Dr. Neil Lewis, Jr. was born in Jamaica and came to the United States as a kid. In this podcast, we discuss his academic and professional journey beginning from what originally sparked his interest in psychology including a demonstration by his high school economics teacher at Cornell University in Ithica, NY to what led him to the University of Michigan for his graduate degrees in social psychology leading to his dual appointment and recent promotion as Associate Professor at Cornell University and Weill Cornell Medicine. During our discussion, Dr. Lewis shares his experiences and advice with those interested in getting their graduate degree in the field of psychology and those wanting to stay in the academic field.
Dr. Lewis is a behavioral scientist who has a dual appointment as Associate Professor of Communication and Social Behavior at Cornell University and Associate Professor of Communication Research in Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. Dr. Lewis states, “the reason for the dual appointments, in this case, is I do a lot of health research including research on how the ways health clinics and health systems communicate information to patients affects the health behaviors the patients engage in and health outcomes.” So, in the Department of Communication, he is surrounded by communication scholars and other social scientists who are interested in the communication process. Then, in the Medical School, all of his colleagues are medical doctors who put these communication processes into practice. He believes “being in both worlds really allows me to get the broader set of perspectives that I need to have on health issues and that improves my ability to study those issues as well.”
He also co-directs Cornell’s Action Research Collaborative, an institutional hub that brings together researchers, practitioners, policy makers, and community members to collaborate on projects and initiatives to address important equity issues in society. Dr. Lewis received the Early Career Scholar Award from the International Communication Association, the Janet Taylor Spence Award for Transformative Early Career Contributions from the Association for Psychological Science, and Cornell’s Research and Extension Award for Outstanding Accomplishments in Science and Public Policy. Outside of academia, Thinkers50 and Deloitte identified Dr. Lewis as one of the 30 up-and-coming thinkers whose ideas will shape management in the coming years due to his contributions to work motivation and diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Dr. Lewis’s interest in psychology actually stemmed from a great high school economics teacher who sparked his interest in economics through his teachings and demonstrations. Dr. Lewis thought that an economics degree was a “practical degree to get…to be employable at the end of my undergraduate journey…but the most interesting part of economics for me were the parts that were fundamentally psychological.” For example, he recalls a demonstration in which the professor took out a $20 bill and a $1 bill and ripped both of them in half. When the professor asked the students to reflect on their reaction and explain why they were more upset about the $20 bill being torn in half than the $1 bill being torn in half, they replied that one was worth more than the other even though both were made of the same pieces of paper and used the same kind of ink. Dr. Lewis realized that as long as we share a collective belief, then that belief becomes part of our reality. He recalls, “I kept thinking about how much of these systems that govern our social world depend on people’s beliefs in those systems.” Dr. Lewis adds, “And, of course, the discipline that was really established to study belief systems and other thoughts and behaviors is psychology. And so that’s one of the reasons I ended up pivoting from economics to psychology.”
When discussing his graduate school opportunities and choices, Dr. Lewis states, “I wanted to go to graduate school, not just to learn about psychological processes and social issues. I also wanted to use my knowledge to develop some interventions that could hopefully do some good in the world.” There are many schools in Michigan that offer graduate degrees in psychology and Dr. Lewis shares why he selected the University of Michigan to earn his MS and PhD in Social Psychology. Among other reasons, he found there was a cluster of faculty at the University of Michigan who were really focused on conducting intervention research and that was something in which he was very interested.
Dr. Lewis is the director of the Motivation & Goal Pursuit Lab at Cornell and is known for his research on psychology and social issues, particularly on topics related to inequality, motivation, and well-being. He is a big advocate of applied research and helping to make policy changes at the local, regional, and national levels. However, there is one way to communicate in the academic world and a different way to communicate with policymakers. Dr. Lewis states, “academia is sort of oriented towards the ‘sage on the stage’ model of communication. Like, I have the knowledge and I just need to give it to you and then, once I give it to you, you will know and then you will do all the right things. And that’s just not how other contexts work.” He says that you should start from a more humble place and ask, “how can I help?”
What is his advice for students and others who want to work in the field of social psychology? He emphasizes the importance of staying curious and remaining humble as key attributes to success. The field of social psychology is trying to understand some really complex interactions between people and the environment so staying curious is crucial. Some people may become super confident in the field when they make predictions regarding how people will behave in certain environments, but researchers are constantly surprised when people don’t act the way they predicted. Dr. Lewis reminds us that “staying curious about what’s happening around you and being humble about the fact that you might be wrong is an important thing to be successful in this field.”
