed, lonely, not physically fit, or sleep-deprived.  In other words, if you want kids to be able to function well cognitively, if you want them to succeed to school and careers, you need to care about their emotional, social, and physical health.  If any of those needs are unmet, they will pull EFs down.  It will pull school or job performance down.  If you think about the activities that address all the parts of you, it is activities like those I just mentioned.  They challenge EFs, which is critical.  They require holding information in mind, paying close attention and concentrating, and so on.  They give kids great joy and feelings of pride and self-confidence.  The things that I have been talking about are ensemble activities like orchestra, social, communal dance, and so on, where everyone is part of a group or team and working together.  Everybody is an important part of a whole (social connection and belonging).  All of them involve developing physically.  It is most obvious with something like dance or circus.  However, even something like playing an instrument requires eye-hand coordination, manual dexterity, and so on.

That is what I would do.  I had an ad in Variety that asked for funding to do this because the eyes of grant reviewers (who love my basic science work) galze over when I ask for funding to study the benefits of music,  dance, storytelling, or youth circus.  I am considering trying to raise funds to serious, state of the art studies of this through crowdscource funding.

The arts have been around since the beginning of civilization.  And they have been in every civilization everywhere.  If they were just a frill, would they have lasted so long and been found everywhere?  If they were just a frill, you would not think they would have that staying power.  You would not think they would have independently developed in so many different places.  They must  address fundamental needs of people.

8. You earned the Tier I Canada Research Chair Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience in 2004.   What is involved in this position?  What social responsibilities does subsequent funding and influence entail?

The Canada Research Chair means that I am freed from other responsibilities to do research.  I do not have to teach.  I teach every other year because I love to teach; I do not get paid anymore to teach.  I do not have to run my conference, and I do not get any more pay for running the conference.  The conference is for the general public.  It is transformational for the people who go to it and it has a ripple effect, helping many more people than just those who attend.  Every single person of the 700+ attending gave it a standing ovation at the end.  For the last two conferences (2010 and 2013) 98% of attendees gave it an outstanding review.  The effects reach medical practice, educational practice, and parenting.  If you go to my website, you will see several different social service things that we are involved in.  For the conference, I worked hard with people from countries that Canada is not so inclined to give visas to such as the Philippines, South Africa, or Palestine.

The only child and adolescence psychiatrist in Gaza emailed me that he was coming to the conference.  He was all excited.  Two weeks later, he emailed me, very disappointed, that his institution had spent all of its travel funds for the year.  I emailed him back right away, “Do not worry, you can still come.  We will not charge you registration for the conference and between the Arab-Muslim and Jewish communities in Vancouver, each will raise half of the funds for your travel expenses.”  Of course, I had not asked anybody yet.  So now, I had to ask people! (Laughs) People were great.  They raised the money.  Jews outside of British Columbia (BC), even as far as Israel, sent money.

About 6 weeks before the conference, I received another concerned email from the doctor in Gaza.  Obviously, there is no Canadian embassy in Gaza or anywhere in Palestine.  So his visa had been sent to the closest Canadian embassy – the one in Cairo – but there was unrest in Egypt and Canada had closed its embassy in Cairo.  Also, he was supposed to fly out of Cairo but the border between Gaza and Egypt had been closed because of the unrest.  The wonderful, wonderful man who was the Representative of Canada in Ramallah (Hussein Hirji) arranged for the doctor’s visa to be sent to Tel Aviv, but Israel, bless its heart, would not allow a Palestinian to go from Gaza to Tel Aviv to pick up the visa and back.  So Hussein had it couriered from Tel Aviv to Sami Owaida (the doctor in Gaza).  Then I had to quickly change Sami’s flight to go out of Amman, Jordan, instead of Cairo.  But he needed a visa to enter Jordan.  All of that happened and he was at the conference! (Laughs)

It was great.  One of the big topics at the conference was trauma.  In particular, the ways to recognize unusual signs and how to try and help people recover.  It is hard to think of a place where there have been more traumatized people.

9. What do you consider the controversial topics in your field? How do you examine the controversial topics?

One controversial topic is, what EFs are – if they are distinct or all one?   Whether EFs can be improved in children, and how, is controversial.  In addition, there is a lot we do not know such as the optimal timing of programs to improve EFs, how long programs should be – in terms of months/years and in terms of how long a single session should be.  Many of the programs that have worked have had multiple components.   There is disagreement about whether we should try to discover which discrete part is most responsible for the benefit, or whether it is a gestalt and trying to study individual features in isolation would be the wrong way to go.

There are disagreements about how to interpret behavioral findings on EF tests.  Exactly, why did somebody fail or succeed?  There are disagreements about most everything.  So in that sense, most everything is controversial.

10. What do some in opposition to you argue? How do you respond?

Sometimes, it is an empirical question.  We respond by saying, “Let’s do a study together.”  I did that with a colleague from England.  We published in 2013.  He was right.  I was wrong.  We say this in the paper.

Sometimes, it is very clear that they are wrong, and they are just being stubborn to say what they say, because the data so clearly show they are wrong.  I try to say that, but it usually falls on deaf ears.

Sometimes, we, alone, will try to do a study to answer the question empirically.  It may at times send me back to the drawing board to re-think things.

11. What advice do you have for young psychologists?

I think that they should follow their heart, what excites them, and not worry about whether they will get a job or even tenure.  Sometimes, they think that they should study x because x is more marketable.  I do not think that they should worry about marketability.  I think they should follow what really is their passion.  And the opportunities will come from that because they will do the best work in what they are most interested in doing.  There is no best time to have kids.  If somebody is waiting to have kids until there are no pressures or the right time;there is no right time and there always be pressures.  You might as well do it.

There is no point in holding a grudge or being ungracious.  There is no point in making enemies. Let things roll off your back, and to just be kind and considerate to everybody, even if someone has not been that way to you.

12. Whom do you consider your biggest influences? Could you recommend any seminal or important books/articles by them?

Jerry Bruner, Pat Goldman-Rakic, George Goethals, Robert Swearer, Elliott Stellar, Jim Stellar.

13. In an interview with Dr. Elizabeth Loftus from In-Sight Issue 2.A, I quote an acceptance speech for an award from the AAAS for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility.   In it, she said, “We live in perilous times for science…and in order for scientists to preserve their freedoms they have a responsibility…to bring our science to the public arena and to speak out as forcefully as we can against even the most cherished beliefs that reflect unsubstantiated myths.” How important do you see criticizing ‘unsubstantiated myths’ in ‘perilous times’ for Science?

I wonder if that was done during President Bush, seriously, because he would say things that were not true. There were political ads by “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth”that were full of lies first against Senator Max Cleland from Virginia, a Vietnam veteran who was paraplegic, and they challenged his patriotism and military duty.  After that, they did to the same thing against Senator Kerry when he was running for President.What they said were lies, just lies.

A lot of times, if you look at the discussion section of a scientific paper, what is said there is not substantiated in the results section.  Oftentimes, what people will say in the press, or a discussion paper, is unsubstantiated, even though they make it sound like it is substantiated.  That is very serious, a very serious problem.

I think it is very important to speak out against lies, to speak the truth, and the to stand up for justice and what is right.  It is important to speak up when scientific findings are ignored or mis-used.

Prime Minister Harper is making it difficult for scientists in the federal government here to get the truth out.  If he disagrees with the truth, they are not supposed to publish it.  That is a huge problem.

14. I noticed in conducting a rather large literature review with a professor from the University of the Fraser Valley, in some of our research for environmental psychology, the discussion on the great level of lobbying involved in environmental issues.

Look at fracking, the evidence is that it is bad.  We should not allow fracking.  However, there is so much money coming from the industry that the material is not coming through.  President Obama supports fracking now, and he is a good man.  I think if he saw the evidence, he would change his mind.  It is a huge problem.  People claim x, y, and z is evidenced-based.  That a, b, and c are not.  Even though, the evidence shows the reverse.

Emile Durkheim said, ‘Words really are not nearly as powerful as we thought.  They do not really have the power to persuade you if your mind is set against it.  The only time words have power is if you were already sort of inclined to think that way.’  If you were not inclined in that way at all, words will not likely persuade you.

15. Regarding Durkheim’s statement, this might support more foundational education.  For example, rather than a smart group of people selecting the appropriate thoughts and ideas for everyone in their education, you have students learn the tools for effective reasoning.

Right!  You want people who can reason, problem-solve, can think, and can use executive functions.

Bibliography

1)  [On Being] (2009, September 30). Soundseen: In the Room with Adele Diamond. Retrieved from http://vimeo.com/7708845.

2)  Dalai Lama Center [dalailamacenter] (2013, June 20). Heart-Mind 2013: Adele Diamond – Cultivating the Mind. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXn74sYHsQM.

3)  Dalai Lama Center [dalailamacenter] (2012, January 25). Adele Diamond with the Dalai Lama. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kD2cWBGMVAg.

4)  Diamond, A. (2014). Want to optimize executive functions and academic outcomes? Simple, just nourish the human spirit. Minnesota Symposium on Child Psychology, 37, 205-232

5)  Diamond, A. (2012). Activities and programs that improve children’s executive functions.Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21, 335-341.

6)  Diamond, A. (2001).  A model system for studying the role of dopamine in prefrontal cortex during early development in humans. In C. Nelson & M. Luciana (Eds.), Handbook of developmental cognitive neuroscience (p. 433-472). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Reprinted in M.H. Johnson, Y. Munakata, & R. O. Gilmore (eds.). (2002). Reader in brain development and cognition. London, UK: Blackwell Press.

