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Psychology Education Applied to Real Life: Helping My Brother Through a Panic Attack

Posted By Luzliani N. Martinez Noel, University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez, Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Being home sounded cozy, comfortable, and happy, but I had never been home for long periods of time. It’s been 6 months now since the government of Puerto Rico established a quarantine due to COVID-19. The first few weeks were so much fun, I did everything I had not done for a long time. I read lots of books, cooked lots of recipes, and spent time with my family. But, it was not that much time later when the significant impact of being social distanced hit us. Especially to my brother, who suffers from OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).

The pandemic itself and social distancing became one of the biggest triggers of his life. Being home, with no distractions and every day being exactly as the day before, became a nightmare. Being home became a trigger for his anxiety and compulsions; being home was not fun anymore. One night, he called me into his room and I saw him sweating, nervously walking from one side to another, desperately reaching for air, holding his chest like he was having a heart attack, and I knew what was happening. He was having a panic attack.

My brain immediately searched for the files in my mind that contained the information I learned in my psychology classes. I was looking for something that would help me, help him. My brain played the memories like a movie in my mind, and I remembered my professors explaining what to do in a situation like this. “Remind the person he’s safe.” “Guide him to breathe.” I asked him if I could hold his hands, which were dead-like cold. When I felt his hands, that stone cold feeling ran through me and flooded my chest. I needed to do something.

The phrase “grounding techniques” came to my mind in that precise moment, and I remembered the anxiety management seminar Dr. Cortina gave to my Psi Chi chapter. He explained, “Find at least two things the person can taste, smell, feel, or hear.” I ran to the kitchen and got some chocolate, gave it to him and said, “I know you are scared, but you have to do this with me. Tell me, how does it taste? What is its texture? Smell it, how would you describe its scent?” Slowly but surely, he was breathing again. His eyes looked tired, but calmed. He looked at me in the eyes and told me, “I’m here again.”

I’m not going to lie and tell you that the chocolate was magical and that it solved everything. After that day, he has had several other panic attacks. But on that day I understood how important psychology is. How important this knowledge is and how little we know when the information will be needed. That night, psychology techniques made “being home” a cozy, comfortable, and happy experience again.


Note. This article was published in support of the 2020–21 Presidential Theme, Psychological Science: We Have Answers! Follow hashtag #PsychHasAnswers on Twitter.

Tags:  A Better You  All Things Psych 

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Measuring Progress Without Numbers: A Journey Toward Intuitive Weight Loss

Posted By Melanie Vaverchak, Psi Chi University of Hartford Chapter, Monday, October 5, 2020

A little under two years ago, I weighed over 220 pounds, and I desperately wanted to be smaller. At that time, progress was a number. When my weight loss journey began, weighing myself was something I looked forward to. Those days I would weigh 4 or 5 pounds less felt exhilarating. And the days I weighed 4 or 5 pounds more, having done absolutely nothing differently, I felt defeated. But what constitutes a “good” scale reading anyway? Is it the number closest to what we decided was ideal when we started? Is it based on statistics? Why do we choose the goals we choose? And do we necessarily have our best interest in mind?

Often, we measure progress with numbers because numbers are tangible validation that we can compare, and contrast mathematically to determine our precise location on a timeline. And numbers can be super helpful too! Keeping calories within a healthy range, increasing activity by taking more steps every day, and tracking gradual weight loss on a scale are all proven ways to ensure we are making necessary advancements toward better health. But when we begin to attribute our satisfaction to those numbers, even our healthiest intentions can turn dangerous. When the reward becomes the number and ceases to be the process, it can be tempting to look for ways to manipulate the number to feel better. Some people do this by cutting calories or by exercising more, and while these things can be done in a healthy way, for some this control-seeking behavior can lead to disordered eating.