Interests and Specializations
Dr. Lewis’s research primarily focuses on how people’s social contexts and identities influence how they make sense of the world around them, and how this impacts their motivation to pursue different goals in life. He looks at the consequences on individuals, communities, organizations, and the societies in which the individuals are embedded.
Bachelor of Arts (BA), Economics (2013); Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.
Master of Science (MS), Social Psychology (2015); University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI.
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Social Psychology (2017); University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI.
Other Sources and Links of Interest
Dr. Neil Lewis Jr.: Google Scholar
Dr. Neil Lewis Jr.: Open Science Framework
Dr. Neil Lewis Jr.: FiveThirtyEight
Dr. Neil Lewis Jr.: The Atlantic (Contributing writer)
Dr. Neil Lewis Jr.: Student Experience Research Network
Dr. Neil Lewis Jr.: Social Psychology 11th Edition @Amazon
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. Neil Lewis, Jr. to the show. Dr. Lewis is an Associate Professor of Communication and Social Behavior at Cornell University and Associate Professor of Communication Research in Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College. Dr. Lewis is a behavioral scientist who studies how social interventions and policies can motivate behavioral changes to promote equitable outcomes in society. He completed his doctorate in social psychology from the University of Michigan. He received the Early Career Scholar Award from the International Communication Association, the Janet Taylor Spence Award for Transformative Early Career Contributions from the Association of Psychological Science, and Cornell’s Research and Extension Award for Outstanding Accomplishments in Science and Public Policy. Today, we will learn more about his academic and professional journey, more about his dual appointment, and hear his advice for those interested in the field of social psychology. Dr. Lewis, welcome to our podcast.
Thank you so much for having me on the show.
Well, I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to be with us. One of the fun things as I was telling you before we started recording for me is to be able to do some of the research and look at your journey. And even though I’ve had other social psychologists on here on the podcast, yours is a very unique journey as well. So, you started off with your bachelor’s, you received your bachelor’s degree in economics at Cornell University. So, tell me a little bit more about your undergraduate experiences and when you first became interested in psychology.
Yeah, I mean, undergrad was interesting and I, like, explored a lot of things during that time. You know, I studied economics in part because I really enjoyed them as a subject in high school, I had a great high school economics teacher who really sparked that interest in economics. But I also thought it was a practical degree to get. You know, I wanted to be employable at the end of my undergraduate journey, and so that was always something in the back of my mind. But the most interesting part of economics for me were the parts that were fundamentally psychological. Right. So, you can take something as fundamental as like how does our monetary system work? Like you know that we are all using money every day? Like, how does that work? And I remember there’s this demonstration in one of my classes where when the professors took out both a $20 bill and the $1.00 bill and ripped both of them in half. And of course, then. You know, students sit in the class, you know, we gasped at this demonstration. But we were far more upset about the $20 bill being ripped than the $1.00 bill. And so, she asked us to reflect on our reaction. You know, why were we so much more upset about the 20 being ripped than the one being ripped? They’re both just pieces of paper with printed on the same kind of ink and so on. But why was one worth so much more to us than the other when they are made of the same thing? And the answer was, well. We believe that one is worth more than the other, that as long as we share that collective belief, then that really becomes part of the reality. And so you know, that was a really interesting insight to me. And the more I studied economics, the more I kept thinking about how much of these systems that govern our social world depend on people’s beliefs in those systems. And, of course, the discipline that was really established to study belief systems and other thoughts and behaviors is psychology. And so that’s one of the reasons I ended up pivoting from economics to psychology.
Well, that’s actually an interesting story. I mean, it’s crucial and I think it is definitely important the belief system and the collective belief. So, it’s not only yours, yours doesn’t override everybody else’s just because…it’s that collective belief.
So that’s interesting. You then attended, as I mentioned in my intro, the University of Michigan for your doctorate. You earned your PhD in social psychology. Now there are many different schools in Michigan back in the time, and even more today that offer graduate degrees in psychology. So, tell me a little bit more about, you know, why did you decide on the University of Michigan to work on your psychology degree?
Yeah. So, uh, Michigan, uh, at the time that I was there, uh. Or at the time that I was planning to Graduate School had this cluster of faculty who all, like, were really focused on and conducted intervention research, right, and that’s something that I was very interested in, you know. I wanted to go to Graduate School, not just to learn about psychological processes and social issues. I also wanted to use my knowledge to develop some interventions that could hopefully do some good in the world. And Michigan was a place to learn to do that. And so, they just had a lot of faculty doing work in education, some in health, some in environment, and so I was just really interested in being part of that and learning how to do that kind of work.