7)  Diamond, A. (2011).  Biological and social influences on cognitive control processes dependent on prefrontal cortex.  Progress in Brain Research, 89, 317-337. (special issue entitled “Gene Expression to Neurobiology and Behavior: Human Brain Development and Developmental Disorders”)

8)  Diamond, A. (2007). Consequences of variations in genes that affect dopamine in prefrontal cortex. Cerebral Cortex, 17, 161-170.

9)  Diamond, A. (2012). How I came full circle from the social end of psychology, to neuroscience, and back again, in an effort to understand the development of cognitive control. In R. F. Subotnik, A. Robinson, C. M. Callahan, & P. Johnson (Eds.), Malleable Minds. (p.55-84). Storrs, CT: The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, U. of Conn.

10)  Diamond, A. (in press). Want to optimize EFs and academic outcomes? Simple, just nourish the human spirit. Minnesota Symposia on Child Psychology: Developing cognitive control processes: Mechanisms, implications, and interventions, 37.

11)  Diamond, A., Ciaramitaro, V., Donner, E., Djali, S., & Robinson, M. (1994). An animal model of early-treated PKU. Journal of Neuroscience, 14, 3072-3082

12)  Diamond, A. & Herzberg, C. (1996). Impaired sensitivity to visual contrast in children treated early and continuously for PKU.Brain, 119, 523-538.

13)  Diamond, A., Prevor, M., Callender, G., & Druin, D.P. (1997). Prefrontal cortex cognitive deficits in children treated early and continuously for PKU. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development (Monograph #252), 62 (4), 1-207.

14)  Garrison Institute [GarrisonInstitute] (2011, January 10). Adele Diamond at the Garrison Institute. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TB6sVyTXJRg.

15)  Garrison Institute [GarrisonInstitute] (2011, December 5). Adele Diamond on Why Disciplining the Mind May Be Critical for Children’s Academic Success. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wdFKPTEL2M.

16)  Garrison Institute [GarrisonInstitute] (2012, July 16). Child Development and the Brain: Insights to Help Every Child Thrive. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQ_j1mjGLow.

17)  Kiefer, F. [Fanny Kiefer] (2012, January 24). Adele Diamond on Studio 4 with Fanny Kiefer Part 1 of 2. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKbXXGT5N8M.

18)  Kiefer, F. [Fanny Kiefer] (2012, January 24). Adele Diamond on Studio 4 with Fanny Kiefer Part 2 of 2. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBHZC5vkhQg.

19)  Seattle Children’s Hospital [SeattleChildrens] (2012, October 18). Understanding EF. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWBn9LOHjzA.

20)  Towson University [Towson University] (2012, January 24). MSDE – Dr Adele Diamond. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0W8Y9l1toE

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In-sight by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, In-sight, and In-Sight Publishing 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-sight with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Dr. Miriam Erez: Professor Emeritus, Vice Dean MBA Programs, Technion: Israel Institute of Technology

Dr. Miriam Erez

1. In terms of geography, culture, and language, where does your family background reside?  How do you find this influencing your development?

I was born in Israel. My father came to Israel in a youth movement in 1925, as a pioneer who wanted to build an independent state for the Jewish people, and their dream was realized 1948 with the establishment of Israel as an independent state.

My mother’s older brother did the same, and his family followed him and came to Israel in 1931, when my mother was 11 years old.

2. What do you consider a pivotal moment in your upbringing? Did this influence your entering into the your field?  If so, how?

A pivotal moment was when my parents moved to a suburb of Haifa, when I was 8 years old. In this community the emphasis was on contribution to the society at large and to the local community in particular, including the absorption of new immigrants who managed to survive the holocaust and to come to Israel. This has strongly influence my own personal development.

3. Your current responsibilities lie in research and teaching under The Mendes France Chair of Management & Economics.  What does this role imply?  What courses do you teach at present?  In particular, what research have you conducted up to present through this position?

I do not anymore hold the Mendes France Chair… because I am a professor emeritus now.  However, I am still the Vice Dean for the MBA programs, the advisor to the Technion President on the promotion of women students and faculty, I am the chair of the National Council for the promotion of women in science and technology, and the founder and chair of the Knowledge Center for Innovation, which I established after I received the Israel Prize in 2005, and I felt I want to contribution to the Israeli society by enhancing innovation in the Israeli industry.

4. An aging workforce stands as a major problem for the economy of advanced industrial nations, especially in the long-term.  According to Tanova and Boltom in 2008, traditional factors contributing to ‘voluntary turnover’ are the ‘ease of movement’ and the ‘desirability of moving’ with regards to work.  Furthermore, you found new results about the contributory factor of ‘job embeddedness’.  In a paper entitled Why People Stay: using Job Embeddedness to Predict Voluntary Turnover (2001), you state, “The personal and organizational costs of leaving a job are often very high.”  Can you define ‘job embeddedness’?  Why does voluntary turnover occur in spite of the ‘very high’ costs?  In particular, what does this mean for advanced industrial nations with an aging work force?

Embeddedness conveys the meaning of being part of workplace, part of the community and part of the physical surrounding. One of our poets – Saul Tcernichovsky, wrote that a “Man is nothing but his native landscape format”.   What this means is that we are shaped by, and become part of the place in which we work, we live as part of the social community, and as part of the physical landscape. Our research findings showed that indeed, people who have a stronger sense of embeddedness are less likely to change their workplace and their social community.  This paper highlights the existence of forces that attenuate the likelihood of turnover, and that it is not only the level of work satisfaction which explains the tendency to stay or quit jobs.

5. Of particular interest in the area of life, but within your area of expertise as well – work, you published a paper in 2013 called Emotion Display Norms in Virtual Teams.  You incorporated a conceptual framework from A dynamic multi-level model of culture: From the microlevel of the individual to the macro level of a global culture (2004).  This describes the connections of nested relationships between cultures and values from the individual to the global level.  What were the findings of this 2013 paper?  In addition, in an increasingly diverse, multi-cultural, and international world and subsequent work environment, how much does understanding multi-cultural and contextual differences in emotion matter for virtual collaboration? 

We are only now starting to learn the effect of a virtual, multicultural environment on human communication, on the social identity – from a local identity to a global identity, and on team cooperation and team performance. The 2013 paper on emotion display norms showed that there is going to be a global culture, with global emotion display norms. Namely, when working in the global work context, people from different cultures perceive the emotional display norms in a similar way, namely, more positive and less negative than in their own culture. While there is going to be a consensus among members from different cultures about the emotion display norms in the global context, there is still a high variation in the perceived emotion display norms in different cultures.  My prediction is that individuals and teams are going to function at two contextual environments, in their local cultural environments, in which they activate their local identity and display emotions in line with their cultural norms, and at the same time, they also function in a global context, in which they activate their global identity and display emotions similar to others who come from other cultures.

6. You co-authored an interesting paper in 2005 highly relevant to entrepreneurs in the world of international business called Culture and International Business: Recent Advanced and Future Directions.  It looks into the changing nature of international business.  In particular, you ask if global business will change, and if the various differences in values and culture might create a standard set of ‘business practices’.  The paper was meant to draw out the basis for future directions of research.  What future directions did you derive from the research?

Similar to my answer to point #6, we are going to live in two contexts – the immediate local cultural context, and the more distant, global work context. As a result, we are going to develop two identities – local and global identity, and two sets for emotional and behavioral norms – one for the local culture and one for the global culture. Hence, the world is going to be more complex and individuals will have to learn which emotion to display and which identity to activate, depending on the salience of the local versus global context. Furthermore, it will be interesting to study which identity dominates in case of identity conflicts.

7. In a hypothetical perfect world with plenty of funding and time, and if guaranteed an answer, what single topic would you research?

I would study how to enhance the level of creativity and innovation in a global work environment of a growing complexity, and through cooperation, in order to come up with solutions to human problems in all the spectrum of life, in all parts of the world, and to share the benefit of innovation in a more egalitarian way.

8. What do you consider the controversial topic in your field at this time?  How do you examine the issue?

The controversial topic in my field pertains to the increasing level of diversity in the workplace, as a result of globalization, and to the impact of team and organizational diversity on innovation.

I initiate studies on the meaning of creativity in different cultures, and studies on the interaction effect of culture and the work context on creativity. For example, in our 2013 paper we studied the level of innovation of culturally diverse teams versus homogenous teams when working under very specific instructions versus general ones and we found, that the level of creativity is higher under general versus specific instructions for both culturally heterogeneous versus homogenous teams. This is not the case when performing and “execute” task that has one correct answer.  In this case, homogeneous teams work better than heterogeneous teams when performing a task under general instructions, but there are no differences between the two types of teams when working under specific instructions.

9. You have spent time speaking on the plights of women in the academy.  In particular, the low enrollment and graduation rates of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.  What is the set of causes for this plight?

We are in a period of change from a traditional society with a clear sex role differentiation – women at home, men at work, to a modern egalitarian society with equal opportunities to make choices for both men and women. The change is already observed in medicine, where the percentage of men and women is equal today, but there were times when women were not allowed to be admitted to medical schools. But another related reason for it is that women have a higher social motivation than men, and better social skills than men, and as a result, they are more attracted to jobs that allow them to interact with others and to contribute to the society. Today we find that the gap between technology and socially oriented work is getting smaller. For example, there is a strong relationship between having IT knowledge and skills, and facilitating social interactions via social networks. Also there is a strong relationship between medical instruments and helping people to improve their quality of life.  In addition, there is a shortage of engineers and scientists today, and the job opportunities and the high salaries relative to social science jobs, will eventually attract more women and companies will pay more attention to make the workplace more friendly to women.

10. If any, what responsibility do academics and researchers have for contributing to society and culture?

Academics and researchers have a huge responsibility for contributing to society and culture. They are responsible for the education of the new generations, they are responsible for developing new knowledge in all fields of science and technology, and consequently, they are responsible to the quality of life and well-being of humanity.
11. Who most influenced you? Why them?  Can you recommend any books or articles by them?