I have struggled with my weight for as long as I can remember. I have been smaller at the expense of feeling happy, and more active at the expense of feeling free. But I had never experienced the true benefit of weight loss as a side-effect of a healthy lifestyle, and the subsequent, inevitable ripple effect of mental and emotional well-being until I learned to challenge my definition of progress.

Progress is defined as a “forward or onward movement toward a destination.” It is NOT “forward or onward movement toward 110 lbs” or “forward or onward movement toward fitting into a size 6.” Don’t get me wrong, having specific goals can be really motivating, but they shift the focus away from the goal that matters most, the payoff. Quite simply, if the finish line is changeable, it’s not the real goal.

Melanie, before and after her weightloss journey. For more of her writing, visit her website at http://www.mindreno.me/

Confidence was a huge motivator for me to get healthy. I never felt confident in my body. I was always tugging or adjusting or squeezing into a pair of pants. I was in a constant state of comparing my body to the bodies around me, and always felt like everyone could sense the discomfort I felt in my own skin. Because I lacked self-confidence, I looked for ways to appear more outwardly confident. This oftentimes involved alcohol or celebrating with snack food, anything that made me appear more carefree and drew attention away from my double chin really. I was also exhausted. I was tired of lugging my body around. I was tired of feeling like I needed a nap immediately upon waking up in the morning. I wanted to feel awake and powerful, and like I was harnessing the kind of energy that motivated people to make smoothies and go for walks on purpose. But in order to acquire energy, confidence and power, I needed to reframe my goal and find new non-numerical ways to cultivate those feelings.

Reframing my goal started with exercise. The good news was that I didn’t have to flip giant tractor tires with a bunch of strangers in an abandoned warehouse to begin experiencing the benefits. I started with 20 minutes a day of moderate low-impact cardiovascular exercise like riding a stationary bike, walking around my neighborhood, or simply forgetting my reusable shopping bags in the car on the other side of the supermarket parking lot. Instead of jumping on the scale, I looked to my body. I decided that if I was moving and sweating and time was passing, I was nailing it. Admittedly, it wasn’t easy for me in the beginning to embrace any movement beyond getting a sandwich into to my mouth. It felt completely foreign. But gradually, I felt a twinge of something, a strange, subtle sensation bubbling up inside of myself. That sensation was energy.

As I became more familiar with the sensation of feeling energized, I began to notice something else as well, pride. It started when I found myself letting people know I’d “worked out.” Even sharing that I was heading out for a quick walk with the dog made me feel a new sense of control over my priorities. For the first time in my life, I felt like I could trust myself to make ME a priority, and that combination of control and trust was confidence. The ripple effect was undeniable. As other people noticed the shift in my energy level and attitude, they responded differently to me too. My relationships improved and I began attracting more opportunities too. I did eventually reach my goal weight, but by the time I’d realized it on the scale at my doctor’s office, I was too excited about everything else I had going on to pay the number any mind.

As a student of psychology, I have always been fascinated by the concept of neuroplasticity; the brain’s innate ability to adapt and change in response to stimuli. My weight loss journey gave me the unique opportunity to experience some of these changes first-hand. I had anticipated that healthier habits would lower my risk of chronic disease, but I was pleasantly surprised by the extent to which (and how quickly!) regular exercise and plant-based nutrition would alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety to which I’d grown so accustomed. It was thrilling to know that, as I modified my behavior, my brain was simultaneously re-wiring itself to accommodate those adjustments. While my desire for physical change may have inspired my transformation, the mental health benefits have been my biggest motivation to make this a permanent lifestyle change. In taking an intuitive approach to weight loss, I was able to experience health-psychology in action, and finally claim empowerment over my long-term well-being.

Becoming the most functional and powerful version of myself meant learning to feel progress and not simply see it. Nowadays, when I feel the need for progress I can see, some tangible evidence of my compliance to this newer, healthier way of living, I pick up a pen and paper and write a single word, “repeat.” Measuring progress with numbers is a dead-end street. There is no numerical equivalent to the feelings you want to feel, and the life you want to live. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself what the real payoff is and take the alternate route. I’ll probably see you there! I forgot my reusable shopping bags in the car again.


