Dr. Marie Helweg-Larsen grew up in Denmark and had the opportunity to study abroad at Slippery Rock University in PA even though she wasn’t enrolled at a Danish university. In hindsight, she admits that it was an “amazing culture shock” moving to rural Pennsylvania for a year. She recalls sitting with her Danish-English Dictionary having to “slog through a college level textbook” to understand the language and the assignments. She said that “it was also really fun and really opened up my world.” One class, in particular, that she found fascinating was a class in human sexuality which was taught by a psychology professor. She was able to teach this class many times later in her career and actually taught it to American students who were studying abroad in Copenhagen so she was able to incorporate Danish perspectives on sexuality into the course.
Throughout this podcast interview, Dr. Helweg-Larsen shares her academic and professional journey while providing insightful advice to those interested in the field of psychology. When sharing the reasons why she attended UCLA for her graduate degrees in social psychology, she also suggests other things to consider when selecting a graduate school. When reminiscing about her experiences at UCLA, she reminds the listener to enjoy all of the other activities a major university has to offer such as attending a Bruins game, playing softball with fellow graduate students, and she pointed out that UCLA had an award-winning flag football team which was coached by a previous Master’s in Psychology Podcast guest (Bob Bjork).
The recurring theme of “opportunity” seemed to emerge during our discussion and Dr. Helweg-Larsen was more than willing to share the backstory to many of the opportunities she experienced in her life. From having the opportunity to be a Visiting Professor at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark to her first experience as Department Chair at Transylvania University to Health Studies Chair at Dickinson College to Director of the Dickinson Science Program in England then the next year in Denmark.
Dr. Helweg-Larsen also emphasized the importance of undergraduate and graduate students taking advantage of any opportunity they can whether it be getting involved in a lab, attending conferences, connecting with other students to discuss each other’s work, and creating opportunities for yourself by getting to know your professors and other colleagues. She states “you just have to be brave and seek out opportunities and that doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful, but it can lead to other opportunities.” She explains that sometimes not getting something gives you other opportunities. She then provided a couple of examples where she wasn’t selected for an opportunity or position, but it led to other amazing opportunities. You can hear more about these approximately 32 minutes into the interview.
Interests and Specializations
Dr. Marie Helweg-Larsen has conducted research in social psychology, health psychology, and cross-cultural psychology. Recently, she has focused on the causes, consequences, and correlates of optimistic bias as it relates to our ability to assess risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. She has also examined the effects of stigmatization and the willingness to quit smoking in the U.S. and Denmark.
Bachelor of Science (B.A.), Psychology (1989); California State University, Northridge, CA.
Master of Arts (M.A.), Social Psychology (1990); University of California, Los Angeles, CA.
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Social Psychology (1994); University of California, Los Angeles, CA.
Other Sources and Links of Interest
Dr. Marie Helweg-Larsen: Google Scholar
Dr. Marie Helweg-Larsen: Why We’re Not Good at Risk Assessment (video)
Dr. Marie Helweg-Larsen: Mask Wearing – When and How to Speak Up (video)
Dr. Marie Helweg-Larsen: Explanation of Smoking Stigmatization Research (video)
Welcome to the Master’s in Psychology podcast where psychology students can learn from psychologists, educators, and practitioners to better understand what they do, how they got there, and hear the advice they have for those interested in getting a graduate degree in psychology. I’m your host, Brad Schumacher, and today we welcome Dr. Marie Helweg- Larsen to the show. Dr. Helweg-Larsen is a professor in the Department of Psychology at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA. She started her career at Dickinson College in 2002 and has also served as Psychology Department Chair and Health Studies Chair. More recently, she has written many articles on a variety of topics during the pandemic. Today, we will learn more about her academic and professional journey and discuss how she is applying her education and experience in social psychology, health psychology, and cross-cultural psychology. Marie, welcome to our podcast.
Thank you for having me.
Well, I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule and just before you’re going to go on vacation to meet with us and share some of your experiences and advice. To start us off, tell us what originally sparked your interest in psychology.
So, I grew up in Denmark and after high school I was trying to figure out what my future paths were, and I had the opportunity to study abroad at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. And I actually was not an exchange student because I was not enrolled at a Danish university, and it was an amazing culture shock and moving to, to rural Pennsylvania for the year. And I would also say to be fair, I wasn’t exactly prepared for the level of undergraduate work in a language that I had obviously learned English in school, but not exactly to the proficiency of college level learning. So, sitting with your Danish English Dictionary, which back in the day is the way we looked up words and, and trying to slog through a college level textbook, was really challenging. But it was also really fun and really opened up my world and the most exciting class I took that year, I took classes in English and biology and, and communication, was a class in human sexuality which I just thought was so fascinating and it’s, of course, an in a disciplinary topic although it was taught by a psychologist. And that’s a class that I, myself many years later, got have taught many times. And I actually got to teach it a year I lived in Copenhagen to American students who were studying abroad in Copenhagen, which was a really particularly fun setting because you could bend some of the topics to, to the, the culture that you that we went. So, so Danish perspectives on sexuality was definitely part of the course.