It is hard for me to answer it. I was influenced by different people and different books in different periods of my life. I believe that I was also influenced by the interaction with my family members and with my students as I have developed as a person, as an educator and as a researcher.

12. Where do you see your field in the next 5, 10, and 25 years?  With respect to more representation of women, where do you see the demographics of men and women?  Especially, what about the high-end of the achievement?

I think that the direction of our field of social sciences in general and of organization behavior in particular is going towards a higher level of complexity, a stronger emphasis on methodology, and a new direction towards studying the physiological correlates of emotions, thoughts and behaviors.

Bibliography

1)  Erez, M. [The Open University]. (2012, December 2). Prof. Miriam Erez: Statistical Overview of Women in Science in Israel and Abroad. [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9kOOoM-n2g

2)  Erez, M., and Gati, E., (2004). A dynamic multi-level model of culture: From the microlevel of the individual to the macro level of a global culture. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 53, 583-598.

3)  Glikson, E., & Erez, M. (2013). Emotion display norms in virtual teams. Journal Of Personnel Psychology, 12(1), 22-32. doi:10.1027/1866-5888/a000078

4)  Govindarajan, V. and Gupta, A.K. (2001) The Quest for Global Dominance: Transforming Global Presence into Global Competitive Advantage, Jossey-Bass: San Francisco.

5)  Hofstede, G. (1980) Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values, Sage: Newbury Park, CA.

6)  Leung, K., Bhagat, R., Buchan, N.R, Erez, M., and Gibson, C.B. (2005). Culture and International Business: Recent Advanced and Future Directions.  Journal of International Business Studies 36, 357-378

7)  Mitchell, T.R., Holtom, B.C., Lee, T.W., Sablynski, C.J. and Erez, M. (2001). “Why People Stay: Using Job Embeddedness to Predict Voluntary Turnover”. Academy of Management Journal, 44, 1102-1122

8)  Tanova, C., & Holtom, B. C. (2008). Using job embeddedness factors to explain voluntary turnover in four European countries. International Journal Of Human Resource Management, 19(9), 1553-1568. doi:10.1080/09585190802294820

9)  Yarron, H. M. et al [The Open University]. (2012, December 17). Panel Discussion: The Road to the Top: Paved with Dubious Intentions?. [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6ccvZMtqF8

License

In-sight by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, In-sight, and In-Sight Publishing 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-sight with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Dr. Wanda Cassidy: Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University; Director, Centre for Education, Law & Society

Dr. Wanda Cassidy

1. In terms of geography, culture, and language, where does your family background reside?  How do you find this influencing your development?

My mother’s background is Swedish– from northern Sweden, near the Arctic Circle. My grandfather came to Canada and set up a homestead in Alberta.  His wife and their oldest five children – my mother had not yet been born – were scheduled to follow two years later, on the Titanic…seriously!  My grandfather didn’t know that the Titanic was overbooked and his family had to take a later boat; instead, he thought they were lost. Of course, communication was poor in those days.

My father’s background is Irish, English, and Scottish.  His grandparents immigrated to Nova Scotia, with 3 of the children (my grandfather being one), later moving west to Saskatchewan, where my grandfather made a living as a professional boxer. (Laughs). Apparently, he never lost a fight and won most matches by knock-out.  I guess, he had a bit of an Irish temper. (Laughs)

From both sets of grandparents (and from my parents), I learned the value of hard work, kindness towards others, and being adventurous. Even during the difficult days of the Depression, my maternal grandfather never turned away anyone asking for work on his farm, for food, or a place to stay. There was a generosity of spirit, which was communicated to his children and grandchildren

2. How was your youth? How did you come to this point? What do you consider a pivotal moment?

Growing up, I always wanted to make a positive difference in the world and to help others.  Back when I was in university, not a lot of doors were open for women, and I did not have a lot of professional roles models. For example, among my 73 first cousins, I am the only one who went on to do a doctorate. Because I loved teaching and enjoyed working with young people, I followed in my mother’s footsteps and became a teacher.  When I was offered the job, I was asked, “Would you like to teach Law 12 as part of your teaching assignment?”  As a history major, I thought, “I know nothing about law, but I want the job.” (Laughs)  I said, “I will approach it as a person who knows little, but knows people who do know.”  So developed my course around a community-based curriculum, inviting many guests into my classroom and learning with the students. II received funding from the Legal Services Society to share the model I had developed, since very few Law 12 teachers had a law degree, and later was hired by this agency as their Schools Program Director.  My job was to provide curriculum resources and professional development for teachers and students in   British Columbia, to improve their overall knowledge of law.

This position was pivotal in my own career. While planning a national conference I met a professor at Simon Fraser who encouraged me to develop a program with him in the Faculty of Education.  We were able to secure funding from the Law Foundation of BC, the Real Estate Foundation, the Notary Foundation and other agencies and law firms, and began what came to be called the Centre for Education, Law & Society.

While developing the Centre (CELS), I obtained my Master’s degree in law-related education from SFU and later secured a scholarship to attend the University of Chicago, where I earned my Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction.  I returned to SFU in a professorship position, where I happily remain.

In terms of what motivates me:  I like to be creating new things, to push the boundaries of “what is” to “what could be.” I like to be challenged and seek to draw like-minded people together to advance these goals.

3. At present, you hold the position Director for the ‘Centre for Education, Law & Society’.  What responsibilities and duties does this imply? 

It is a part of my work as an Associate Professor of Education.  The centre’s mandate is to improve the legal literacy of youth and young adults, in the school system, in community settings and at the post-secondary level.  We do this through a program of research, teaching and community-based initiatives. We developed 3 undergraduate courses and recently completed our first offering of a Master’s program in justice, law, and ethics. Our research topics vary: for example, recently we completed a 4-year study on legal literacy of youth in grades 6 to 10, which focused on human rights, citizenship, identity issues and environmental sustainability.  We’ve also investigated cyberbullying in schools and at the post-secondary levels. I also helped establish a school for students who face multiple challenges in their lives and who don’t succeed in the regular public school.  I continue to be an educational consultant to this unique and highly successful school (see http://www.focusbc.org).

My job as Director is to manage our current projects, seek additional funding for new projects, provide support to graduate students, and work with other agencies to improve the legal literacy of youth. Legal literacy involves understanding the role law plays in our society and what it means to be an informed, engaged citizen. The law can be a tool to create a society that is respectful and caring towards others, sensitive to human and civil rights, and inclusive of diversity. Legal literacy also involves knowledge of those aspects of law that affect our daily lives in a practical way, such as purchasing goods from a store, holding a job, renting a home, or getting married. It also involves an understanding of broader influences which guide our society, such as the UN Declaration of Human Rights and other UN documents.  Also, asking, “Are we implementing those basic human rights in our own society and elsewhere in the world?”  And if we are, what role can Canada play in providing for the needs and rights that all human beings should have for themselves?

4. In some recent research, you note the unfortunate global occurrence of bullying.  In particular, the existence of cyberbullying.  For readers, can you define cyberbullying?  What negative psychological, emotional, and physical consequences arise from cyberbullying for the victims and the perpetrators?

‘Cyberbullying’ is bullying through online sources such as smart phones, Facebook, e-mail, blogs or chat rooms, or any of the various technological tools at our disposal.  It involves sending harmful, derogatory, harassing, negative, sometimes repulsive – even sexual, messages or images to somebody with the intent to harm or hurt them. The impact is often quite devastating.  It can cause sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, fear, inability to concentrate, and sometimes leads to suicidal thoughts. Cyberbullying is different from face-to-face bullying in that it can be anonymous: “Where is this coming?  A friend, an acquaintance, a stranger, someone I sit next to in class, why are they doing this to me?” People are so connected online.  They open their social networking sites and see a derogatory message from someone.  How do they deal with it? Oftentimes, they cannot get rid of the message, which results in them being bullied over and over again.

Research shows that cyberbullying can start as early as age 9 or 10, extending into adolescence and dying down somewhat by age 15 or 16.   In our current study we are looking at the extent of cyberbullying at the post-secondary level, among undergraduates and towards faculty members. We were surprised to learn that approximately 1/5 of undergraduate students at the 4 universities we studied had experiencing cyberbullying from another student, and approximately the same number of faculty members had been cyberbullied either by students and/or by colleagues. These messages can be hurtful—indeed devastating– at any age.

5. Your conceptualization of ‘cyberkindness’ seems to me, in essence, digital civility, bringing civil discourse in the real world into the electronic media. 

Yes, I call the internet and other outlets for communication a ‘flat medium’, in that, they cannot convey facial expressions, body language, or tone of voice, and therefore the intent of a message may be misinterpreted. Further the sender does not see the impact a message might have on the recipient, such as they might see in face-to-face bullying. We have yet to learn more effective ways to communicate through technology.

Also, we have cyberbullying because bullying is present in the wider society, and too many are rewarded for their bullying behaviour. Politicians bully each other and sometimes seem to relish in the experience.  Countries bully each other, employers bully employees, corporations bully each other to get an edge in the market, and so on.

We need to look at what is being modelled by adults, since modelling is one of the most powerful teachers.  Young people learn not only from what they are told, but what they experience and see being modeled around them.

6. What strategies can students employ individually and collectively to reduce the occurrence and harms of cyberbullying and bullying in general?  In addition, within your recent work, you discuss the development of “cyber-kindness” and an “ethic of care”.  For readers, what is the abridged definition of this terminology, and the practical application and outcome of them?