Note. This article was published in support of the 2020–21 Presidential Theme, Psychological Science: We Have Answers! Follow hashtag #PsychHasAnswers on Twitter.

Tags:  A Better You  All Things Psych 

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The Psychology of Problem-Solving Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic

Posted By Rita Michelle Rivera, MS Affiliation, Albizu University, Monday, October 5, 2020

Around the globe, the coronavirus pandemic has required people to adapt to different circumstances and events. Whether it is adjusting to online learning or working from home, most individuals have been and continue to face challenges with such transitions. Furthermore, the process of acclimating to new experiences can cause stress, specifically when people are unaware of how to solve issues that may arise. Fortunately, the psychology of problem-solving can help individuals throughout the world resolve different types of conflicts. Problem-solving is a process where one finds a solution for an issue by recognizing both its cause and possible solutions.

The first step of problem-solving is identifying the issue because it is important to understand the problem to solve it. Once the problem has been identified, people can get better insight at the cause and nature of the issue. This knowledge can help to generate possible solutions. After brainstorming the possible solutions, one must reflect on the pros and cons of each alternative. Labeling the benefits and/or consequences of each option helps people evaluate the possible solutions. Once all alternatives have been identified and scrutinized, a decision can be made, and one can choose the best possible solution. Lastly, this alternative is implemented and, if needed, people can establish ongoing monitoring to follow up and decide whether a new alternative is needed or not. If the option selected did not indeed work, one can go back, reflect on the other possibilities, and select a new one.

Problem-solving is helpful during these unprecedented times because this process allows individuals to become conflict-competent rather than conflict-averse. Usually, when facing a new challenge, most people choose to ignore the issue out of fear of failure or feelings of incompetency. This tendency is why many adopt a conflict-averse attitude and later struggle with the distress that can come from an unresolved issue. Nonetheless, the process of problem-solving guides individuals by giving them the necessary steps to effectively resolve the issue at hand. Moreover, problem-solving is a process that can be repeated as many times as necessary and can be applied to most conflicts. The more this process is practiced, the easier it gets and the more competent one becomes at problem-solving.

Consider how the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on increased stress levels. People are left in the dark not knowing what to do or how to react. In this scenario, the problem consists of not knowing how to cope with the stress brought by this pandemic. After identifying where specifically the disruption has affected one’s life, one can brainstorm possible strategies to re-engage those disrupted activities in novel ways. In addition, relaxation techniques or self-care activities can be practiced and incorporated into a daily routine as the world continues to transition into this new normal. Next, one can examine the alternatives by considering the benefits and disadvantages of each option. Perhaps, reading a book would be more relaxing than watching a horror movie. Afterward, one can select the best option and apply it. One can decide to dedicate 20 minutes a day to reading a book or 10 minutes every night to meditating. If the solution did not work, meaning if the activity did not help reduce stress, one can always go back and review the alternatives.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, most people will keep facing new challenges and transitions. Therefore, problem-solving is a skill that is particularly useful for these troubling times. Problem-solving can also help decrease stress levels by allowing individuals to exert control over their environment and solve issues across different settings, such as the workplace, at home, and in personal situations. Moreover, the process of problem-solving is a critical part of people’s daily lives and, when implemented effectively, it allows individuals to change their circumstances to be more desirable.


Note. This article was published in support of the 2020–21 Presidential Theme, Psychological Science: We Have Answers! Follow hashtag #PsychHasAnswers on Twitter.

Tags:  A Better You  All Things Psych 

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Clinical Psychology: The Impact of a Single Session

Posted By Marinés Mejía Alvarez, Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, Monday, October 5, 2020

Have you ever thought about the impact our profession has? How, sometimes, one single contact can be enough?