So, you mentioned that you went to California State University Northridge and was there a particular reason why you selected that college or university?
So, by then I. Had returned from. Slippery Rock and was back in Denmark for several years. And then I came back to the U.S. and by then I was actually a transfer student which many people don’t know can be particularly difficult to enter as many competitive universities like UCLA, for example, just has very small number of transfer student spots. Ahh, so, so I was picking based on geography and I later on really came to see what a great university it was, but I wouldn’t say that I had the tools to understand that at the time. I mean, you can look at who’s there, right? But it’s hard to figure out what that means in terms of the classroom situation. So, what I found was that it was really great to be at a big university in which there were many classes offered and many professors, but the classes weren’t that large and there was a big commitment to teaching. So, it ended up being a great place for me where I really thrived, but I can’t say that I could have deciphered all of that before I applied.
And then you went on for your master’s and your doctorate over at UCLA. Were you considering any other schools at that point? Or why did you choose UCLA?
I did consider the schools in the area, USC I, you know, Claremont Graduate School and so on. And I did interview at, at the multiple schools and UCLA definitely had the, the best prestige and the best financial compensation package of any of the other schools. So, so that ended up being the factors that I considered. Again, I would say that it’s really hard to decipher from the outside what the experience is like, and now, I think, the graduate programs invite students as they’re considering applying, but at least at that time there was really no opportunity to reach out to other grad, current graduate students. I, I think you now could find their email addresses online right and call them. But at the time it was actually hard to figure out. What is it actually like? Like, what do you do every day, like those kinds of basic questions? And graduate programs, of course, differ even within social psychology, right? Making it even more confusing. So, some social psychology PhD programs have a lot of coursework, and some mostly want you to focus on your research right away. Some have very tight and collaborative, uhm, cohorts of students who come in and some are more, you know, you’re on your own. Essentially trying to sort this out and, and none of all of that I figured out after the fact, not before the fact. So, I think that students today have perhaps more tools and opportunities to find out some of the experiences, for example, of the students who are currently in the program.
Yeah, that’s a good point. And you mentioned earlier that you know it’s not only challenging for graduate students to get into a Graduate School, let alone somebody who is transferring, and somebody who’s coming outside of the United States. Did you find any of the challenges were still there when you went to UCLA, and if so, can you kind of speak to those or did that kind of settle down once you got in and you were able to prove hey, I got into Northridge. Now I can continue on my education.
Yeah, so Graduate School is definitely not undergraduate school as anyone who has done both can attest to. And when you are in a extremely competitive program, PhD programs such as UCLA, I think everyone experience some degree of impostor syndrome and wondering when they’ll really find out who you really are. And then, of course, over time you settle into your new role and you’ve roles and you figure out what it is that this situation requires of you. So, in that sense, every new institution, whether it’s at the undergraduate or master’s or PhD level, requires you to read the room, if you will, or get mentoring and advice from both older students but also from people who might not be your assigned mentor, right. It could be someone else who’s just good at explaining what is actually what you’re supposed to do. In other words, how to read the secrets of how to be successful. And explain them to you.
Very good points. If you look back at your experience at UCLA, both through your master’s and your doctorate, what were some of the fondest memories that you had at UCLA?
So really, having a community of inquiry with fellow students and of course access to amazing faculty and learning from the other students, so having the freedom to have a very long lunch in which you of course talk about non work things but also really just get to explore what your fellow students are exploring, right? So, in Graduate School, you are fundamentally asking questions that no one knows the answer to yet, right? Because that’s why you’re collecting the data and doing the research. And even if you had lunch just with other social psychologists. I mean they studied really different things from what you studied, right? Interpersonal relationships which I don’t study at all. The effect of eyewitness testimony on people who testify. So, all these different topics, even though they didn’t directly influence my own area, just created this, uhm, openness to, to asking questions, which is really what I find most excited, exciting about my current job as well. So, of course, to be fair, not to make it all sound like that’s all we did was work. Being part of a major university is of course, fun, right? You could go to any Bruins game. You could play softball with your fellow graduate students. We had an award-winning flag football team that was actually coached by one of your other podcast people who have been on Bob Bjork.
So, so Bob was the coach and we beat handedly the other graduate and undergraduate teams in flag football, which of course was, was a lot of fun. So big universities, or small universities for that matter, offer a variety of other fun activities just by the nature of having undergraduates there as well.