I began researching cyberbullying because I had done research on the ethic of care and the positive impact this philosophy had on students, teachers and the school culture. When I began to investigate cyberbullying, I did not want to deal with the negative alone. I wanted to look at the notion of “cyber-kindness” and the ways in which technology could be used to communicate positive, respectful and kind messages.  This notion of care is situated within the broader philosophical worldview of Nel Nodding’s and Carol Gilligan’s work – caring being a relational ethic.  Here caring is not a ‘fuzzy’ feeling, by rather showing empathy towards the other, understanding the needs of the other, and working in the other’s best interests.

Schools that embrace the ethic of care have less bullying and cyberbullying, because they focus on relationships, empathy and the understanding of others.  For example, a couple of years ago, we worked with a school where five grade 7 girls were actively cyberbullying each other with really nasty comments on a social networking site.  The principal, rather than suspending them, saw their leadership potential and re-directed the negative energy they had towards each other into working on productive projects at the school.  She met with them once a week and, as the discussions unfolded, they apologized to each other about the hurtful messages they had been sending. They stopped these negative interchanges, but more importantly, ended up contributing to the school, and influencing the culture of the whole school.  Their enthusiasm for doing positive things was infectious and spilled over to the other grades as well.

What this principal demonstrated is that it is important to address the root causes of cyberbullying, not just the symptoms (i.e. the behaviour).

7. In a hypothetical perfect world with plenty of funding and time, and if guaranteed an answer, what single topic would you research?

Ways to create a kinder world, how do we change the ‘human being’ to become more respectful and kinder to one another? I am somewhat of a utopian in this regard.

Perhaps we can start by getting to know our neighbour, and by this, I mean getting to know others outside of our circle or enclave.  Entering into a dialogue, listening to others and learning from others.  A kinder world would be a more peaceful world and a happier world.

8. If any, what responsibility do academics and researchers have for contributing to society and culture?

I believe we have a 100% responsibility to share our knowledge.  Further, our research should connect with real issues facing the world.  We not only have a responsibility to research important issues, but to also communicate our findings to the wider public. In my own work, I try to focus on areas that will benefit society. Also, I engage with the media and the public to bring an academic perspective to issues.  For example, everyone has an opinion on cyberbullying, but we need to situate this discussion within the research.  We should not develop policy based on opinion.   It is important for academics, policy makers, government, the media and the public to work collaboratively to solve social problems.

9. Who most influenced you? Why them?  Can you recommend any books or articles by them?

There are many, many people who influenced me, but I’ll just mention a few.  My parents, of course.  Also four particular women.  A pastor’s wife when I was a teenager who made me feel that I was important and that my opinion was valued, even though I was young; she listened attentively, asked gentle but probing questions, and encouraged me to find my future.

Anna York, a friend I met when studying at the University of Chicago.  Although she struggled with MS, she was always authentic, a real person with depth, honesty and integrity. Her book, Rising Up!, documents her physical and spiritual journey into health.

Another woman I have known for years, Doreen, who now lives in Texas. She has experienced many challenges and setbacks in life, but is always positive, hopeful, with a deep faith that plays out in the practice of her life. She has always been there for me, when I’ve faced my own struggles and challenges.

Finally, I must mention the impact my daughter has had on my life.

Having a child has taught me so much — to be wise in what I share with her, to model what I feel is important in life, to have that wonderful opportunity — indeed a gift — to influence someone so inquisitive and open to learn.  Being given the gift of motherhood has caused me over and over again to re-evaluate my priorities and to consider what is important in life.  Probably more than anyone else in my life, just as I’ve influenced her, she has influenced me and now that she is a young adult, she continues to surprise me with her insights, her creativity, her commitments, and her wisdom.

10. Please elaborate on a point made earlier about ‘building a culture of compassion’, and focusing on the important things in life and in one’s work.

We are all busy.  There are too many things to distract us.  We need to be constantly reflecting on ‘who we are’ and, maybe this sounds trite, on our purpose in life.  In other words, asking ourselves, “What difference do we want to make in the world?”  It could be just influencing one person.  We do not need to look ‘big’ in that sense.  If someone helps one child, it may be just as significant as what Mother Theresa or or Nelson Mandela accomplished.  We all come to that point in our lives where we ask the question, “Why am I here?  Why are we here?  What am I doing?” Reflecting on these big questions of life, helps us focus and work towards goals that matters.

11. What worries and hopes do you have for the educational settings of the Lower Mainland, Canada, and international settings regarding bullying and cyberbullying?

I worry about people gravitating to quick-fixes.–buy this program, bring it into the schools, and it will solve the problem of bullying or cyberbullying.  This approach is not effective.  Rather, we need to do the hard work of building relationships and working on the root causes of negative behaviour. This also involves each one of us examining our own behaviour.

Another worry is that people will think, “Bullying has always been with us, just deal with it.” This is not helpful to the victim nor does it show empathy.  I’d like to think we can reduce incidents of bullying/cyberbullying rather than merely “learning to live with it.”

Bibliography

1)  Agatston, P., Kowalski, R., & Limber, S. (2012). Youth views on cyberbullying. In J. W. Patchin, S. Hinduja (Eds.) , Cyberbullying prevention and response: Expert perspectives (pp. 57-71). New York, NY US: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

2)  Beck, K. & Cassidy, W. (2009). Embedding the ethic of care in school policies and practices. In K. te Riele (Ed.) Making schools different: Alternative approaches to educating young people (Chap. 6), pp. 50-64, Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

3)  Brown, K., Jackson, M., & Cassidy, W. (2006). Cyber-bullying: Developing policy to direct responses that are equitable and effective in addressing this special form of bullying. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, Issue 57. http://www.umanitoba.ca/publications/cjeap/articles/brown_jackson_cassidy.html

4)  Cassidy, W. (2006).  From zero tolerance to a culture of care, Journal of Safe Management of Disruptive and Assaultive Behavior: Special Edition on School Safety, Fall 2006, 22-26.

5)  Cassidy, W., Faucher, C., & Jackson, M. (2013).  Cyberbullying among youth: A comprehensive review of    current international research and its implications and application to policy and practice, by invitation, in special international issue of School Psychology International, 34(6), 575-612.

6)  Cassidy, W., Faucher, C., & Jackson, M. (2013).  An essential library of international research in cyberbullying, by invitation, introduction to SAGE special collection of articles published by School Psychology International. [virtual special edition, published online with accompanying podcast by C. Faucher]

7)  Cassidy, W., Brown, K., & Jackson, M. (2012). ‘Making kind cool’: Parents’ suggestions for preventing cyber-bullying and fostering cyber-kindness.  Journal of Educational Computing Research, 46(4), 415-436.

8)  Cassidy, W., Brown, K., & Jackson, M. (2012). ‘Under the radar’: Educators and cyberbullying in schools. School Psychology International, 33(5), 520-532. Doi:  10.1177/0143034312445245

9)  Cassidy, W., Brown, K., & Jackson, M. (2011). Moving from cyber-bullying to cyber-kindness: What do students, educators and parents say? In Dunkels, E., Franberg, G.-M., & Hallgren, C. (Eds)  Youth culture and net culture: Online social practices (pp. 256-277).  Hershey, NY: Information Science Reference.

10)  Cassidy, W. & Chinnery, A. (2009). Learning from indigenous education. In K. te Riele (Ed.) Making

schools different: Alternative approaches to educating young people (Chap. 15), pp. 135-143, Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

11)  Cassidy, W., Jackson, M., & Brown, K. (2009). Sticks and stones can break my bones, but how can pixels hurt me? Students’ experiences with cyber-bullying. School Psychology International, 30(4), 383-402.

12)  Centre for Education, Law & Society (2014). Center for Education, Law & Society. Simon Fraser University. Retrieved February 18, 2014, from http://www.sfu.ca/education/cels.html

13)  Faculty of Education (2014). Dr. Wanda Cassidy. Simon Fraser University. Retrieved February, 2014, from http://www.educ.sfu.ca/profiles/?page_id=111

14)  Faucher, C., Jackson, M., & Cassidy, W. (in press). When on-line exchanges byte: An examination of the policy environment governing cyberbullying at the university level. Canadian Journal of Higher Education.

15)  Gilligan, Carol (1982). In a different voice: Psychological theory and women’s development.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

16)  Jackson, M., Cassidy, W. & Brown, K. (2009). Out of the mouth of babes: Students’ voice their opinions on cyber-bullying. Long Island Education Review, 8(2), 24-30.

17)  Jackson, M., Cassidy, W., & Brown, K. N. (2009). “you were born ugly and youl die ugly too”: Cyberbullying as relational aggression. In Education, 15(2).

18)  Kowalski, R. M., Morgan, C. A., & Limber, S. P. (2012). Traditional Bullying as a Potential Warning Sign of Cyberbullying. School Psychology International, 33(5), 505-519.

19)  Noddings, Nel.  Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

20)  Noddings, Nel.  The Challenge to Care in Schools. New York: Teachers College Press, 1992.

21)  Noddings, Nel. “Excellence as a Guide to Educational Conversation.” Teachers College Record, 94(4) (1993): 730-743.

22)  Noddings, Nel.  Educating Moral People: A caring alternative to character education. New York: Teachers College Press, 2002.