OK, alright. And in, in passing when earning your PhD, you also earned a Master of Science in Social Psychology as well. And so, whenever people look at people’s CV’s or VITAS, they look at the undergrad and then they see the PhD and going Oh well, how did you go there? And so you actually. Earn it in passing when in most cases when you have that. So yeah. What are some of the key skills or qualities that you believe are important for psychology students to aspire to work for and toward in that field of social psychology? Anything that that kind of stems from your experience and or belief now that you’ve been teaching.
Yeah. I mean there are two things that come to mind a lot. One is curiosity that you know this is a field that’s really trying to understand some really complex interactions between people and the environments that they’re in and just being curious about that is really important. But the other part of that is being humble. We are constantly surprised by the ways that people believe and behave in the world, and so, you know, there are all these moments where I’m like, you know, we see people become super confident about, oh, yeah, people are definitely going to behave in this way and then they don’t. It makes us really sort of question what we know. And I think that’s important. It keeps the science moving forward. And so staying curious about what’s happening around you and being humble about the fact that you might be wrong is an important thing to be successful in this field.
Well, the other thing too, if you don’t mind, I’ll add something. When I was going through grad school as well. You actually sometimes learn very important things when your research doesn’t go the way it’s planned…
Oh yeah, absolutely.
…because then it opens up the doors. It opens up the doors for, Oh my gosh, I if you say, oh, I’m going to research A, B, and C and everybody’s saying, well, that’s obvious. Come on, you know. And then you actually look at the look at it empirically.
And then you find out that it’s just the opposite. And you’re going well, why is that and then it opens up more doors. So that’s how you extend research further by doing that that research to find out yes or no or it’s a combination of both under certain circumstances.
So, I remember I remember doing my first research project and it didn’t go the way that I had predicted, and I thought oh, my advisor, my teacher are just gonna think you are a failure. You did, but it was just the opposite. You know, we uncovered something new. So, yeah.
Exactly. I mean. So many of those meetings, the students, you know, as you mentioned, students will go run a study and then it’s like, you know, something might not work the way that we thought was. And so that’s in many ways, some of the most interesting things were like, ah, I wonder what happened there. And then you’re digging in data, trying to figure out what’s going on. Then you think you might have some new insight that, well, let’s go run another study, see if this new thing that new, the way that we’re thinking about it is aligned or not. And so that’s how you keep the learning going.
Definitely, definitely. So, in hindsight, think back to the process related to searching for graduate schools and programs, and is there anything that you would do different in terms of that process now that you look at it, you know in hindsight.
So, before I say anything else, I want to make sure listeners understand one concept that’s relevant to all this sort of advice giving. And that’s this concept of survivorship bias, right? I think it’s super important to talk about here because, uhm, you know, I’m someone who sort of made it through many of these filters and that’s just important to contextualize with advice. So, it’s hard for me to say, Oh well, I, you know, maybe would have done this or that differently. I there’s not a lot that’s like jumping out, but that’s in part because it did workout for me, right? And so, I think that’s an important piece here with some of the advice giving.
Like you know. There’s lots of great advice out there on doing your homework and searching for looking through different programs about who is there, what are they doing and so on. And that’s important to do. But students should also people who are like going to be applying to this program should also know there are a lot of things that are also outside of your control. I think one of the things I see every year is um, you know, people get very upset if, like they don’t get into a program. They’re like, what else could I have done and. You can do everything you can, and sometimes there are other things in the process that you might just not know about that still affect the outcome. So, I think that’s an important piece to consider too.
Yeah, and to your point, there’s a lot of stuff that’s out of your control and you know there might have been, you know, maybe the program is only accepting four or five students or three students, and you have 50 or 100 students applying, and let’s say that one of the students met one of the people on the committee who are making the decision, and they already kind of, you know, know that I’m gonna. I’m gonna pick this student. So that’s already one out of the four or five already gone. And so yeah. Don’t take it too seriously. Just keep working at it and then apply for more. And another way to kind of asked this is, is there anything that you wish you knew back then when you are deciding on which school or program to attend for your graduate degree that you wish that you could, you know, share that advice with anybody else right now you know you can only talk to your experience like you said but is there anything else that you tell your students now who are, you know, considering to go on for their graduate degrees and or PhD so.