The other thing that comes to mind is I know you mentioned some of the reasons why you attended Northridge, and then why you attended UCLA. Uhm, while you were searching for those, what was the most important thing, or things, for you when selecting a graduate psychology program?
So definitely financial aid or affordability. I was fine with taking out loans, but obviously different programs offer different packages and taking out more loans was nice to avoid not the only factor. What one factor? Obviously, location because I was tied to Southern California and definitely the prestige. Uhm, I would rather go if I could to a more prestigious institution, and I think now looking back at those three things, I definitely encourage students to, to be willing, if they can, to open up their location. And maybe you don’t need to open it up to the entire United States, but maybe you also don’t need to live in your hometown, even though your hometown has a couple of universities. It’s two to five years you can learn from living in a different institution or a different city or different location even if you eventually return to closer to home. So, I wasn’t able to do that, but I always recommend that students try to be open to different locations. I also of course understand that students need to look at affordability as I did. But it is possible also to fund your graduate education supplied by loans, which I did, even though it was well funded. Prestige is tricky because it really depends on what your goals are and fit, I would say in general, is much more important than prestige and your own investment into it. But people still are snobs, and they still look at your degree. And being in that top rated, I think UCLA is still ranked first or second in social psychology, definitely does give people’s attention. Now of course you need to do something after that. They just haven’t gone to a good school. Well, but initially people do pay attention to that.
Yeah, that’s good advice. Some other guests also talk about, you know, advising those who are seeking a graduate degree in psychology. What do you want to do afterwards? If you want to stay in the academic environment? If you want to go outside, go into, you know, clinical work, start your own business, then it really did, you know, that also helps determine where you should go and, and how much time you should spend on your education. Any, any other advice that you can think of for graduate, you know, students looking for a graduate degree in psychology.
Yeah, so the three pieces of advice I routinely give. The first one is really a good idea to take a gap year between your undergraduate and whatever graduate degree you pursue, and there’s a couple of reasons for that. One is of course just it can be good to get the experience of, of either getting more clinical experience if that’s the direction or more research experience. But there’s also practical aspects that students often don’t think of is that most applications happen in the fall and the fall of your senior year is not just a busy time for you, but it’s also a time where you have actually not done your most impressive work, perhaps or your most advanced courses or you were in two classes that haven’t yet fully happened, in which the professor who’s writing your letter will get to know you even better. So having the space to finish out your senior year and fully invest in getting to know your professors, which is actually a second, somewhat independent point, is it’s so important to get to know your professors, even if you have small classes, your professor can’t say that much if you never say anything.
So sometimes students just assume that because you know their name, that you know them, but there’s not a lot to say. And it’s the rich and detailed letter recommendation that gets someone at attention, not, you know, she got these grades or wrote a nice paper, sure, but and, and that’s of course even more important if you are attending a large undergraduate institution in which your professors don’t know your name. Uhm, if you can take advantage of per the point about getting to know your professors, take advantage of getting involved in the Honor Society in psychology, a psychology club, go to psychology speakers, ask good questions, volunteer at events. So, so think about that a letter recommendation is a personal reference, right? So, the more the person can say, the professor, about you the better. So, students often worry about grades, which I talked to them about, and grades are important, and it’s especially important in key classes like research methods and statistics. If you’re going into a PhD rather than a clinically oriented program. Uhm, but again, how you interact with your professors around grades also goes into these personal letters of recommendation. So, arguing about grades just leaves a negative impression. Instead of saying I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped, can you help me figure out how to do better? So, I wouldn’t say grades are not important, they are, but it’s also important that you are managing your own anxiety around grades and your interactions with professors who are going to write letters for you which speak to more than what you did right. But also, how you acted professionally.
Very good advice, thank you. What I found interesting about your Vita is after you finished your doctorate, you landed a job at the University of North Florida and then the University of Florida before your position as a visiting scholar. I think it was the National Institute of Public Health in Denmark during a few summers and then you were also an assistant professor during the same time at the Department of Psychology at Transylvania University. So how did you find these two opportunities, the one in Denmark and the one in Transylvania?