23)  Patchin, J. W., & Hinduja, S. (2012). Cyberbullying: An update and synthesis of the research. In J. W. Patchin, S. Hinduja (Eds.) , Cyberbullying prevention and response: Expert perspectives (pp. 13-35). New York, NY US: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

24)  SFUNews (2014). Symposium: Cyberbullying at Canadian Universities. Simon Fraser University. Retrieved February, 2014, from http://www.sfu.ca/sfunews/stories/2014/symposium-cyberbullying-at-canadian-universities.html

25)  Smith, P. K., Mahdavi, J., Carvalho, M., Fisher, S., Russell, S., & Tippett, N. (2008). Cyberbullying: its nature and impact in secondary school pupils. Journal Of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 49(4), 376-385. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2007.01846.x

26)  Smith, P. K., & Slonje, R. (2010). Cyberbullying: The nature and extent of a new kind of bullying, in and out of school. In S. R. Jimerson, S. M. Swearer, D. L. Espelage (Eds.), Handbook of bullying in schools: An international perspective (pp. 249-262). New York, NY US: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

27)  Topcu, C., & Erdur-Baker, O. (2012). Affective and Cognitive Empathy as Mediators of Gender Differences in Cyber and Traditional Bullying. School Psychology International, 33(5), 550-561.Vandebosch, H., & Van Cleemput, K. (2007). Cyber Bullying Among Youngsters. Conference Papers — International Communication Association, 1.

28)  von Marées, N., Petermann, F., Kowalski, R., Morgan, C., & Limber, S. (2012). Traditional bullying as a potential warning sign of cyberbullying. School Psychology International, 33(5), 505-519.

License

In-sight by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, In-sight, and In-Sight Publishing 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-sight with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Dr. Diane Purvey: Dean of Arts, Kwantlen Polytechnic University

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1. What positions have you held in Academe?  What position do you currently hold?

My positions held have been:   Assistant Professor in the School of Education in the Faculty of Human, Social and Educational Development at Thompson Rivers University, where I was promoted to the position of Associate Professor.  I was also Chair of a large department.  I applied for and was offered the position of Dean here at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.  Also, I have done a lot of different sessional and online teaching, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.  In fact, I recently taught a couple of courses at Royal Roads, in both online and face-to-face formats.  However, this is my first full-time administrative role.

2. How did you come to this point in your academics?  Who/what influenced you the most? 

Soon after I started a permanent job at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) I became Chair.  I discovered I was good at it.  It felt right.  What is more, I liked it.  However, administrative work is not highly valued in the Faculties.  It is not something faculty desire to go into.  For example, when I told people I had taken on the position here, many of my colleagues responded that I had gone onto the dark side.  It is seen as a negative rather than something to aspire to.  While at TRU, I slowly started doing more administrative work.  I sat on more internal and external committees.  In 2012 I was invited to apply for my current Dean of Arts position, but I was on sabbatical at the time and I had full intention to return to TRU.  It was one of those situations where I thought it would be interesting to go through the interview process. I thought I will see what it is like.  It was low risk for me because I had a job which I liked and looked forward to there. And, the more I looked into the position at KPU, they more I was intrigued.   The interviews were great.  I liked the people I met.  I like the trajectory of Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) from a college to a university-college to a polytechnic university.  It felt like a good fit for me.

3. How did you gain interest in Social and Educational Studies?  Where did you acquire your education?

I think of myself as a historian.  I did my B.A. and M.A. in History.  When I decided to do my Ph.D., I wanted to work with a particular historian.  Her name is Veronica Strong-Boag.  At the time, she was at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in the history department.  About the time I talked to her, and she agreed to be my supervisor, she had accepted a position at University of British Columbia (UBC).  She would become the head of the Centre for Women’s Studies and Gender Relations.  That position was affiliated with Social and Educational Studies at UBC.  Now, Nicki, my supervisor, is a historian, but she became associated with Social and Educational Studies.  Therefore, being her student, I became, de facto, associated with Social and Educational Studies.  I do not have a teaching degree, nor a teaching background in terms of K-12, but I began to teach in the teacher training program and the courses I taught had to do with history of education, history of childhood, history of women, and the history of the family.  These were the history courses within Social and Educational Studies.  Social and educational Studies at UBC is composed of sociology, history, anthropology, and philosophy of education.  None, or few, of the faculty within Social and Educational Studies have teaching degrees.  The courses are called foundational because they look at the history or sociology of education.  That is how I got into it.  It is a bit odd because many people think I come from education, but I do not.

4. What kinds of research have you conducted up to the present?

Lots of research, it is kind of funny.  As I became affiliated with Social and Educational Studies, and earned my Ph.D., I became aware that a lot of the jobs available were the jobs in education.  I took the job at TRU in Educational Studies.  However, my research continued to be in history.  My Ph.D. was on women in the family in Canada in the post-World War II period (1945-1960), and the transition from war time to peace time and the way this played out in the context of the family during the Cold War.  For instance, the context of the Cold War was creating a discourse of ‘a stable nation is a stable home’.  My Masters was on orphanages, which was on the history of childhood.  So my Ph.D. was a continuation of research on the history of the family, but in a different time period.  I published and edited a collection of articles on the history of family and childhood issues.  I worked on roadside shrines, which was a history of grieving and memorialization in British Columbia (BC).  I published more recently a book co-authored with my husband called Vancouver Noir, which is Vancouver between the 1930 and 1960 period.  Also, I recently began work on de-institutionalization.  Beginning in the 1950s in Canada, people began to leave mental health facilities.  I looked at their experiences.  What was the experience of deinstitutionalization like for them?  In addition, I studied de-institutionalization of the developmentally disabled.  I focus much of my research in the domain of.  About three years ago I thought, I really am in a Faculty of Education, I should do some educational research.  Opportunities arose around the history of ‘principal preparation’ programs in the province, ‘diversity’, and diversity education and administration.  When I was on sabbatical in 2011/2012, I did a lot of that research which is coming out in a number of publications this year.  I have oscillated between history and education, which for me are two separate tracks of research with modest intersections.  As of late, it is difficult to continue researching because of the demands of this position, but I consider it really important for me, as Dean of the Faculty of Arts, to continue with a research agenda.  So, although difficult in terms of finding the time, it is important and a definite priority for me.

5. In your current role as Dean of Arts, where do you see ‘The University’ (as an abstract) going?

Good question, I could talk a lot about that, but I think we are re-defining ‘The University’.  Is it a place for people to become credentialed for a skill or job?  Is it job preparation?  Or is it the place for people to become enlightened in terms of liberal education?  I do not necessarily consider these antithetical, although they are often presented as such.  I do not think they necessarily need teasing apart.  For instance, in the university, we can prepare people for jobs and for living in a global society.  Prepare them for living in a society with people who have a multitude of diversities.  It does not necessarily mean not equipping them with the tools for a job.  At KPU, we have the polytechnic title, but we have liberal education courses.  The courses do not necessarily have pragmatic applications for an immediate job.  For example, philosophy does not necessarily teach someone a skill for a job, but it does open our minds by making us consider things in a different way, especially those things that we have not considered before.  We may not have questioned ourselves and our assumptions before, which is essential, to me, to be a citizen in today’s world and to be a good employee at virtually any job.  In terms of the direction for the University, I think universities will be around for some time.  I would like to see universities having more open access regarding the constraints people have with respect to the cost of university. Even though universities may not be very expensive, while attending university you may be unable to work, which is a negative expense.  I want universities to be more open, more available, and much more flexible in terms of when we offer courses.  Not simply a more fulsome summer semester, but I mean weekends, evenings, early mornings, that sort of stuff to make education way more accessible for people.  Education or a university is becoming more than graduating from high school, doing your four years like I did, but becoming a place to come back to for continual learning.  This is the place where I see universities going.  In terms of our post-secondary institutions, I like the idea of various institutions connecting to one another.  For instance, a student could live in Dawson Creek going to Northern Lights College (NLC) can take those courses and go to Athabasca University (AU) for open learning, come here, and then put things together from a variety of experiences.  Also, I am a big believer in prior learning assessment.  Putting things together from these various life experiences and different courses that they have taken.  It is fundamental to the institution.  You know, not all faculty at KPU conduct research.  They may not conduct research in the traditional academic sense, but they are actively engaged in the research and the scholarship of teaching and learning, they re-work assignments, think about their classes, re-design their courses, and they think about this in consistent and constant ways without even realizing it or recognizing it as a form of research.   I think research in all its forms is important for me to recognize and value.

6. In some cases, you have sciences such as biology bringing the knowledge and experiments down to the high school level, and having ambitious teachers and their students, at least in some cases, attempt, and in occasional cases succeeding, to publish their work. 

I love that.  I think more high school students should come into the university setting and receive dual-credits.  I love the idea of having students engage in the university in this way.  I think KPU should do more of this, and I have been an active supporter of the dual credit program, which at KPU is called Xcel.

7. Since you began studying social and educational studies, what do you consider the controversial topics? How do you examine the controversial topics?

I work with people have mental health issues.  They have problems, obviously, and this impacts the research. For instance, I worked with a woman in creating a video. She disappeared for about six months.  I worried about her. As it turns out, she went through a bad time.  She did not want to be part of the world.  Now, she is back – to my delight.  However, these factors come into play when conducting the research. It can come into their own experiences with poverty, stigma, homelessness, and so on.  All of those things are much different compared to going out to the library and having total control for four hours to conduct research on archival materials.  This has made me appreciate working with people, and the challenges of that.  The dynamic between you, as the researcher – let’s face it, a middle-class privileged white researcher – and the way it plays out in the research, how this plays out in our relationship, and the way I need to understand and research their lives.  It has led to really, really understanding other people, and by that, also understanding myself.  I am a historian through and through.  I love history.  I do not want to devalue history, but working with actual people is a different animal – let me tell you.  It has hugely changed my attitude to research and to people.

8. In both cases, we have qualitative research.

I do mostly qualitative research; a little quantitative, but not a lot.  Most of my historical research is 20th century, recent history.