Yeah, I mean I think um, it’s really important to have a sense of what you want to do afterwards in order to choose the right program. One of the things that’s kind of funny about graduate programs is, you know, you have the same degree, quote unquote, but the programs are actually very different, right? So depending on who is there at the time, programs are very different specialties that they can train you for so you want to go to the kind of program that can train you for the things that you want to do in the sectors in which you want to do that thing, right? So, some programs like their focus is like really training future academics. You know, you don’t want to go into academia. Maybe that’s not the best thing, right? If other programs have really great track records of training people who want to go into government or different sectors of industry. So, knowing something about what you want to do can help you pick the right program that can prepare you for whatever that thing is. So that’s something I think is super important.
I love that advice. The other thing that I’d add to that is, you know, back in the day, you had PhD, now you have PhD and PsyD and so you can go that route and typically the PsyD is for somebody who doesn’t want to stay in the academic world, but there are certain cases where you do see somebody with a PsyD who is at a university and vice versa so that you know they’re crossing the boundary, so to speak, a little bit, but. One other thing to keep in mind, like you said, is what do you want to do after you receive your graduate degree or degrees? And if it is clinical, if it is staying in the academic world, academia, or if it’s starting your own business, your practice, anything like that, or working for government, I mean a lot of people think it’s either when I get my psychology degree, in whatever branch or field, I gotta stay in the academic world or I have to start my own practice. No, there’s so many more things that you can do with a doctorate or a master’s degree in psychology as well. So just wanted to point that out for our listeners.
Yeah, I mean the like one of the things that’s really great and beautiful about this field is that it does prepare you for many different options, but the sort of flip side of that is you can end up in a choice overload problem situation where it’s like because you can do so many things, like which things should you do. And that’s something you have to answer for yourself.
And so you know, that kind of leads me to another question that I usually ask is how did you find or determine, hey, we have that whole umbrella of psychology and then you have all the branches or all the different ways that you could actually study psychology and focus on. So how did you end up focusing on social psychology?
Yeah. So that’s you know in if we take a step back and revisit undergrad for a second. So, I talked about the journey through economics, but I also did research in sociology. So, I was in a sociology lab. That’s where I got ah my sort of feet wet and research and I was working with a social psychologist, but from the sociological tradition. So, there’s social psychology in both psychology departments and in sociology departments. And so, when I was applying to Graduate School, I applied to social psych programs in both fields, both in sociology and psychology, and it’s because I was really interested in sort of this way of thinking about people and the environments around them. And like how understanding those links can help you come up with solutions, right? So, I’ve always been intervention focused. That was like a core thing. You know, when I started out, I was most interested in education interventions that’s broadened to health and environment and other things too. But I really wanted programs that could train me to do that. Right. And so, and from that perspective of really thinking about the person in, in the context of there. And so that’s what really drew me to social psych.
OK. Well, thank you for sharing. What’s interesting is you started at Cornell with your undergraduate in economics, and then you left when a couple states over, I think I’m not very good at geography, but yeah, I think you went to the West at any rate to Ann Arbor, MI, and then eventually you returned to Cornell. So, you’re now at Cornell as well. You returned to Cornell after receiving your doctorate. You were an assistant professor for just over 6 years, and as we were discussing just before we started, congratulations, you just got promoted to associate professor so congratulations on that.
When you look back at the application process for your first appointment as an assistant professor, why did you decide on Cornell University? And did you have other choices and, if so, why did you decide to go with Cornell?
Yeah, uh, I had a couple of options. I was fortunate to, you know, apply to, I think, 15 schools total and was fortunate to have a good run on the job market that year and had some good offers to choose from, but I ended up choosing Cornell because it was the best fit of the offers that were on the table, right? So, the department was really excited about the work that I wanted to do, really open to supporting the various ways that I wanted to do that work. You know, one of the things that’s interesting in social psych, you know, it applies to other areas as well, but for a long time, there’s this sort of divide between basic research and applied research and you know there are some departments that are more excited about the basic research and not as excited about the applied research. And so that was the tension with some of the offers they’re like yeah, well, you like you like your basic social cognition research, but that applied stuff maybe after tenure you can do that and I was like well, I it’s important to me to do both of those things and Cornell was like, yes, come do all of it. We we’re excited about all of it. So, it was a really great fit and so that’s why I ended up taking the job here.