So, the, my academic career, which actually also goes to advice I give my students, is not uncharacteristic of how many careers happen, which is not linearly. Right, so I moved to, to Florida and I was unable to find a permanent position, which is why I taught both at North Florida and at University of Florida and also at a Community College. So, I was piercing together a career and then I applied nationwide going back to our earlier conversation about being willing to move, uhm, and that’s when I then got the job at which was a tenure track position at, at the Transylvania University and I moved into Kentucky. So, so these opportunities just as a good reminder that things happen in a, you know, haphazard seemingly way, and it felt haphazard at the time where you just lean into the opportunities that are afforded and learn from them. And then you use those opportunities going forward. Uhm, at the same time that I was four years in Florida and then four years in Kentucky, I was also wanting to connect with my family in Denmark and because we’re professors who don’t have to be on campus in the summer I thought it would be really fun to live in in Copenhagen in the summers and I used my contacts at the Cancer Society and the National Institute of Health to get positions in the summer in which I had, you know, a specific I, I mean, I was essentially a consultant, right? They would say we really need you to write this paper, or we need you to sort out this detail and then I engaged over several summers with these communities. Often on topics that I didn’t subsequently study like suicide, suicidal ideations, which is not really in in my area, right? But you still will learn a lot from working with other people. And I welcomed that, even though it wasn’t directly in my own line of work and I’m not working with those people now. But that’s OK, you, you can benefit from, from the experience as it were, and then eventually I ended up just doing my own work in the summer and getting funding from, from two different NIH grants that I’ve gotten that supported my cross-cultural research by paying for me to be in Denmark in the summer. Uhm, which was also amazing.
Yeah, and I’m glad that you brought that up because I actually had this ready for us to share. I believe this is NIH and then the division of Cancer Control & Population Sciences. A good write up and, and they had a good interview with you here, but based on your Vita and some of your work on your research, I assume that you, you were funded partially or, if not all, for that one research when you were traveling over there as well on this. And this kind of leads us to our next transition and in 2002 you began your illustrious career at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, so you alluded earlier that you had to start your search a little bit more and expand your search. So, tell us how and why you selected Dickinson to start your career and go that direction.
Well, it’s another good example of how it looks like it just all fell into place. I had never heard of Dickinson College before I applied. There are many, many, many liberal arts colleges in the northeast. Uhm, and I didn’t have any particular connection or knew about it, and they were looking for a cross cultural psychologist. And again, you don’t really know what you’re walking into, right? You try and, and ask in the interviews you try and ascertain by asking questions. But it’s difficult for you to know what something is like right? What, what? What will it really be like? And I have really come to love I. I was also skeptical of moving to a small town. Carlisle has about 20,000 people in it. And you don’t know what you don’t know, right? So, I have really come to, to love living in a small town in part because I travel a lot and I spend summers in Copenhagen, but nevertheless that was an unexpected delight, as was the university which has a really strong teacher scholar model in which they really support the research. And it’s just along with being a good teacher, of course, and I, I love working with my undergraduate students in my lab. It’s really fun. It’s one of the joys of many is to get to mentor students and teach them to be, uhm, scholars. And I often conduct my research and publish with my students.
Yeah, and I’m glad they brought that up because I do have this shared screen again on your Social Identity and Risk Lab is what you’re referring to and I did see some of the research and, and some of the students graduate students that participate in that tell us a little bit more for our audience. The importance of taking up that opportunity to get involved in a lab and how that might help them during their graduate psychology career and moving forward.
Yeah, so I we only have undergraduate students at Dickinson, so they come to Dickinson because they expect to be in small classes and, and work on research in the classes, which of course they do in the psychology department at Dickinson, where we have actually four required laboratory-based courses. Research methods, Statistics and then Advanced Research Methods. And I teach one in in Advanced Research Methods in Social Psychology, where we actually often focus on my research on stigma and they get to collect their own data and, and write it up. And that’s amazing, and students really, really enjoy that, and they really see the benefits regardless of what their future careers are in understanding data, right? So that’s, that’s an important point. Sometimes students go well. I, that’s not what I’m going to do right? I’m going to go and work for Facebook or I’m going to work in a nursing home, and they have varied career goals. And I think I may not, maybe not convince all of them, but a lot of them that that being able to do research even if you subsequently don’t do research yourself, allows you to be a sophisticated consumer of research which everyone almost needs to do regardless of what their jobs are. So that, of course, is just one type of experience, and it is so important, again, regardless of what your career is, if you can at all as an undergraduate student, get to work in someone’s lab. And again, it doesn’t have to be tied to that you want to get a PhD, but it’s tied to that what happens in a lab is a small collaborative setting in which you learn all kinds of professional skills. I often talk to my students about professional issues or thorny issues or ethical issues. Uhm, they, they get to sometimes when they get a little older. I’ve worked in the lab; they get to mentor younger students who are entering the lab. So, there’s all these leadership opportunities in the lab that are incidental, but also critically important to actually learning the research.
And then, of course, that’s the, the actual research, right? So, they are now working with me and other students in the lab, and it could be anything it could be developing a technique. It could be writing a lab report. It could be collecting data, or it could be actually writing it up. So, I have many students who work with me and get these experiences, and of course it’s the few fewer of them, obviously, who get to actually move that paper towards publication. I also take students to conferences, which is another great opportunity. Students sometimes also think about what I can put on my resume and again, as I’m sure you have told many a student no one cares what’s on your recipe resume, if you can’t talk about it, right? No one cares that you studied abroad if you can’t say how it changed you, what you learned, and that’s also true of working in a lab. And I help my students think through how to articulate the leadership experiences of research knowledge or skills that they learned in my lab.