To be honest, I hadn’t thought about it when I first started studying psychology. I only wanted to have my own clinic, to help people’s lives, and earn money (we all want to have a dignified salary through helping others). This was my way of thinking before I started my clinical internship program.

At the university where I graduated, I had to earn 1,200 hours of supervised internships in three areas: clinical, educational, and organizational psychology. As you may imagine, the clinical ones are the most intense, emotionally speaking.

So, going back to my way of thinking, you can imagine how excited I was to begin my clinical internship, especially because the hospital I had been assigned to was a place I had always wished to work in, especially since my first year in college.

Marinés Mejía Alvarez


The place I was assigned was the National Oncology Pediatric Unit, basically for children who have a cancer diagnosis. I remember that, when I first got the news, my heart almost beat out of my chest. Beginning to work there was a dream come true (even though it was a limited-time internship). During the first weeks I was so excited to learn. I already wanted to be like the psychologists who worked there (I wanted to stand out), and I think that subconsciously I wanted to have something that marked me so that I wouldn’t forget what it felt like to be there.

As time passed, they asked me if I wanted to accompany them to the place where the kids who had been on remission were diagnosed again and had no chances of the treatment working. This was where the more serious cases (who didn’t have much chance to live) were also sent. I didn’t have to think twice before accepting, but I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.

Remember how I said I wanted something to mark my journey in this internship? Well, I definitely got it. The first times I went to this place, I thought it was beautiful. But, then it dawned upon me that the kids who came here and the ones the experienced psychologists treated and I just observed, would probably be gone the next time I arrived.

So, it got harder and harder to go. Then, one day, there was this teenager who had been on remission for like a year, and suddenly his cancer had returned. That day, the psychologist asked me if I wanted to be the one to talk to him while she talked to his aunt. I agreed. I got to know this young boy, who was utterly mad, furious at the disease. He wanted to just die, and I remember we talked about our emotions and how sometimes things that seem bad can give us something positive. I gave him some examples and then he said something I’ll never forget: “If it hadn’t been for this cancer, I wouldn’t have met you.” And I swear my eyes swelled up with tears and I had to swallow them (it still happens when I think back). We then hugged and I told him I would see him next week. Then I talked to his aunt and she thanked me. Me, an inexperienced and still undergraduate student.

I then left this place and the weeks and months passed, but I always wanted to see how he was doing. In my last week of the internship, I was at the clinic with the rest of the psychologists and we were talking about different patients, when suddenly I asked about him.

One of them said, “No one told you? He died like two weeks after we went to see him.”

My entire heart broke in that moment. I was so angry because they just said it like it was one more patient. But then, she said, “His aunt called to thank you for the work you did. It meant a lot for him, and he remembered you and what you told him.”

So, what I wanted to express through this story is not only the importance of our profession to better the quality of life in every person we encounter or every person who comes into our clinic, but the impact we can have in only one session, one crisis intervention. We might see it as something small, something that happens once in a lifetime, but that’s the beauty of it. Knowing that whatever we do, in the present moment of the session or intervention, we can and we will have an impact, big or small. I realized that it doesn’t matter if we use hundreds of tools or strategies, I realized that the simple act of being there for someone who needs us, the simple act of showing empathy, can make someone say, “if it wasn’t for this problem, I wouldn’t have met you,” and isn’t that what we, as psychologists want?

So yes, I had something that marked me, something that still marks me. I never got to say goodbye, and now, more than ever, I realize how every time I am with a patient, the impact one talk, one word, or one session can have.


Note. This article was published in support of the 2020–21 Presidential Theme, Psychological Science: We Have Answers! Follow hashtag #PsychHasAnswers on Twitter.

Tags:  A Better You  All Things Psych 

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Maslow Helped Me Survive the Quarantine (A Humorous Take on Meeting Our Needs During the Pandemic)

Posted By Daniel Fieldstone, Arizona State University, Friday, October 2, 2020

It can be difficult to get anything done when everything is closed, people are not assembling, and if you are a germaphobe, or in this case a virusaphobe, you check your temperature every five minutes. But good thing we have our psychology training and what we learned about Maslow. Shall we break down how our needs are being met during this pandemic?