Well, that’s great. Good explanation as to why as well, it always comes down to it’s a good fit. worked out for me. It’s a good fit because of A, B, and C. So, I know a lot of our listeners are going to ask a little bit more about this aspect. So, because you recently moved from assistant professor to associate professor kind of share with us, what were some of the most challenging aspects of moving and earning the right to go ahead and move from assistant to associate.
Yeah. So, this is another thing that’s gonna, you know, the caveat of the process looks very different at different kinds of places and like, but. You know here Cornell is a research one university, so like research is king, basically. And so, you do have to uh produce uh like recognizable like body of research, that’s like really impactful in your field. UM, and so, you know, setting up it’s a it’s also a relatively short window, right? So, you know, you said six years from assistant to associate, but it’s really five years because you submit your materials at the end of your 5. And so, you’ve got five years to generate this body of work that is then you know, recognized by your peers in the field so you. You start your job, you have to set up your lab, recruit students. Do all of these things to, like, really get that work going while you’re also teaching classes and doing service both for the university and for the broader field. Like, it’s a lot of different things. One of the things they don’t think people necessarily recognize until you’re in the role is just how multifaceted the job is, right, you go to your graduate program, and you become an expert in the thing you’re going to study. And most of the program is oriented around just doing that thing. So, in the case of a PhD in social psychology, you are getting training to do research in social psychology. And then you take the job as a professor, and that’s part of your job is doing research. But a lot of it is also teaching and being, you know, administrative tasks of running the lab and, you know, reviewing for journals and editing journals and all these other things that come up. And so, it becomes a pretty big job very quickly. And so, you have to figure out how to manage all of that to get to that point.
And I’m glad that you mentioned that. One of my recent interviews with someone was somebody who just finished grad school, got her first professorship, and then a couple things that stuck out to her was, you know, I basically have five years, you know, to prove my tenure. And I have to do all this other stuff. And the other thing that I remember from that interview was. She found it challenging to herself, to actually as a grad student, you can free flow your speech. You can talk about anything, but now that you are in this position, you almost have to be aware of your position as an assistant professor and you don’t have as much free speech as you used to have because people are looking to you as an authority, and so that’s another aspect to kind of consider when you become a professor. Did you get tenure during this move, or do you have to still earn that tenureship? That’s a question for you. Did you…
Oh, sorry. Yeah, yeah. So, my promotion to associate is with tenure. So. So there. Yeah, there are. Maybe that’s another thing we should talk through. Is that depending on the place, the promotion and tenure decision is either coupled or it’s not. So here it is when you are promoted to the associate professor you also are tenured. There are other places where your promotion is to associate professor, but you don’t get tenure until full. But those these are questions to ask during the interview process.
Is like what does it look like here? What does it mean? So yeah, in my case associate came with tenure.
That’s great. Congratulations. I mentioned earlier that you have dual appointments. So, you’re an Associate Professor of Communication and Social Behavior in the Department of Communication. And you’re also an Associate Professor of Communication Research in Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. So, tell us a little bit more about your dual appointments and how you found them. And I should mention that even though both of these are from Cornell, one is in Ithaca and the other one is in New York. So just keep that in mind.
Yeah. Yeah. So yeah, Cornell is a geographically distributed place. So, the main campus is in Ithaca, NY, but our medical school is in New York City, 4 hours away. And I work in both places. Yeah. So, the reason for the dual appointments, in this case, is I do a lot of health research right? So, including research on how the ways that health clinics and health systems communicate information to patients affects the health behaviors the patients engage in and health outcomes. And so, the dual appointment in that case really helps me to be situated in both of the intellectual environments that I need to be in, in order to do that kind of work well, right? So, in the Department of Communication, I’m surrounded by communication scholars and other social scientists who think about communication processes, right, and then my Med school division, all of my colleagues, there are medical doctors, right, who have to put these processes into practice. And so being in both worlds really allows me to get the broader set of perspectives that I need to have on health issues and that improves my ability to study those issues as well.
OK, I know that most of your research or the research that I’m seeing, especially on you know if you go to Google Scholar as well as your own personal page revolves around issues of inequality and motivation and actuality. You know, one of your labs, your lab is actually called Motivation and Goal Pursuit Lab. And so, we see where that motivation comes in. How do you believe these two concepts, inequality and motivation intersect and impact individuals’ psychological well-being?