Yeah, and you mentioned studying abroad and I think we mentioned it earlier in our discussion as well. You had the opportunity to become a visiting professor at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark, and I believe that was the time when you started looking at the differences and similarities between US and Danish regarding the effects of stigmatization and the willingness to quit smoking. I’m going to share my screen again and highlight a couple things for our audience. Number one is here’s a kind of a, a summary. If you go to Google Scholar, many of our audience knows that you know that you can go to Google Scholar and then you can sort by year. And here’s one down here “Does it help smokers if we stigmatize them?” And then you looked at the differences between and similarities between these two. And then you also had a nice YouTube video on this. Now I’m not sure if this was related to that particular study or if it was a continuation of that, but this a short 2 minute 20 second video was kind of interesting, showing that give us a high-level summary of some of the findings, if you can kind of recall, what you found out between the Danish and the US.
Sure, so this was all funded by two different NIH grants, and in the first I focused on cross cultural differences and how smokers think about their risks. And then the second I focused on the how smokers react to being stigmatized. So, they’re related but independent, so I can easily summarize the findings of both of both. So, in the first grant we I was interested in exploring why exactly Danes thought that their risk was less than American smokers thought that their risk were of smoking. Uhm, how they explained in their own mind the risk that they took with smoking. So, we did an interview smoking, but I was also interested in whether smoking had been come less moralized and Denmark than it had in U.S., in other words, you feel that people are blaming you or think you are a bad person because you are smoking. And we found that Danes did think that they were less at risk, personally, for smoking, and it was basically less bad to smoke for your health than American smokers thought. But they also resisted this idea that they should be labeled as bad people, so they thought there was more responsibility for, for non-smokers to avoid the, the smoking that they put out rather than it being all their duty. So, they and they thought there was more of a negotiation that ought to take place around shared spaces, whereas Americans smokers just accepted that they could not smoke in many different settings and that the non-smokers beliefs about their smoking won, essentially, in these in these awkward social situations where you negotiate. Uhm, both Danes and Americans liked it better when they were clear rules, because then you avoided the negotiation. So, if somebody at a party just said and remember a lot of this research was done over 10 years ago, which doesn’t seem long ago, but it does, and how smoking has changed. So anyway, both smokers and as. Both smokers and Denmark in the US said it was easier when a host just said you can’t smoke inside instead of leaving it to some kind of awkward well were ashtray set out inside and who’s smoking and where am I supposed to go? And so, so both Americans and Danes thought this negotiation around smoking was exhausting. So that was the first, so that just focused on this issue of moralization.
The second set of studies, we also looked at Denmark and the US, obviously following along the same line, but we were much more directly interested in how smokers reacted if you reminded them that they were devalued or stigmatized. And we did that in a variety of different ways. We had them smoke in front of a mock interviewer, which they definitely did not like, and that made them super stressed out. We also had them just read about how devalued smokers are in dating and employment and housing and so on. And then in the last study we actually ostracized them, so we actually did an online study while I was in England directing a program there, I worked with a British student, and we played a little game that’s well-known. I was skeptical that it would work. It’s called cyberball and people play online thinking that they are playing a ball tossing game with other participants. But they’re not. And what’s fascinating is that when you randomly assign them to the group in which they don’t get the ball by the other two people who ostensibly are not playing the ball to them compared to the you’re sharing the ball playing equally, people feel really bad about that, even if they have heard about cyberball. Or know that maybe or that doubtful that you really were playing it with two other people. And it isn’t just an artificial environment which, of course, it is. People still feel really bad. So, smokers in all of these studies definitely felt it’s stressful to be ostracized, less stigmatized. But it also led them to be more interested in, in quitting.
While you were talking, I brought up cyberball ’cause I’ve never heard of that, and it’s interesting that you were able to utilize that in the, in, in your study, one thing that came to mind when you were describing your first part of the study was I traveled abroad many times and back then they didn’t really have, especially over in Europe and, and that area, didn’t really have no smoking signs. To your point, it’s changed so much. In your study, did you find that it was mostly in those socially ambiguous situations about hey, whether it was allowed versus you entered this restaurant, it says no smoking. Well, there’s the rule then I know, you know what I should follow? Kind of talk to me about that for a second.