Physiological Needs

We have Door Dash to bring us food and enough bottled water for the rest of the year. When this thing blows over, we may just want to see what it feels like to bathe in Fiji water.

Safety Needs

We have gallons of hand sanitizer, but is it flammable? This is a catch 22! On one hand, we feel like we can kill the virus, but on the other hand, we fear that our home may be a bit of a hazmat zone.

Need for Belongingness and Love

We feel like we belong, and are loved, one Zoom meeting at a time. But if we need physical touch, the dog or cat just may have to do for now.

Esteem Needs

We feel very well-accomplished. We know all about the dangers of running a zoo filled with exotic animals. Maybe we will get a pet tiger one day.

Self-Actualisation

With all of this time to look at our four walls and think, we have reached a state of great enlightenment. We have introspectively mulled over all of the thoughts in our heads. We have faced all of our fears and discovered our true purpose in life. We must accumulate as much toilet paper as possible.


Note. This article was published in support of the 2020–21 Presidential Theme, Psychological Science: We Have Answers! Follow hashtag #PsychHasAnswers on Twitter.

Tags:  A Better You  All Things Psych 

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How Psychology Saved My Life

Posted By Taylor Zanon, Capella University, Friday, October 2, 2020

Visit Taylor Zanon's LinkedIn Page


Everyone goes through a rough patch in life. It's human nature. In my personal experience, my rough patch has been the devil on my shoulder since I hit puberty. Along with this, my self- image was always an issue. I developed an eating disorder at around the age of 16, causing me to lose over 40 pounds in a short amount of time. I also chose horrible relationships, friendships, and romantic relationships, which caused me to look down on myself even more.

Plagued with low self-confidence, low self-image, but a high ability to learn and succeed in academics, I graduated high school. I decided to venture in the field of dental hygiene. Being a student who always had honors and A's in school, there was no other option but success. With that being said, came the stress. Overworking myself with an excessive workload that included anatomy, microbiology, and many other higher level courses, my stress levels were high. With pre-existing depression, my symptoms shifted to that of generalized anxiety.

After not being accepted into the dental hygiene program, I had a mental breakdown. The stress and anxiety caused many sleepless nights, gastrointestinal infections, and body dysmorphia. Eventually, I began jumping back and forth between various majors, not satisfied with any that I started studying. I was at my final straw.

Through much research and hopelessness, I realized I needed serious help. That's when I decided I needed to go to therapy. I met an excellent psychiatrist who helped me get through my issues and select a career that I wanted to pursue. I always knew I wanted to help others and work in the medical field. After going through my experience, I decided I wanted to work in the psychology field. To put me in someone else's shoes to understand what they are going through was one of the things that made me want to become a mental health clinician.

I began my journey at Capella University. This started in 2019. During this year, I reconnected with an old classmate from high school and ended up realizing he was the love of my life. With his support and my family's help, I managed to maintain a 4.0 GPA at Capella University to this day, and I am on the brink of graduating with my bachelor's in general psychology. Within a few quarters, I received an invitation to join the Psi Chi Honor Society, and from that moment on, I knew this was the path that I was supposed to pursue.

Today, I am planning on continuing my education with Capella University with my master's in clinical mental health counseling, and I am about to start a family. I have never been so thankful for anything in my life. I am very excited to pursue my career and be an integrative member of Psi Chi. Thank you for reading my story.


Note. This article was published in support of the 2020–21 Presidential Theme, Psychological Science: We Have Answers! Follow hashtag #PsychHasAnswers on Twitter.