Yeah. So, to explain how I got to studying these things and the links between them, I think it’s important to know some more background information about me and that is I’m an immigrant, right? So, I was born in Jamaica and then I came to the US as a kid, and I mentioned that because American society has fascinated and, in some ways, baffled me for most of my life. You know, we have these narratives here about, you know, how we need to improve people’s motivation to get them to work hard, that motivation and hard work are the paths to success. And to be clear, those things are definitely important. But some of the most motivated and hardest working people I’ve met are low-income people, right? And so, I’ve always wondered, like, why is it that some people’s motivation seems to pay off, right? That is, when they work hard, they do seem to get the fruits of their labor. But when other people work really hard, they don’t seem to get anywhere. Right. And that question overtime has led me to like how the larger systems of inequality that we live in affect the outcomes of our motivation as well as what we’re even motivated to do in the first place. And I’ll give an like a concrete example of this from the education domain, which is another domain which is one of the domains we’re working a lot. There we and many other scholars have found that the relationship between motivation and student motivation in school and inequality matters a lot. So, one of the sort of concrete examples of this is research showing that when low-income students realize just how expensive college is, that demotivates them in school, right? Because they know that even if they work really hard, their families would never be able to afford to send them anyway. So, it’s sort of pointless to put in effort that’s not going to be rewarded. But you can do interventions then, like teaching about policies like need based financial aid? And it turns out when you do things like that, it completely changes the way the students interact in school. Then they start working even harder, because now they see a pathway to success. So, there’s this link between the way we think about ourselves and what is possible for us to do, what we’re motivated to do, and what the broader world sort of teaches us about what will happen if we act on those motivations, and that link is why I sort of I’m fascinated by that and why we do so much work between those two concepts.
Well, I like that explanation and I did see some of your history regarding that as well. The other thing I there’s probably many different factors that are out there that impact somebody’s motivation. It could be even the friends, the, the people that surround you if they’re motivated and you to help you and to get you motivated. That makes a huge difference as well. Versus those that oh well, that’s too bad. Neil. You can’t make it to that. You can’t even apply because you don’t, you know, can’t even do that. Or Brad, there’s no way you’re going to get in there because you know such and such reason. But if you surround yourself with those people or you see, like you pointed out, those programs that are designed specifically to help individuals overcome some of those challenges. So, you know, when I when I, I’m always geared toward and thinking about how can we help students and other psychology students who want to contribute to the field. So, here’s kind of a follow-up question to the issue of inequality and motivation. What advice would you have or give to psychology students who would want to actively contribute to reducing inequality through their future research?
Yeah, I think what’s important here is to really study these links very intentionally, right? Umm, so study how different aspects of the unequal social systems that we live affect people’s thoughts, feelings, behaviors. When you were studying those links then, you know, the research that you can reveal some potential interventions and policies that can make a real difference. And I think that, like the example I shared before from the education work is an example of that, right, that when you realize that oh, well the financial barrier is changing the way that students are thinking about their experience. Then on one hand, you can develop policies and you know very wealthy universities have done some of this, whereas like, well, we have need based Spanish, right? If money is an issue, then like let’s remove that issue. But then there’s not just removing the money issue. You also have to tell people that’s what you’re doing and whether you provide that information, then that can start to change the psychological process. But you wouldn’t know that if you didn’t study these things together, right? If you didn’t know, like, what are the things that are on umm, students minds that are affecting their decision? You can’t just assume like, well, they’re just unmotivated, right? If you study those links together, then it can reveal some potential pathways for addressing the inequality.
You’re exactly right. And in this case, ignorance is not bliss. You need to do your research to find out what is available for you to reach your goal and you know there are there are organizations out there that help pay the application fee for, you know, some of your applications. There are, like you said, need-based financial aid as well, grants that are available. I’m going to share my screen and show your personal website. I actually like it. It’s very encompassing. You have a lot of information on here, but if you’re interested in learning a little bit more about Dr. Neil Lewis, Jr., just go to neillewisjr.com and you’ll see all of the information about what he is working on in the lab, that sort of stuff. What I wanted to kind of focus on is the ARC as we talked about ARC. And so, I like looking at this. First of all, tell us a little bit more. So, this is you Co direct, maybe I should step back for a second. I jump right into it. So, you Co-direct Cornell’s Action Research Collaborative. So, tell us a little bit more about ARC.