Yeah, definitely. So, they liked the lack of needing to negotiate it, especially socially, but even in the workplace it was often fraught because if the boss smoked, then you felt that you had to go outside with the boss, right? So, so there’s all these social mechanics that are actually removed if you just don’t allow smoking in the workplace. Now there’s other reasons why it’s a good idea to not have smoking in the workplace, right? Because it encourages people to quit. But there are also all these other mechanics and those are tied to feeling that you are devalued. So, one of the things that was fascinating too, about the Cyberball study is that we actually were able to convince, and I think people did believe that largely, that the other people that they were playing with were nonsmokers or they, so we only had smoking participants and they were told that the other people were not smokers, that they were playing with and then we would told them specifically that the other people they were playing with didn’t know that they were smokers. That that the participant was a smoker, or they didn’t know it. In other words, we made the stigma either concealed or revealed. Uhm, and, and that goes back to the awkwardness of this negotiation is in order for you to smoke. You have to be revealed, right? You have to reveal what smokers themselves experience as a highly stigmatized identity. So, what happens then when you can conceal it, and what we found in the in the Cyberball study is that people still felt devalued. And they still thought that others did not want to play with them because they were smokers. Even though we had told them explicitly that the other people did not know that, and they said, well, I still think that’s why.
Wow, that’s interesting. You mentioned earlier that you had the opportunity to go to England, so I’m going to go back to that because more recently in 2019 up through 2021 you were the Director of the Dickinson Science Program, first in 2019 to 2020 in England, and then again, the following year in Denmark. So, tell us a little bit more about these programs and how you found or created those positions.
So, these are long time, UM, programs that Dickinson College has abroad, the one in England has been there for more than 25 years, and it has always had a faculty director who was there living there for two years and getting to know themselves what it’s like being abroad. Learning more about the British university system, which is very different from the American system and then of course supporting the students experience abroad and teaching a class. So, I had the opportunity to apply for this because we have programs in in and directors in many places in the United States. What was interesting, just as a side note, as a good advice for the students is sometimes not getting something gives you other opportunities so. There’s been a popular movement of the things I didn’t get CV instead of things I was successful CV, so I want to highlight the fact that just because I got to go in 2019, which was amazing, and I’ll return to that in a second. I actually also applied for it about 10 years before and didn’t get it. And it did this two-year position in England and then I instead went to Copenhagen and taught at as you mentioned earlier, American students who were studying abroad in Copenhagen, which ended up being an amazing experience that year. My daughter went with me and went to a Danish high school and learned Danish and learn Danish culture much better than she knew and met her now husband while she was in in high school there. So, so my point is that one opportunity. Uhm, you just have to be brave and seek out opportunities and that doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful, but it can lead to other opportunities, right? And this was one example of that. So, in any case, just because you apply for something doesn’t mean you get it. But when I applied the second time, I did get it, and because there’s so many directors who have had this position before at my college, I actually relied a lot on their past course. I taught a course on the history of science, which was really, really fun totally outside of my wheelhouse. A great opportunity to learn new things and I took them to London for three weeks in which we did all activities, tied to the history of science class, also relying on the past directors who had been in this position. And then March of 20 happened. So, the students were sent home. We did not have any students there the following year at all because it didn’t make sense to send students into British COVID land while they were taking classes at the British University online. Right, that literally made no sense. So, I asked my university for permission to be abroad the second year but moved to Denmark instead. So instead of living two years in England, I lived one year in England and one year in Denmark and was teaching online like everyone went online at that, at that point and was going to take a group of students then following the history of science class to Copenhagen instead, and that also got shut, shut down because of COVID.
Well, you, you, we didn’t plan this at all, but very good transition leading up to COVID because my next question was actually going to be about some of your work during COVID and you, you have a few websites here that actually are very good resources for some of the research that you conducted during COVID and one of them is this newspapers and magazines. I’ll go back to this in one second and then I wanted to highlight the articles for general audiences, and this is kind of nice because if you wanted to learn a little bit more about Danish, wanted to learn a little bit more about what’s going on around the world, you had some good resources here as well, but I don’t want to steal your thunder. So, tell me, you know, what kind of prompted you to create. First of all, create these two websites and, and kind of offer up the research that you conducted during COVID to people and the general public.
Yes, so several things happened during COVID other than living in two different countries. One thing that happened is that I, I started a research program with two former students. One of them, actually my daughter, and the three of us just went to work on creating a, a shared research study during March of 20. Uhm, collecting data in the US online and we were particularly interested in the factors that contributed to people not taking precautions. Or being willing to take future precautions. We knew the vaccine was coming so it wasn’t there yet, so we knew it was, would be there. So, we also asked about their willingness to do things in the future and that research team has so far published 2 papers, one looking at social norms and one looking at worry and perceived risk in predicting these outcomes. And we are working I, I’m right now working on a paper on looking at why conservatives were less like less willing to take precaution. So, the ideological gap and another person on our team, my daughter, is looking at, uhm, masculinity and precarious manhood, and what role that played in the precautions. So that has been that was just a really, really amazing opportunity. I’ve been wanting to get back to working with these students who graduated at different years in different times. Laurel Peterson is now an associate professor at Bryn Mawr College and my daughter just got her PhD at NYU U in social psychology and is working at a nonprofit catalyst that looks at, uhm, creating better opportunities for women in the workplace. So, the three of us have worked together during COVID and during, you know, during and after, are we “after” the pandemic and, and collaborating, so that was really just a wonderful opportunity to connect with people that I have enjoyed working with and published with before. Uhm, and have really different knowledge and skills, which is always enjoyable.
