Department of Psychology
Department of Psychology

Fall 2019 Newsletter — Welcome from the Chair

Wed, December 11, 2019
Fall 2019 Newsletter — Welcome from the Chair
David M Schnyer, Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology

Welcome to the 14th Edition
of the Psychology Department Newsletter





Dear Alumni and Friends,

Finals week is upon us, and we’re officially halfway through the 2019–20 academic year, my first as chair of the department. The Department of Psychology is a vibrant community where there is an unbelievably broad range of research and educational activities taking place on a daily basis.

This is an exciting time to be engaged in psychological science. There has been a proliferation of new methods and analytics that support our research. From the ability to turn on and off and image individual neurons, to new methods for capturing and understanding behavior in real world settings including eye-tracking and motion sensing. Advances in genetics and epigenetics are providing new windows into the interactions between genes, environment and behavior.

Unprecedented access to big data, social media, personal and home sensing systems such as wearables, smartphones and smart home devices has resulted in a wealth of real-time data that is rich in behavioral information and social/environmental complexity. New interventions are being developed to improve mental health and educational achievement. All of these new data sources demand advances in analytics and computational methods that include statistical and machine learning as well as artificial intelligence. The psychological science of today and the future will take advantage of all of this and so much more.

Finally, the field of psychology is participating in important conversations about best practices and open science to ensure that our work is rigorous, replicable and relevant. This is an exciting time.

Gratitude and Thanks

COLA Dean Diehl, Psy Chair David Schnyer, Dean StevensOn July 15th, 2019, Dr. Randy Diehl stepped down as Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. Dean Diehl joined the psychology faculty in 1975 and served as chair of the Department of Psychology from 1995 to 1999. In 2007, he was appointed Dean of the college. During those 12 years as Dean, Randy was a visionary and powerful supporter of the department. We owe Dean Diehl a deep debt of gratitude for all he has done for the department and the college. We wish him the very best in his retirement and he is always welcome here at his home in the department. 

We welcome Ann Huff Stevens, an economist from UC Davis, as the new Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. In her short tenure, she has already shown strong support for the department and we look forward to working with her for many years to come.

We also want to extend our gratitude to Jacqui Woolley who stepped down as Chair of the Department on July 31st. She and Associate Chairs Larry Cormack and Caryn Carlson served as Department leadership for the past 5 years. Working alongside Dean Diehl, their dedication and service is reflected in the excellence and growth that has brought the Department to the high ranking it enjoys today. We are excited to introduce the new Associate Chairs: Frances Champagne, Associate Chair for Faculty and Student Affairs; and Marie Monfils, Associate Chair for Research and Operations.

This past summer we said goodbye to Billie Pierce, who retired after serving as department executive manager for nearly 10 years. While we lost a dear member of our department community, we were more than fortunate to find a terrific new EM—Liz Myrick. Liz is a UT graduate who has been working at UT since her graduation and has already had a significant positive impact on the operation of the department. One of the first things that Liz did was to create a new position of financial analyst and hire Maureen McConnell into the position. We welcome Liz and Maureen.

Growth and Change

This coming year will see significant growth and changes in our department. In response to what has become a crisis in graduate student funding, we have significantly increased our graduate support stipends. We are now providing all students with foundational support that allows them to afford to live in Austin and focus their energies on completing their degrees and advancing their careers. This initiative is just the beginning as we work through a three-year plan to raise our graduate student support levels to be competitive with other highly ranked psychology programs.

New Faculty

We are also looking to welcome 2 new faculty into our academic community. As part of the University wide cluster initiative Reducing Health Disparities: Innovative Biosocial Approaches - we are seeking a scholar whose research focuses on reducing health disparities. A second position is part of a second cluster initiative Diversity in Cognitive Functioning in Late Life where we will focus on finding a scholar researching neurocognitive functioning in aging across diverse populations.

New Courses

Work has begun on updating our undergraduate curriculum to provide an education that best prepares our students for the 21st-century workforce both as direct entry or as part of post graduate training. Our overarching goal is to strengthen the computational data science foundation received by our undergraduates. Psychological Science is becoming increasingly dependent on advanced computational methods to solve the critical questions of human behavior. This reflects the interest in the field for new modeling and analytic methods, and is part of an effort to make our science more reliable, reproducible and open. To this end, we now have approved the first psychology course that will be part of the University Math Core curriculum—Introduction to Behavioral Data Science and Statistics. Students in this course will boost their data literacy by learning the basics of data wrangling, visualization and analysis using open source software that requires them to become familiar with a basic level of software coding.

New Space

Seay building extension renderingFinally, in the Spring of 2020 we will break ground on an extension to the SEAY building that will add 40,000 square feet of additional office and lab space (see rendering at right). This annex was a critical last initiative of Dean Diehl and the four story, northward extension on the west wing will house the Institute for Mental Health Research and the Center for Perceptual Systems. In addition, the current second-floor west wing will undergo significant renovation and transformation into a new outpatient Psychology Training Clinic. This expansion and modernization will allow us to improve research and training opportunities for the Clinical Psychology Program, as well as extend mental health service-based outreach to our greater Austin community. This fall, we welcomed our new Clinic Director, Catherine Panzarella-Tse, who comes to us from Temple University and will provide important leadership for the clinic expansion.

Excellence in Psychological Science

No newsletter can cover all the spectacular work of our faculty, students and staff. Instead, we would like to use this opportunity to highlight some awards and accomplishments, as well as introduce you to three terrific women: Dr. Caitlin Orsini joined our faculty this past fall as Assistant Professor in the Behavioral Neuroscience Area; graduate student and Ford Fellowship recipient, Guadalupe (Lupita) Gonzalez; and undergraduate honors student and Rapoport-King Thesis Scholarship recipient, Grace Jin Metz. All three represent the very best of psychological science and we are proud to highlight their work and accomplishments.

We hope that you enjoy reading about the department and will continue to participate in, follow and support our important work. Most importantly, come visit us. Come learn with us. Come discover with us!



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