Yeah, so the Action Research Collaborative, you can think about as an institutional home for doing the kinds of work that we were just talking about, right? So, it’s bringing together researchers who have, you know, their disciplinary expertise. Community organizations and community members who their real problems they’re trying to solve their policymakers that we work with as well, who have to think about these issues from a much larger level. So, if you’re a state government or your city health department, there are different ways that you might think about these issues too. And to find effective solutions, you really need all of those people at the table to figure out like what is the thing, what are the things we should be studying? What are the things we already know? What are the things that can be implemented and then if we do implement those things, what are the consequences? So, to evaluate the effects of what we’re doing and that’s what ARC exists to do right, is to really create a space to bring all of those people together to work on a variety of issues. And so, that’s what we do.
OK. Well, thank you for sharing and I will share of course all the websites once we go live. Again, another question for students. You know, for students who are interested in advocating for policy changes that positively influence mental health, what strategies or advice would you recommend for effectively communicating and engaging with policymakers? Because there’s a way to communicate in the academic world. And there’s definitely a different way to communicate with policymakers. So, any advice for those who do want to make an impact and have to deal with and work toward making some policy changes?
Yeah, I this. Goes back to the humility point I made earlier in our conversation, to your point on the different ways of communicating. Academia is sort of oriented towards the sage on the stage model of communication. Like, I have the knowledge and I just need to give it to you and then, once I give it to you, you will know and then you will do all the right things. And that’s just not how other contexts work, to be polite about it. And so, you know the engagements with policymakers and communities and the like, I think, need to start from a more humble place. And I think a simple question you should be asking yourself and you can ask in those engagements is “how can I help?” Right? There are people with real experiences on the ground that may see things that you from your academic perspective may not, right. And that is important information too, and that you can bring that information together and figure out what is the problem that needs to be addressed. How have they been thinking about the problem? What have they tried? And you can ask the question, how can I help and hearing what, then really listen right and then you can hear what comes up and that allows you to then figure out, alright, well, what do I actually know that is relevant for this problem, right. So, there’s a bunch of research that has been done. You can then more efficiently search for the research that is relevant and come up with potential solutions that you can work together to test. And then, umm, evaluate the effects on and so it’s really this more collaborative way of teaching rather than saying well, I have the answers and I’m just going to tell you the answers and if you just do what I say, then everything will be better. That’s not effective and you should not do that.
That’s very good advice and not only that, but almost ask yourself, why am I asking this question too? What’s my overall goal? Not only how can I help but be open to how they respond instead of a directive question. How can I help? Oh, I can help you this way without even listening to truly listening and understanding, I can help you this way. Because as you said, I have this knowledge. Well, no, it may not fit specifically with them.
Right. Yeah, yeah.
So, in my intro I talked about some of your awards within the academic world. And so, I didn’t mention outside of the of academia, Thinkers50 and Deloitte identified you as one of the top 30 up-and-coming thinkers whose ideas will shape management in the coming years due to your contributions in the motivation and diversity and equity and inclusion. You also co-authored one of the newest editions, or the newest edition of Social Psychology (11th Edition). So, and I since I’m talking about this, I should also mention you’re also a contributing writer at The Atlantic. You were an author at Pearson or still are, I think, at Pearson. And then you were also a contributor at FiveThirtyEight as well. And so, I’ll share my screen again, I want to highlight a couple of websites for you. Number 1 is here is the newest. So, for those of you who are interested in social psychology. I remember going through grad school and having the textbook on interpersonal communication or you know, whatever, whatever one you’re whatever field you’re in. But here’s the newest 11th edition of social psychology. It’s out there and you’ll see this on his website as well. You can also find it on Amazon, and I’ll hide my meeting controls and here it is on Amazon. I’ll put this up there as well, and then I wanted to highlight. Here’s your Thinkers50 bio so you can find out a little bit more about Neil Lewis when you go to thinkers50.com and then look up Neil Lewis. And then the last thing that I wanted to kind of share here is you have, I love Google Scholar because you can actually sort it by year, uh, and then you can see how many people cite certain articles and you know you can see which one is trending. If you want to say that a little bit more. But it also I look at this because I look at the area in which you’re doing a lot of your research and for me, like I said, a lot of your research is very practical, and you mentioned earlier that within the academic world, it’s almost like I have this knowledge. And I remember when I was in grad school, you also had to deal with the, how should I say politely, the arrogance, almost competition between hey, I’m studying this. Oh, you are too. Well, now I have to beat my chest and say well, I know more about that topic than you do. And that doesn’t really help. Sure, the friendly competition is good, but it doesn’t necessarily help to move the state of that field and that research forward if you’re, you know, constantly combating, you know, being competitive with each other. Collaborate a little bit more, then it’ll move forward a little bit, but outside the academic world. That I also remember, and I want your thoughts on this. I know it has changed depending on which field you’re in, which university you’re in, which department you’re in. But, back in the day it was almost like we were in our own bubble. The academic world and we’re doing all this research. Now, I’m seeing more and more outside applied research in whatever field you’re in and that is benefiting not only the academic or academia, but it’s also benefiting local, regional, and national and even world, you know, being able to apply that. So, what are your thoughts on? I already know your answer to this. It’s kind of a leading question. What are your thoughts on the importance of applying the research outside of the academic world?