The other thing that I, oh OK, go ahead.
So that’s one thing. If you have any questions about that, I’ll answer your questions about that and then I’ll talk more about the media work that I did.
No, go ahead and go into the media. I was actually just gonna ask you.
OK, so the other thing that happened, of course, is that the whole world was going. Why don’t people understand their risks? So, the whole world had this question and I got to talk to many, many, many journalists about this question. National Geographic, the New York Times. Several times, NPR marketplace and other outlets that all allowed me to describe the research on why people don’t understand their risks. Ah, which has now led me to consider writing a book, a popular book about this very topic. Looking at the well-established reasons that of course, well established from decades of research during COVID. So that’s what all those references are to articles in which I was cited by journalists who interviewed me. The third thing is that I before COVID and during COVID also have started writing for general audiences so. Uhm, psychology has for years argued that we should do a better job of giving away psychology and I felt that I was at a point in my career where I really wanted to just talk about things I knew about and I was funded about to, to take a workshop in in how to accomplish this. How do you? Reach out what you how do you write? How do you get it? Published and since then from 2018 on, I have written four pieces. Some of them, focusing on Danish words like “hygge” and “pyt”, and “samfundssind”, uhm, which I’m happy to talk more about and one actually focusing on my research on optimistic bias. So, so and, and again, it’s hard to know who’s, who’s reading this. I published them all in “The Conversation” which tracks how many views or how many people click on, on the links and at least the “Why Denmark Dominates the World Happiness Report Rankings Year After Year” has been read by more than half a million people which is a little bit more than, uh, you know the, the, the citation scholar you had up there earlier from Google?
Right, right definitely. What’s also interesting is you know you started talking about the one about a year ago. A little less than a year ago about why we’re so bad at assessing the risk, and then that kind of led into, you know, this one that you were interviewed for National Geographic as well. And then I’m not even gonna try to pronounce this “pyt”?
Yeah, well done yeah.
Is that right? OK, alright so yeah, that was referenced on both this one and then the, the general audience is one as well. So, I applaud you for getting that out, because yeah, getting half a million views on some of these definitely helps increase the awareness of and then increasing the interest in these fields as well so. I applaud you for that. You also had, as I mentioned, a few YouTube videos and one of them I’m going to ask you about because I found it very interesting. I found some of the others about the smoking interesting, but the, the one that was actually a little older in 2015. Australian Shepherd helps children develop reading skills and I found that one interesting tell us kind of a if you can remember anything the high-level view of what you found using dogs or particularly this Australian shepherd.
So, this was all just community volunteering. I, I will make a connection in a moment for, for how working with the dog can, can lead into advice for students, but this was I got a dog and Australian Shepherd is a bit like a border collie. It needs a job to do. And I trained it and got it certified to work in the community. So, I took her to nursing homes and hospices and orphanages and, and so on and what the video shows is part of that which is not just supplying a dog for people to play with and pet but also having the children read aloud to the dog. So, I went after school programs for several years in which she would each child would come in one at a time and sit down. And read aloud to the dog. So, so many jokes were made about how well read my dog was for sure, and the idea is that children don’t really like reading aloud and they find it anxiety provoking and challenging and the, the non-judgmental listener of the dog can, can provide a positive reinforcement in, in the children reading. Although, to be fair, some of them just wanted to pet the dog. And weren’t so much into the reading.
So, so one of the things I really enjoyed training, uh, the into in taking many classes because it, it, it really is good for the dog, the dog to learn and, and work it, not just physically, but with an active mind is we once took a class that was called not obedience training, which is very rigid, but improv obedience training in which the whole idea is that you get a novel task and you have to get the dog and you working together to figure out how you can get the dog to do the task. So, if you have to push a little buggy, like a little children buggy and the dog has never seen the, the buggy before, what would you tell it to do that you already know in your wheelhouse, right? Like maybe touch it. Right, which might be a command that the dog has learned. So that was a really, really fun class, and one of the commands we learned in that class that the dog learned was try something. So, let’s say you want the dog to knock over a book that’s standing on its end, and the dog has no idea what you want, right? And you don’t have a command for knock down the book. So, what you do is that you tell the dog to try something so the dog might nose the book, you know, put the nose on the book or paw the book or lick the book right. Depending on what the dog does and then you reinforce the correct behavior, which of course the dog doesn’t know what is, you know right? So, so I would often ask the class at the end of the semester have a little treat for students and take the dog in to show some of these commands which they always think is fun and the dog is fun, right? And eager to show off its skills and I often said to students, that’s like the best command ever for humans, like try something.