9. How would you describe your philosophical framework? How did it change?

When I was first in university, I was exposed to Marxism and Socialism, which was huge for me.  Labour history had a huge influence on me.  Then I was introduced to feminist history during my masters, and that had a big influence on me as a female in the academy because I came to realize I had only a few female role models.  In terms of both faculty and historians, at that time in the 80s, it was much different.  Even when I was a history student, to make it from there to a professorship was a huge challenge, I will give a little example.  When I decided to do my Ph.D., I had finished my B.A., worked for a while, began my masters, had a child, finished my master’s dissertation, had two more children, and then decided to do a Ph.D.  I applied to various universities and for a few that included an interview process.  In one interview, the interviewers wondered about the gap between finishing my masters and starting my Ph.D.  I worked at (what is now)  KPU, Douglas College, University of the Fraser Valley, Simon Fraser University, and  Vancouver Island University, all of the institutions of the lower mainland going back and forth between them attempting to gather together a life.  An interviewer asked, “Why did you take a 5 to 6 year break?”  I paused and said, “I had three children.”  He replied, “I put it to you.  If you were serious about your academic life, you would not have had children.”  That was in the 90s.  I thought, “That makes a statement.”  Maybe, that is the reason for women not existing in significant numbers in the academy.  If he treated me like that, I wonder of the treatment of his female colleagues.

10. If you had unlimited funding and unrestricted freedom, what would you enjoy researching?

That is a good question.  It goes to my previous statements about working with people having mental diagnoses.  That is, although I love history and think of myself as a historian, and believe a historical perspective benefits our understanding of everything in our society, I have to tell you, from working with people having mental diagnoses and seeing their experience, the way they walk through life and stick with it, especially coupled with my living in Gastown, Vancouver now.  One and a half blocks from Hastings Street, the population, the homeless population, addicts, I know many of these people are deinstitutionalized. They have a ton of mental health problems.  I cannot help but think, if we focus our research on people suffering from addictions and if they received appropriate help, we would be a much better society.  If I could have unlimited funds, and research anything I wanted, I would research the way to support people with mental health diagnoses.  How do we help them?  How do we get them to a point where they can help themselves?  How do we create real choices for them?  How do we get them more housing?  How do we get services for people?  What is the intersection between crime and the legal system with the homeless and addicted population – even diagnosis?  All of that stuff.  I consider this a huge social justice issue in our society today.  I think many people think of this as too much to take in.  It’s overwhelming.  Therefore, they blame the victim.  I think this problem is screaming out for attention in the inner cities and committed citizens want to do something about it.  I would really focus energy on this issue.

11. Sheryl Sandberg made a statement in her TED talk akin to that, but from the female side of the ledger, “If it’s me who cares about this, obviously, giving this talk, during this talk, I can’t even notice that the men’s hands are still raised, and the women’s hands aren’t still raised.  How good are we as managers of our companies and our organizations at seeing that the men are reaching for opportunities more than women?”

Yes, I began to realize this at a certain point in my life.  I went to seek out female faculty members as mentors.  I searched my faculty, female members of the Ph.D. committee, and so on.  Interestingly, the ones I found were tough.  Sometimes tougher than males.  I asked a woman on the Ph.D. committee, “Why is that the case?”  She said, “It’s a tough world out there.  You have to be tough.  That is my attitude towards it.  I had to deal with it.  You will have to deal with it.” At the time, I thought this was unfair because my experience does not have to replicate her own experience.  Her experience was twenty years previous.  In terms of influences, I would say feminism.  I went from the labour history to looking at feminist historians.  I think of some of them like Natalie Zemon Davis, a French historian, as being particularly influential.  She wrote a number of books, which I like because of their interface between academic history and history for a popular audience.  She wrote a book called The Return of Martin Guerre, which was a book set in 16th century France.  It became a movie.  She was the historical consultant on the movie.  I found that amazing to bring history to the people through this medium.  Actually, I heard her speak a short time ago at UBC. She is wonderful.  She was the second woman president of the American historical Association and in 1971 she co-taught at the University of Toronto one of the first courses in North America on the history of women and gender, and hence has been an important figure in the development of that field.  In terms of my philosophical orientation, I would say a social history perspective.  In other words, a history of marginalized people whether that be due to labour or class, gender, ability, race or ethnicity, sexuality, or the intersection of these..

12. One mistake of people: the fundamental attribution error.  We look at the contextual factors and the individual.  We attribute the surrounding environment for our faults/accomplishments and the individual for other people’s faults/accomplishments.  For instance, we, as individuals, say, “I am good because of talent.”  For others, we say, “They are evil because of them.” 

We need to develop empathy.  My regular driving route to KPU has recently become re-routed.   Now, I travel through the alleys for part of the drive.  I regularly drive by 10 to 15 women.  They are street workers in the downtown eastside.  It is sad.  Do not misread me, I am not saying that it is a bad thing to do because I am not commenting on these peoples’ choices or the circumstances that drove them to this place.  However, these women are severely marginalized.  Most of the women are addicts; many are aboriginal women; some of them are in their teens.  It is tragic.  We live amongst this and we are educated people with lots of resources who know about past crimes such as Robert Picton and who nevertheless turn a blind eye to the suffering of others.

13. Yet, it does not seem like an idealistic notion to me.  Here’s my sense of you, on the one hand, you state the observation, and “This is a problem.  We have to fix it.” On the other hand, it does not seem like much lay commentary on war, “War is horrible.  We should end war.”  Of course, people consider war bad.  In that, you seem pragmatic in problem-solving here compared to the idealistic, optimistic paying of lip-service to negative societal issues.  In other words, we need reasonable consideration of the amount of reduction in these problems.

Absolutely right, we do have some solutions.  We do have harm reduction, safe-injection sites, INSITE, and so on.  But things like ‘Just Say No’ do not work.  Again, I know myself as a historian and historians don’t have the reputation in the academy of leading social causes, but this is something that we can do.  We can do something about this.

14. In short, other than the theoretical, we need to do concrete, on-the-ground research.  In the immediate, something practical.

Yes!  In my work with colleagues on this mental health project, one of things we are developing are educational resources for people in professional programs.  When individuals receive a mental health diagnosis they inevitably end up meeting with a lawyer, doctor, a nurse, a social worker, and so on.  When those professionals are being educated, what do they need to know about the people with a mental health diagnosis?  I ask the people in the group I am working with, what would you want these professional people to know about your life?  We are developing these resources that will be used in education.  We work with colleagues who have various mental health diagnoses, fascinating!  We have a group of about 20 or so.  2 of them are doing their masters in history and ended with mental health concerns and on the street.  Their lives completely changed.  I was a student.  I was doing my master’s degree in history.  People have narrow assumptions of people who are homeless, living in poverty, and who have a mental health diagnosis.

15. What advice do you have for undergraduate and graduate students?

I think going into the world and experiencing in all of its terror and beauty is important.  Take risks, even for university students, go into a course unrelated to your field, try a lab, go out there and work with community people.  One of the things I consider important, not everyone has the opportunity, travel out in the world – even volunteering in the downtown eastside.  Go to India, Germany if you want, and do a year abroad, even a semester – travel up north!  These experiences are worth it.  When you take risks, leave the comfortable behind, whether for a sustained period of time or one day or a week, the benefits are huge.

16. What is the most important point about education?

I considerate it important to understand history.  If we understand, we know why things are the way they are today.  So a classic, easy-to-understand example, is the place of aboriginals in society today.  If we understand history, and acquire a history of aboriginal people before colonization, look at the colonization period, look at the epidemics of disease, and, more recently, residential schools and the sixties scoop, that would allow us to have a deeper understanding of some of the challenges facing our society today – especially in terms of aboriginal people.  Another example of the importance of history is simply developing an understanding of our education system. You go to school from September to June, why these dates?  Why is school something paid for by the state?  Why is it that people without children pay for the education of all of our society’s children?  Our ancestors wanted our society full of people educated a certain way.  It was a form of indoctrination.  It was also a way of creating a viable workforce.  There was a belief that if you had to train children to be good productive workers so you began by training them to go to school at a specific time and days of the week.  Think of a difference that made to children and to our notion of childhood.  Previously, most children got up with the sunrise and slept at sunset.  They lived with the rhythms of the seasons.  Imagine how different it was to always have to be at school at 9:00 am no matter the time of year.  People previously did not have a sense of time that was coupled to a clock.  Suddenly, you have to be at school at 9 o’clock.  At 10 o’clock, you have to open your algebra textbooks, and so on.  The purpose of school, of mass school, was to pave the way for people in the workforce: industry.  There was a reason for the development of public schooling.  There was a historical reason for that.  Without understanding that, I consider it difficult for people to understand the grounding for our educational system.  People take it for granted.  It is paid for by the state.  It runs from September to June, and so on.  To me, that lesson is a critical thinking lesson.  If you begin to question things like that, you begin to learn that the taken-for-granted structures in our society are not simply there.  They happened for a reason.  It allows you to re-think anything in our life. Also, it allows us to think of the possibility of change.  If our schools, as an example, were developed these structures in these ways, then they can change.  It seems to me a hopeful notion for change.

Bibliography

1)      American Indian. (2014). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/405873/American-Indian

2)      colonialism, Western. (2014). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/126237/colonialism

3)      education. (2014). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/179408/education

4)      Faculty of Education: Department of Educational Studies (n.d.). Veronica Strong-Boag. Department of Educational Studies. Retrieved March 6, 2014, from http://edst.educ.ubc.ca/facultystaff/veronica-strong-boag/.

5)      higher education. (2014). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/265464/higher-education

6)      historiography. (2014). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/267436/historiography

7)      Natalie Zemon Davis. (2014). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1566421/Natalie-Zemon-Davis

8)      Purvey, D. & Belshaw, J.D. (2009). Private Grief, public Mourning: The Rise of the Roadside Shrine in British Columbia. Vancouver, BC: Anvil Press.

9)      Purvey, D. & Belshaw, J.D. (2011). Vancouver Noir: 1930-1960. Vancouver, BC: Anvil Press.