Tags:  A Better You  All Things Psych 

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For the Love of Me: How Psychology Helped Me Improve Myself

Posted By Adrienne Bilello, Iona College, Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Being a psychology student has in more ways than one affected my relationships with friends, family, and even romantic partners. We are always learning how to notice when someone is hurting, when they are repressing something, or when they are just off. I am an empathetic person already, so mixed with my intense knowledge of how to pry people open, let's just say I leave little time for my own problems. Most of my friends refer to me as their “pocket therapist,” coming to me with things that range from little inconveniences to things they probably should see a real therapist about.

Most recently I discovered an issue of my own, my boyfriend. We dated for over two years, and for the most part we were a great couple. We were both athletes, he made me laugh, we had fun together, and he was my biggest fan. Aside from those things, that was it. We had way more differences than similarities. He hated the beach and the city, but those were the only places I wanted to live. He loved country music, I couldn’t stand the sound, he liked to bottle up his emotions, and I just wanted him to open up.

This is when I had a shocking realization. I was a serial monogamist. My whole life I had jumped from boyfriend to boyfriend. It was always “Adrienne and her boyfriend” and never just, “Adrienne.” I had to come to terms with my fear of being alone, and the need for someone else to validate my worth. I was staying with someone who was clearly not right for me because I was too afraid of being alone, and I was too afraid to hurt his feelings, so I sacrificed my own.

I would easily be able to point out these characteristics in a friend, but when you are so busy worrying about how everyone else’s mind is, you seem to forget about your own. That's when I decided I was going to face my phobia of being alone by the ultimate immersion therapy, break up with my boyfriend of two years, and start living my own dreams. There was an empty place in my heart, which I tried to fill with pieces of boys that would call me pretty or smart, but as I enter the new phase of my life, I need to fill up that hole with validation from the only person who matters, me.

Note. This article was published in support of the 2020–21 Presidential Theme, Psychological Science: We Have Answers! Follow hashtag #PsychHasAnswers on Twitter.

Tags:  A Better You  All Things Psych 

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Join Us for Lady Gaga’s #BeKind21-Day Challenge!

Posted By Psi Chi Central Office, Wednesday, August 26, 2020
Updated: Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Make a habit of being kind to others! Psi Chi has created its own special 21-day calendar that you are invited to use. Sign up for the challenge today, which starts September 1. And look for our social media posts.

Know someone you’d like to take the challenge with? Invite them on social media using #BeKind21, #PsiChi, and bornthisway.foundation/bekind21. Be sure to follow us on Twitter too, where we'll share each daily challenge and members' posts about participating in this special event.

You can also submit your story HERE to ChannelKindness.org. If you are featured there, please let us know!


Post updated August 26, 2020, in order to reflect new information about the 2020 partnership. The original title of this article in 2019 was "Psi Chi Partners With Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation: Give Back to Get Back."

Tags:  A Better You  Chapter Life  Psi Chi Related 

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Meet One of the Top Teams of the 2019 Chapter Challenge

Posted By Psi Chi Central Office, Tuesday, August 25, 2020

In fall 2019, 17 teams participated in the Psi Chi Chapter Challenge, which is a friendly international competition between chapters. Throughout the month of November, each of these groups sought to fundraise in support of member programs like Psi Chi awards, grants, and scholarships!

One of the 17 teams was the Psi Chi chapter at the University of Missouri–Columbia (Mizzou). About participating in the Challenge, Chapter President Samantha (Sami) Paige Lapka says, “The Mizzou chapter held several fundraisers throughout the semester that raised money for our donation . . . It was great to raise money and also fun to bond more as a group."

There are many ways to raise funds for the Chapter Challenge. For instance, Psi Chi provides an online platform so that chapters can easily create a team webpage where they can invite donations from family, friends, psychology students, faculty, and local organizations. Making this process as easy as possible, a special Chapter Challenge Toolkit also includes tips for your chapter, and Psi Chi’s Director of Membership and Development, Cynthia Wilson, is always happy to answer any questions you may have or provide additional suggestions.

