Dr. Joseph Ferrari, professor of psychology and St. Vincent DePaul Distinguished Professor at DePaul University, is as inspiring and charismatic as he is hard-working. Some of that charisma may have to do with his desire to major in theater when he was an undergraduate. "Although I did not follow through with theater, I incorporate my love of drama into teaching. I want to engage students, so I do not just stand at a podium and lecture: I have to walk around, tell stories, and include students in learning,” he says. Students who would normally be asleep during an 8 a.m. lecture will find themselves wide awake to hear Dr. Ferrari. "I started teaching full time in 1980 at a junior college: after 32 years, I still love it! Before I got my PhD, I taught at a two-year college, which is where I really learned to teach. I think community college is a great place for learning teaching skills. Frankly, the PhD did not make me a teacher, it just gave me more information,” he says.
In the Summer 2011 issue of Eye on Psi Chi, Dr. Ferrari detailed his research on procrastination (2011, Ferrari). Where did that interest begin? "I started my work with self-handicapping behaviors like procrastination in 1988, it was actually my doctoral dissertation,” he says. "Different topics become vogue in psychology depending on the time, and back in the 80’s the big topic was self-handicapping.”
Self-handicapping behaviors are those actions that people use in order to sabotage their performance. "This protects the selfesteem,” explains Dr. Ferrari, "If someone puts an obstacle in their path and does poorly on a task because of that obstacle, the failure will be attributed not to the person, but to the obstacle. In my research, I wanted to find out if procrastinators self-handicap in order to protect their self-esteem, and I found that they do.”
"Procrastinators are very concerned about what others think of them. They assume that if they never finish a task, no one will be able to judge whether or not they would have actually done well on that task, only that they did not complete it. My research has shown that procrastination itself is a handicap, and it is not adaptive or successful to procrastinate,” he says.
Undoing the Procrastinator
In his last interview with Eye on Psi Chi, Dr. Ferrari said that "we learn to be who we are and can unlearn it, too” (2011, Ferrari, p. 31). Today, he still holds to that idea. "If psychology has contributed anything to science, it is the concept of learning: We have learned to be the people we are and that means that we can change. If someone has been procrastinating for years, it is going to be difficult, but it is possible,” he explains. "I think it is very fatalistic to not have a learning view, to throw your hands up and give in. Unfortunately, too much of our society is moving that way,” Dr. Ferrari believes.
"The procrastinator believes everything is about them, but life is not about ‘me,’ it’s about all of us. We live in communities (common + unity), but people forget that. If I delay on something, it prevents someone else from accomplishing their task, and so on. Everything is connected and that is what chronic procrastinators need to understand.”
As Dr. Ferrari likes to say, "Everyone procrastinates, but not everyone is a procrastinator. About 20% of adults put off tasks across situations: at home, school, in relationships. My research looks at the causes and consequences of chronic procrastinators. As a social personality psychologist, I am interested in why people procrastinate, when will they do it, how do they handle it, and so on. Those are the questions that fascinate me,” he says. "In my book, Still Procrastinating: The No-Regrets Guide to Getting It Done (2010), I go into detail about the data surrounding the causes, consequences, and ‘cures’ to procrastination. To overcome procrastination, you have to teach the procrastinator that it is not all about them, and they must change cognitively as well as behaviorally.”
On Mentors and Tips for Students
"I was mentored from afar by Charles R. Snyder (University of Kansas), who was a big name in psychology at the time. I was never a student of his, but he looked at my research on procrastination in the early 90’s and advised me that it was time to write ‘the book,’ which was Procrastination and Task Avoidance: Theory, Research, and Treatment (1995). I have only met him a few times, and we have spoken by phone, but he was a big influence on me. I want students to understand that they should not be afraid to reach out to well-known psychologists. It is all about networking, and even well-known psychologists are often willing to take risks on students. I definitely try to be like Snyder in making sure I help undergraduates with their projects,” he says.
"Life is short. If you’re healthy, you have 70, maybe 80 years to live on this earth. How are you going to leave a legacy? What is going to make the world different and better because you were here? I like to tell my students that only 30% of this country and 7% of people in the world have a college degree; what a gift you have been given! The students of today have to focus on solutions to make the world better: Students are the solution. So, don’t procrastinate!”
Dr. Ferrari is currently branching out into many areas of social-community psychology. Some of these areas include research on social loafing, spirituality, social healing, and what kinds of careers procrastinators go into. He is also working on a study abroad program for doctoral students. "When you hear about study abroad programs, it is usually for undergrads. What I am helping to create is called a ‘Global Growth Experience (GGE)’ for doctoral students at DePaul, where you don’t just go overseas for a couple weeks to collect some data for your dissertation, you actually live and immerse yourself in the culture: You become a pilgrim, not a tourist,” he explains. "Social change is a major component of community psychology, and this program will hopefully help students to get involved and make that change.”
Dr. Ferrari, considered the international research expert on the study of procrastination, has contributed much to the discipline of psychology; however, one of the most important aspects of his work is his philosophy on teaching. He inspires students to not only make changes within themselves but in the world. From his commitment to engaging undergraduate students in the classroom, to helping doctoral students travel abroad, Dr. Ferrari is dedicated to seeing students of psychology succeed.
Ferrari, J. R. (2011, Summer). Psi Chi Distinguished Lecturer Series: Q&A With the 2011 Regional Convention Speakers. Eye on Psi Chi, 15 (4), p. 30–31.