10)  Purvey, D. & Walmsley, C. (2011). Child and Family Welfare in British Columbia: A History. Vancouver, BC: Detselig Press.

11)  Purvey, D., Vermeulen, & Power, C. (2011). Restorative Justice: Does it have a place in elementary schools?. International Perspective on restorative Justice in Education.

12)  Purvey, D. & Webber, C. (2011). ‘Something Greater was Happening’: A Novice Principal Reflects on Creating Change Through Building Community Relationships. New Primary Leaders: International Perspectives.

13)  Saunders, J. (2012, June). Kwantlen welcomes Dr. Purvey as dean, faculty of arts. Kwantlen Polytechnic University Newsletter. Retrieved March 6, 2014, from http://www.kpu.ca/news/kwantlen-welcomes-dr-diane-purvey-dean-faculty-arts

14)  Sandberg, S. (2010, December 21). Sheryl Sandberg: Why we have too few women leaders [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders.html

15)  Sandberg, S. (2014, December). Sheryl Sandberg: So We Leaned In… Now What? [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_so_we_leaned_in_now_what

16)  Sheryl Sandberg. (2014). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1698757/Sheryl-Sandberg

17)  The Runner (2012, June).  New Dean of Arts at Kwantlen. The Runner.  Retrieved March 6, 2014, from http://runnermag.ca/2012/06/new-dean-of-arts-at-kwantlen/diane-purvey-web-01/.

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© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, In-sight, and In-Sight Publishing 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-sight with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Madeleine Thien: Writer-in-Residence, Simon Fraser University

Madeleine Thien author photo

1. In terms of geography, culture, and language, where does your family background reside?  How do you find this influencing your development?

My parents speak different dialects of Chinese (Hakka and Cantonese) and so our common language was always English. Although, often, my parents would speak their own dialect to each other – so two languages simultaneously – and they would understand. My mother was born in Hong Kong and my father in Malaysia, but they rarely spoke about life before Canada. I think, for different reasons, and with different degrees of success, they both tried to forget. They couldn’t afford to return home, and so they had to accept that it was gone or else feel the constant pain of being cut off. For a long time I felt an incredible sadness when I thought about the sacrifices my parents made for us. Now that I’m older, I see their courage, selflessness and their extraordinary reinvention.

2. How was your youth? How did you come to this point? What do you consider a pivotal moment in your transition to writing?

It was chaotic. We moved a lot and my parents were under constant financial stress. My siblings left home at very young ages, and my father left when I was sixteen. That was probably one of the earlier pivotal moments, because for awhile he simply disappeared. I was living with my mother, but we were really cut off from one another emotionally. I lived in my head. Writing became a way to express things that were unsayable, either because they were private and confused, or because they might injure another person, or because I didn’t know what the truth was. Writing was a space to lay things down.

3. Where did you acquire your education?  What education do you currently pursue?

I studied contemporary dance at Simon Fraser University (SFU) and, later on, creative writing at The University of British Columbia (UBC). My devotion to books, reading and learning is intense but also exhausting. I’m deeply interested in 20th century history, particularly transitional times; I’m utterly fascinated by the Silk Road, and also the post-independence years in Southeast Asia, and lately, Communist China. I’m also working on documentary projects, art installations, and I occasionally choreograph. I want to live about a thousand lives! I think that’s why the novel, and fiction, have been the mainstay in my life.

4. At present, you hold the ‘Writer-in-Residence’ position at Simon Fraser University. What does the position provide for you?

Yes, I’m incredibly lucky. The English Department is full of creative, questioning and generous scholars. And SFU has brought me back to Vancouver where I grew up, but where I haven’t lived for more than twelve years.

5. You have written four major works:  CertaintyDogs at the PerimeterThe Chinese ViolinSimple Recipes: Stories.  Most recently, Dogs at the Perimeter, I read it.  I urge readers to go and purchase the book.  For those interested, what inspired this book?  What is the overarching theme? 

I had been spending months at a time in Cambodia, and the country preoccupied me more and more. For me, Cambodia is like nowhere else – inhabiting his seam between the ancient cultural reaches of India and China, all filtered through a formidable Khmer culture. The Cambodian genocide happened when I was a child and has been largely forgotten by the rest of the world; or, if remembered, is remembered almost abstractly. That our governments played an undeniably large role in the de-stabilization of Cambodia and its civil war, and that the ensuing genocide claimed the lives of 1.7 million people, and that hundreds of thousands of Cambodians had to seek refuge outside of their country – has become a footnote of history. I wanted to think about how people begin again, how they remember and how they forget, and how these acts change over the course of a life. The Cambodians I know live both inside and outside their memories, they carry ruptured selves and also, in their own philosophy, multiple souls.

6. If you currently work and play with a piece of writing, what do you call it?  What is the general theme and idea behind it?

It has no title as of yet. I’ve finished a draft and am fine tuning now. The centre of the book is the story of three young musicians studying at the Shanghai Conservatory in the 1960s. They’re Chinese musicians studying Western classical music, trying to express themselves through Bach, Beethoven, Prokofiev, Debussy, and also trying to express the tenor of the times. Because of Mao’s extremism during the Cultural Revolution, this expression proves not only to be untenable, but it alters their lives forever. This novel is about how ideas and artistic practices move from East to West and West to East, what it means to speak in another language (be that music, ideology or literature), and it’s also about copying, repetition and the desire, however illusory, for transcendence, to be outside of one’s time.

7. If any, what do you consider the purpose of art?  More importantly, what role do artists play in shaping, defining, and contributing to society and culture?

To be a witness to this time and place, and to each other. I don’t see it as a record of one’s self. I want my art to be a record of the people and the world around me. A complicated questioning of what is, and a way to learn how to see more than I do now.

8. If you had sufficient funding and time, what would you like to write?

I think it would be the same. I think of funding and time almost solely as a means to write, and so I try to create the conditions for this in my day to day life.

9. What do you consider the most controversial topic in writing at the moment?  How do you examine the issue?

Race. It makes everyone afraid. A few decades ago we could talk about race, but now even saying the word is difficult, in both national and geopolitical contexts.

10. In terms of representation of ‘minority populations’ in literary circles, presentation of awards and honours, and media time provided, what do you consider the present conditions?  What do you think and feel about these conditions?

I think literary culture in Canada and America has been adversely affected by the closing down of bookshops and the merging of publishers. It’s extremely competitive, and bookshops and publishers are simply looking to survive. It makes sense that, with such fine margins, they support (financially, emotionally, intellectually) work that has the potential to be mainstream. But how do we imagine mainstream? Sadly, I think that we mean white middle- or upper-class. So this audience (or the way a publisher envisions this audience and what they want) is reflected, in some way, in the novels that are published and supported. A Chinese novelist might sell a million copies in China, but a publisher here may still see that work as foreign, other and unlikely to appeal.

I think we should widen our understanding of the reader.

I’m a pretty stubborn person, and so these conditions make me want to push back the boundaries even more.

11. Furthermore, in concrete, or practical and applied, terms, what needs doing?  How might these aims come to fruition?  What about their short- and long-term implications for impacting the literary culture in the Lower Mainland, in Canada, and abroad?

Deeper engagement and from those of us who have another perspective. Acknowledgement that

New York literary culture is an echo chamber and increasingly narrow.

I’m teaching an Asian Literature course in the US right now, I teach in a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program in Hong Kong, where I work with writers from around the world, and I’m helping to develop the curriculum for a fine arts university in Zimbabwe. I love the responses I get when I ask this younger generation why literature matters, why they are studying it, and why bookshops are shelved with stories that are already familiar to us. Does it matter to us as individuals or as a society if our literature supports singular concepts of national identity, or when celebrated literature is narcissistic or apolitical, or when the majority of the world is invisible in 99% of the literature we read and discuss? We have a stake in trying to see what the system makes invisible, and then articulating these gaps in forthright and intelligent ways.

12. Who most influenced you? Why them?  Can you recommend any books or articles by them?

James Baldwin. Cees Nooteboom, All Souls Day. Alice Munro. Michael Ondaatje, Running in the Family and so many other books. Dionne Brand. Ma Jian, Beijing Coma and Red Dust. Liao Yiwu. Sven Lindqvist. Tsitsi Dangarembga, The Book of Not and Nervous Conditions. Hannah Arendt. Antonio Damasio and Oliver Sacks. Shirley Hazzard, The Great Fire and The Transit of Venus. Colin Thubron, The Hills of Adonis and In the Shadow of the Silk Road. Dostoevsky and Chekhov. The literature, memoir and reportage around Cambodia, from Vaddey Ratner to Bree Lafreniere, Loung Ung, Elizabeth Becker, Francois Bizot, Jon Swain and Peter Maguire. Bao Ninh, The Sorrow of War. Kazuo Ishiguro, The UnconsoledThe Remains of the DayNever Let Me Go and When We Were Orphans. All these writers break form and enlarge content, they are humane and, in my eyes, fearless.

13. Where do you see writing, the teaching of writing, and publishing in the near and far future?  How does, and will, the internet change the landscape?

I’m curious about the publishing worlds of India and China. I wonder how they’ll influence and alter the English-language market, how soon will they become centres of influence alongside London and New York. I hope the internet will break down some of the stagnation in the way we talk about books, and which books we encounter.

14. What advice do you have for young writers? 

Fiction is not outdated or tired. Fiction is what you make of it, what you bring to it, how far you’re willing to travel both into yourself and outside yourself. Don’t knock the imagination.

15. What worries and hopes do you have for the world of literature regarding the older and younger generations – writers and readers?