As for the Mizzou Chapter’s fundraising strategy, they chose to host two profit-shares during the fall semester, one with Chipotle and another with a local restaurant called Shakespeare's Pizza. According to Sami, “Those events took the place of our weekly meetings. The club met up and walked to the establishment that was hosting the profit share, grabbed some food together, and socialized.”


Caption: Image of Samantha (Sami) Paige Lapka, the Psi Chi chapter president at the University of Missouri–Columbia.

The Mizzou Chapter also organized a two-day bake sale. Members either bought baked goods or made their own, which they then sold for $1 each. Sami explains, “One of the days, we set up in the psychology building on campus, which was awesome because tons of graduate students, professors, and other faculty in the psychology department were able to come by between classes and meetings. They were all very supportive.” The following day, the chapter hosted an outdoor booth in Speakers Circle, a notorious flyering zone on campus where many organizations go to fundraise and spread awareness.

During the two days, the chapter’s executive members volunteered their time as their schedules allowed. Sami says, “We all took turns manning the booth. It was another fun experience to share with everyone and we surprisingly sold out of the baked goods by the very end!”

Thanks to the leadership team’s greater focus on fundraising in the fall 2019 semester, the chapter donated about $300 to the Chapter Challenge!

Will You Take the Challenge This Year?

Covid-19 has created new challenges for many psychology students. Therefore, the 2020 Chapter Challenge adapted to support those who are in need. For the fall 2020 challenge, 50% of all proceeds raised will go directly to the Psi Chi Covid-19 Member Support Fund, which was created in spring 2020. The other 50% will be given back to the participating chapters in order to support their local activities.

This year’s 2020 challenge takes place from November 1 to December 1! We would be delighted by you and your chapter’s participation in this great cause. To learn more, visit https://psichi.com/chapterchallenge

Note. Pictured at the start of this article are members of the Mizzou Chapter volunteering at Centro Latino.

Tags:  A Better You  Chapter Life 

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What Is a Good Mentor? (And How Do You Get and Keep One?)

Posted By Antonio Puente, PhD, University of North Carolina Wilmington, Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Having a mentor is like having a ruder on a boat, or a fin on a surfboard. I’m an avid surfer and have been since 1965, but if you get on a surfboard without a fin, all you’re going to do is spin around on a wave and do what we call a wipeout. This is not what your goal should be for your career. You want someone to guide you, to give you a direction of where you should go.

A good mentor, in my estimate, takes your assets and makes you better, and takes your deficits and helps you to understand and work with them. Someone who is always available, both to support you and critique you, is really immeasurably important. A good mentor can balance what you’re good at and tell you what you should improve on.

I don’t know how any student of psychology—or a student of anything whether it is surfing, guitar playing, accounting, or microbiology—can make it without mentors. There is no teacher without a mentor.

Now, the question that might be most interesting to you is not “What is a good mentor?” but “How do you get one?” and “How do you keep one?”

First of all, “How do you get one?” You can do this just like one of my students did who recently finished her PhD at the University of Granada in Spain. She just came up to me at a Psi Chi function and said, “I’d like to work in your laboratory.” Sometimes, taking a course and excelling in that course also gives the professor the opportunity to then seek you out. So sometimes the student makes a commitment to a mentor–mentee relationship, or sometimes the professor does, but eventually both.

Now, let’s talk about “How do you keep one?” Here’s what I think about mentoring students: I don’t mentor students for a set period of time. I assume, just as my own mentors have done with me, that mentorships are lifetime relationships. Establish a working relationship, initially between a student and professor, and—as has happened to me with both my undergraduate advisor and my postdoctorate mentor—eventually, over time, you will collaborate with them.

Your mentorship should go from being a situation where one person is directive to eventually where both people are of equal footing. That’s the beauty of a mentorship: the mentorship will become a relationship where you are collaborators rather than professor and student.

You need good mentors. Remember, if you try to ride a surfboard without a fin, you’re going to wipe out.

Tags:  A Better You  Career Advice 

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