And then have good people who can help you determine whether you’re doing the right thing, right? You shouldn’t just be randomly trying things like stand on the chair during class, right? But, but try something new is OK, right? Even if you don’t know exactly how to do it, especially if you have people guiding you. So be brave and try new things and good things could happen, and if good things don’t happen, that’s OK too.
And you know one of the things that you mentioned about try something when you look at your Vita, you kind of look at hey, you almost tried a lot of different things and you traveled and you did everything and that’s how you built up your CV, and that’s how you built up your experience as well. So, tell me what you like most about your job. I know you received tenure in 2006 and you’ve been a full professor of psychology since 2014 at Dickinson College. What do you like most about your job?
I, I love working with my students. That is definitely I, I, I, they are inquisitive and interested and hard working in general. And I love to see the, the changes that they make in their understanding and activities. And you know research, but also non research things. Uhm, I also love just the this, the attitude of collaboration and cross disciplinary thinking that’s characteristic of Dickinson College and many other colleges. I just love that you can ask the sociology or the economics professor something, or you can ask the students what they learned in those classes and how that bears out on what you’re learning in social psychology. So, I really love the, you know the students go abroad, they grow and develop and get perspectives from many different influences. While they are there and that affects my teaching and research, and of course my collaboration with my colleagues as well.
So, near the end of most of our podcast interviews, we have a few fun questions and I’ll start off with the first one. What is your favorite term, principle, or theory, and why?
So definitely the, the what I just talked about before this whole idea of concealed stigma. I, I have just never really, honestly, until I started doing this research, thought about how hard people who feel devalued and stigmatized work to conceal their stigmas. How much smokers think about whether they’re clothes smoke, or whether they should brush their teeth again so this whole uncertainty about accidentally having your stigma revealed? When you don’t wish it to be so, so that actually gave me a lot of empathy towards people who I don’t feel I stigmatize, but who nonetheless feel the pressure and anxiety about potentially experiencing stigma. So, so that’s really led. I’ve never smoked, but talking to smokers has definitely enhanced my empathy for people who are not like me.
OK, the next one, think inside and outside of academia. So, what is something new that you have learned recently?
I, uh, uh, let’s see what have I learned recently? I’ve had started, uh, night hiking. So, I hike occasionally on the Appalachian Trail, which runs right through Carlisle where I live, and I joined a group that hiked in the dark all winter, which I really did not think I was going to like, and I really did enjoy it, which was surprising when you can only see what the headlight lights up on the trail.
Did you? Is it more of a day or night or you stay overnight as well? Do you camp?
We did not do any, any camping, no. It was just that hiking after work.
OK alright. Do you have any other advice for those interested in the field of psychology?
Yes, one thing I think is that I wish I had known more about at the time. Was that you don’t have to become a professor to put your PhD or skills that you have learned into use. So, I didn’t realize, excuse me. Let’s get that bug out of my. I was mostly mentored to have the job that my professors had. And I now can see how many other jobs there are, where you can put your skills to use. Whether you’re working for social media organization or for nonprofit or in government research institutions so. Don’t just think that the PhD is doing what the people who are now teaching you do, although that is a career and I wish I had known more. Not that I have any regrets about the career I have, but I wish I had learned more about the diverse ways that PhDs work out in the community in other settings.
OK, good advice. One other fun question is if you have the time and money to complete one project or go on one trip, what would you do?
Oh, there’s so many trips I want to go on. That’s, that’s really challenging. I’d love to go on an adventure trip to New Zealand. And hike and camp and kayak and engage with the amazing nature that I hear New Zealand has now that New Zealand seems to be open, opened up again.
Wow, I haven’t even considered that. I love traveling myself and I haven’t even considered New Zealand. That’s a good idea. Is there anything else that you would like to bring up during this podcast or discuss during this podcast?
No, just I encourage students to seek out good mentors who can guide them on the path forward. And remember that there’s many ways to reach a goal. And it’s OK if you don’t know what, how to reach your goals. And it’s OK that if it takes you longer to reach the goals in a non-linear way. Or you know, resist the pressure of, from that you sometimes get from others to have it all figured out it’s, it’s OK to take the time that it takes.
Well, that’s good reminder and reassurance. A lot of people, I know when I started my graduate career, I’m thinking I have to have everything laid out otherwise I, I don’t know what I’m doing and that’s actually not the case. Take one step at a time and then, like you did, you, you eventually build up your CV and, and build up those experience. Marie, thanks again for sharing your story and advice with us. I really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences. I wish you the best of luck, especially if you continue working on that book.