I’m not worried. I think that even when things seem stagnant or narrow, fissures always appear. I love multimedia and the experimentation with the new forms available to us via our laptops and phones and interconnectedness. But I also value closing all that down, turning inward, reading a book, and giving time, attention and focus to the interpretation and engagement with story.

16. Besides your own organizational affiliations and literary interests, what associations, writers, and even non-/for-profits can you recommend for interested readers?

The Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-CAM) and the Bophana Centre. And, in Vancouver, the extraordinary Thursdays Writing Collective.

http://www.dccam.org/

http://www.bophana.org/site/index.php

http://thursdayswritingcoll.netfirms.com/wordpress/

Bibliography

1)      Bophana Centre (2014). Bophana Centre.  Retrieved from http://www.bophana.org/site/index.php.

2)      Dangarembga, T. (1988). Nervous Conditions. Ney York, NY: Seal Press.

3)      Dangarembga, T. (2006). The Book of Not: A Sequel to Nervous Conditions. Oxfordshire, UK: Ayebia Clarke Publishing Ltd.

4)      Documentation Centre of Cambodia (2014). Documentation centre of Cambodia. Retrieved from http://www.dccam.org/.

5)      Hazzard, S. (2003). The Great Fire. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

6)      Hazzard, S. (1980). The Transit of Venus. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

7)      Ishiguro, K. (2005) Never Let Me Go. New York, NY: Random House Inc.

8)      Ishiguro, K. (1995) The Unconsoled. New York, NY: Random House Inc.

9)      Ishiguro, K. (1989) The Remains of the Day. London, UK: Faber and Faber Limited.

10)   Ishiguro, K. (2000) When We Were Orphans. London, UK: Faber and Faber.

11)   Jian, M. (2008). Beijing Coma: A Novel. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

12)   Jian, M. (2013, November 10). My Life: Ma Jian. Post Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/article/1349783/my-life-ma-jian.

13)   Jian, M. (2001). Red Dust. London, UK: Random House.

14)   Ninh, B. (1991) The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

15)   Nooteboom, C. (2001). All Souls Day. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt.

16)   Thien, M. (2011). Dogs at the Perimeter. Toronto, Ontario: Mclelland and Stewart Ltd.

17)   Thien, M. (2006). Certainty. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

18)   Thien, M. (2002). Chinese Violin. Vancouver/Toronto: Whitecap Books Ltd.

19)   Thien, M. (2001). Simple Recipes. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

20)   Thubron, C. (2006). In the Shadow of the Silk Road. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

21)   Thubron, C. (2009). The Hills of Adonis: A Quest in Lebanon. Toronto, Ontario: Random House Canada.

22)   Thursdays Writing Collective (2014). Thursdays Writing Collective . Retrieved from http://thursdayswritingcoll.netfirms.com/wordpress/.

License

Creative Commons Licence In-sight by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, In-sight, and In-Sight Publishing 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-sight with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Dr. Carol Tavris: Social Psychologist, Writer, Lecturer

Dr. Carol Tavris

1. What academic positions have you held?

Although I have taught at various institutions, including the New School for Social Research in New York and UCLA, I have never held a full-time academic position. I have always loved teaching, especially the intro course, but my career has primarily been as a writer—of textbooks, general interest books, book reviews and essays, articles for journals and magazines—all with the goal of promoting critical thinking and psychological science.  In a world full of pop-psych pseudoscience, that is a full-time job!

2. How did you develop that career? 

When I was in graduate school, a new magazine called Psychology Today was born. It was meant to be the Scientific American of psychology—a magazine that would bring good psychological science to general audiences. I wrote to them, looking for a summer job. They told me they would hire me, but only if I came for a year. Though scared to death to take a year off the Ph.D. program, I did, and that experience changed my life. There, working with brilliant editors, I learned to write, edit, and conduct interviews. When I went back to Michigan, I was an Associate Editor.  When I got my Ph.D., I had a choice: proceed with an academic career or go back to the magazine as a Senior Editor.  The latter option was risky: no tenure or even job security, after all. But my beloved mentors at UM said, “You know, there are many ways to be a good social psychologist, and one of them is having the ability to educate the public about what social psychology is.”

3. When did psychology interest you?

Not as an undergraduate! I took one intro course and got a C+. I majored in comparative literature and sociology, and went to the University of Michigan in sociology—to study “the sociology of literature,” whatever that was. But there I found the interdisciplinary program in social psychology, and loved it. I switched into that program immediately. We learned an array of methods, topics, and perspectives.

4. Where did you acquire your education?

I was an undergraduate at Brandeis University, and a graduate student at Michigan. But I “acquired my education” also first and foremost from my parents, who were committed to critical and creative thinking, and social activism; from working at general-interest magazines, which taught me the importance of using my education to help inform the public about science and critical thinking; and by coming of age during the civil-rights and women’s rights movements.

5. Since you began studying psychology, what do you consider the controversial topics?

There is always “controversy” in any field: sometimes over politically sensitive issues (e.g., sex and race differences), or over methods, or about findings. In my lifetime, the most divisive and emotional issues were the “recovered memory” and “multiple personality” hysteria of the 1990s, along with widespread claims in Canada and the U.S. of ritual sex abuse going on in daycare centers. So many lives and families were shattered by these faulty beliefs—notably, the idea that traumatic memories of sexual abuse are repressed until “recovered” in therapy with hypnosis, dream analysis, and other methods now known to create confabulations; that trauma causes the self to “dissociate” into many personalities; that “children never lie” about being molested. These epidemics made many psychological scientists more committed than ever to educating the public about the importance of good psychological research. That research has showed how best to interview children to avoid coercing or inducing them into telling fanciful tales, while being open to their telling about actual abuse; how “multiple personalities” can be manufactured in a collaboration between therapist and patient; and how trauma and memory really do function.

Of all my writings, I am especially partial to the popular book I wrote with Elliot Aronson, Mistakes were made (but not by ME): Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts. In this book, we use cognitive dissonance to show why it is so hard for people to deal with controversies, once they have taken a position: why it is so hard to say, “hmm, time to give up that outdated belief after all” or to admit that a particular choice we made might have been wrong.

6. You have devoted much of your life to criticizing work most often termed ‘pseudoscience’.  How do you define pseudoscience?  What do you consider its most common markers? 

At least in its ideal form, science is falsifiable. A scientific premise can be disconfirmed; it is testable.  Do you believe that dowsing and ESP exist? Do you believe that the Bible says the world will end next Friday? These are beliefs that can be tested empirically. If the test repeatedly fails, the hypothesis is wrong—you need to modify it or drop it. But pseudoscientists keep the belief despite the disconfirming evidence: “It was the wrong day for dowsing because of clouds.” The world did not end Friday? Nothing wrong with my prediction, I just read that page of the Bible incorrectly—I meant Tuesday.

7. You earned numerous awards for your book The Mismeasure of Woman–such as the Distinguished Media Contribution from the Association of Applied and Preventive Psychology, the Heritage Publications award from Division 35 of the American Psychological Association, and the Distinguished Contribution to Women’s Health Award from the APA Conference on Women’s Health. You have received other awards, as from the Independent Investigations Group of the Center for Inquiry, for your contributions to skepticism.  What do these awards mean to you? 

Getting awards is extremely gratifying; it means your peers and colleagues respect and honor your work. But it’s also humbling. The next day, everyone forgets, so it’s back to work.

8. Who most influenced you?  Can you recommend any seminal books/articles by them?

I hate lists! This question is impossible, because my influences were feminism, and the countless important books in psychology, politics, and culture about gender equality and how to achieve it; great studies in social psychology; great writers and poets, who have inspired me as a writer . . .  how long have you got?  Besides, what had an impact on me might have no interest to you. My advice to students, therefore, is always to follow your heart, mind, and nose—explore. Read in areas other than your specialty. Read for fun. Read and memorize poetry. Take courses not only because it is a required subject, but because you’ve heard the professor is brilliant and compelling—even if that course is far afield from your major.

9. Where do you see psychology going?

The biggest issue that psychology will face, in my view, is to remember that it is psychology. The biomedical revolution is transforming research and how we understand human behavior; neuroscience in psychology and other fields is rising in dominance. But we must not overlook the equally powerful influences of culture, learning, and the environment in determining how we behave, what we believe, and how we shape our worlds.

Bibliography

1)      Center for Inquiry (2014). Center for Inquiry.  Retrieved from http://www.centerforinquiry.net/.

2)      James Randi Foundation [JamesRandiFoundation] (2012, August 8). Carol Tavris, Ph.D. – “A Skeptical look at Neuroscience – TAM 2012. James Randi Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwxdgZeIdqI.

3)      Tavris, C. (2006). The high cost of courage. In M. Garry & H. Hayne (Eds.), Do justice and let the sky fall: Elizabeth F. Loftus and her contributions to science, law, and academic freedom. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

4)      Tavris, Carol, & Aronson, Elliot (2007).  Mistakes Were Made (but not by me):  Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts.  New York: Harcourt.  Paperback edition, 2008, Harvest books.  Foreign editions: England, Poland, Germany, Japan, Hungary, Romania, France, Taiwan, China (Taiwan and mainland), South Korea, Turkey, Holland, Czech Republic.

License

Creative Commons Licence In-sight by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, In-sight, and In-Sight Publishing 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-sight with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Issue 3.A, Idea: Women in Academia (Part Two)

Dear Readers,

In-Sight’s third issue continues “Women in Academia”.  It will conclude the undergraduate portion of the journal.  Beginning 2014, In-Sight begins the third stage of development into a broader-based journal without some of the strictures incurred through undergraduate status.  However, the spring issue progresses forward with the theme of the summer and fall of 2013 issues “Women in Academia”.  In the ‘Archives’, you can find the third issue published in PDF format.

Thank you for your continued support,

Scott

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