Yeah, I mean I’m I am a very big advocate of this. It’s not only what I do a lot of I train students and how to do this. So, I think we benefit we all benefit a lot from this and when I think about it in my own field, right, so there’s I mentioned earlier the distinction between basic and applied that people sometimes draw in the field. And for me, I don’t know if something really is a basic principle of, you know, human behavior, like unless I see it applied in many places, right? If it if it only works here and not there and like how basic is it really right. And so, for me, application, one way of thinking about application is it allows me to know the conditions under which the things that we’re studying hold and that’s really important for theory generation. The other part though is I am not interested in just writing papers for other academics right like this research is hard work. It takes a long time. It takes and some of the work that I do also takes a lot of resources and the idea that I would do all of that for five people, maybe who are also studying in universities, to read feels like such a waste sometimes, right? And so, I would like the work that we do to be useful to people more broadly. You know, if the work that we’re doing can help a school develop better policies that help students, that’s a win for me. If we can figure out how to you know, the past couple of years we’ve been doing a lot of work on vaccination. We can figure out how to increase vaccine uptake and, you know, reduce the number of people that get infected and die from a disease that’s a win for me. And so those and we can learn a lot of things about psychological processes along the way. And so, it goes naturally hand in hand to me. So yeah, I’m a big fan of doing research in ways that allow us to get the best of both worlds.
Dr. Lewis, what do you love most about your job?
Hmm. UM. I really think it is the time that I spend advising and mentoring students like that’s like the most rewarding part of the job. Like the research is fun and I’ve been spent a lot of time not talking about that. But my meetings with my graduate students and postdocs thinking about the ideas with them, working with them on their own like professional development and journeys like that’s the best parts of my week. So yeah, I really enjoy that.
Good, good. I’m glad to hear that. At the end of our podcast, we usually ask a few fun questions, and I usually ask this one first. Tell us something unique about yourself.
I don’t know if it’s unique, but I mentioned the Jamaican thing. So being yeah, born in Jamaica was maybe one of the unique aspects for sure.
I went on my honeymoon in June just a few months ago to Jamaica, and so I really love the food. I love the, we were at an all-inclusive resort. I love swimming in the ocean. I loved everything about it. One thing that I have to warn everybody, if you go to Jamaica, the sun just beats on you. Make sure that you protect your skin so just be aware of that. What is your favorite term, principle, or theory and why?
Probably the planning fallacy and the reason for that is it’s, uh, it’s just such a ubiquitous experience and something I’m constantly working to overcome. But it’s just, yeah. Yeah, the planning fallacy.
OK. All right. Do you have any other advice for those interested in the field of social psychology?
UM, I think some of this we’ve already talked about, but really the curiosity about sort of studying people and their contexts and the interactions between those things that I think is really important. But then also remembering that you can do that in many different ways and places and that that’s an important feature of this field. I think it’s important to remember.
OK. One other fun question. If you had the time and money to complete one project or go on one trip, what would you do?
That’s a tough one. One project.
Or go on one trip.
Well, OK, I’ll. I’ll do the one trip one I guess because that’s easier right now. So one place I want to go is to New Zealand and it’s you can connect it to a project in that I spent most of the pandemic trying to figure out how they managed to do so well, so you know it’s a very beautiful place from what I’ve seen on the Internet. I would love to visit for that reason, but also like, what is it about that society that they were able to figure this out in a way that so many other places, especially the United States, didn’t. So maybe those two things go together.
OK, alright. Is there anything else, Neil, that you would like to discuss or bring up on this podcast?
No, I think we’ve covered a lot of ground, so thank you for having me and really enjoy this discussion.
Well, I appreciate you taking the time again. I’ve enjoyed talking about your journey and hearing all the advice that you have for us. So, thank you so much.