Undergraduate Superstar: Craig Bentti, Northern Michigan University

Interviewed by Nate Ring, APSSC Undergraduate Advocate

APSSC: What are your research interests, and why did you choose this area?

Craig Bentti: My interests are broader than the scope of the research I have been involved with thus far. Currently, I enjoy researching historical matters in psychology.  I chose researching history because I really enjoyed a History and Systems of Psychology class, and I feel that the history of a subject is also its foundation, so it is important.  I would also like to eventually expand into the realms of social cognition and psychopathology.

Have there been any life experiences that prompted you to go into psychology? If so, feel free to share them.

Many things led up to it. It has been something I have been interested in for a long time. As a young child, I had questions that were psychological, which were usually social or cognitive in nature. Later in my teen years, I suffered from depression and insomnia, which led me to interests in the domain of abnormal psychology. During that time, I also discovered the arts and audio engineering. This among other things led me to be interested in illusions, perception, and the Gestalt school. Further, the artistic expression seemed to, at times, have therapeutic effects,both on the creator as well as on the perceiver, while communicating certain aspects of the self one may not normally express. To me, the arts also seem to have a strong influence on people’s emotions and behavior. Finally, I was often the person people tend to talk to about personal issues–helping them look at things from other possible perspectives.

Have you done any research in your past? If so, what was your favorite research lab that you worked in and what work have you done?

Yes, I worked in a cognition lab doing facial recognition research, where I helped with lit reviews, setting up scheduling, etc.  Also, as stated a moment ago, I have done research in the historical realm, which I enjoyed a lot. Basically, for that it was digging through old books, looking at old art, etc. The project was in regards to early artistic satires on phrenology. This project was presented as a poster at the International Society for the History of Neurosciences Annual Convention in Paris in 2010.

In your opinion, what is the most important thing for psychology?

Research is definitely important – it is the foundation of the field and is what makes progress; however, I feel that the most important thing for psychology is to have what is discovered and learned be applied to make positive changes in both the individual as well as in society at large.

Who is your favorite famous psychologist and why?

Well I have a few but most of them are dead. My favorite famous living psychologist is Phil Zimbardo. He is consistently interesting and has done experiments that were so controversial and unique that they have drawn attention in mainstream society.  It seems that he is not afraid to take risks, and, because of that, he has become very successful and respected. I like how he has shown strong evidence on how situational factors affect the individual and can do so very fast and in extreme ways. I am anticipating his next book release about being a hero; I believe it is going to be called “The Hero Effect.” I know it is in contrast to his last book, named after the concept he coined “The Lucifer Effect.” Also, though he is in the upper echelon of mainstream psychology, he continues to teach introductory psychology, has been the president of the APA, and he has worn a cape with an embroidered “Z” on it in public–so that is pretty fantastic.

Who is your hero in life? Why?

My mother, because she is a very strong, yet very kind person that has taught me a lot. In times of stress, she has stood by me and my sister through everything and has put the needs of loved ones before herself more times than I can recall. As time has passed, my mother emerged as the real hero in my life.

Who is your favorite psychology professor and why do you admire him/her? Did they inspire you, etc…? 

Well, I really can’t say I have a favorite. I have enjoyed all of my professors, and naming favorites would lead to excluding people that shouldn’t be excluded. This is not just a politically or socially safe answer, NMU’s psychology department has a great staff, and it is small enough so that students and staff often work together and get know each other fairly well. I will say that Dr. Harry Whitaker has become the most influential to me, and I also find we are a good fit academically and socially. He has led me in directions I wouldn’t usually even think to go and has made me think of things I would not have thought to consider. He remains a source of inspiration and challenge.

How do you balance your spare time, work, and academic work? 

Well, I don’t really have much spare time. However, I enjoy the subjects I study, so I just try to make it my life. During the semesters, my spare time and academics usually flow together as one, but there are times when I need a break away from academics completely. When I have to work at my job, I take that time into consideration and work around it. Basically, during semesters, I stay in a lot and try to stay focused on my schooling as much as possible. It isn’t always easy, and some things have to take a backseat.  Honestly, I don’t sleep as much as I should or would like to and I rarely go out socializing these days, but it seems that no matter what one does, one way or another, sacrifices have to be made.

Based on your previous answer, what do you do in your spare time to relieve stress?  

When I need a break, I enjoy writing, recording, and listening to various types of music or dabble in the graphic arts. I also talk on the phone with family and long distance friends, and surf the internet. Sometimes I meditate. Also, I live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which is one of the coldest and snowiest places in the USA, so when it is warm, I go on short walks around town, along the beach, or in the woods. When I can, I go camping. I enjoy campfires and saunas.

What are your career aspirations or goals?

I would like to be a therapist concentrating on youth and young adults, at least in the short term.  I would like to eventually expand to other age ranges, but for now, I feel that is where I would be most effective.  Teaching and research would also be something I would like to do in the future, but those are secondary interests for me at this time. I also enjoy writing, and I take particular interest in developing my skills as an author.

What graduate school are you hoping to attend?

At this point I am unsure. There are various things to consider,  but I am hoping to stay in Michigan to be near my family.

What other advice can you give to undergraduate students?

Push yourself to excel, but don’t put yourself in a position where you have more than you can handle.  Also, apply what you learn: things like spacing out the material you are studying rather than cramming, etc. If your institution offers research or teaching apprentice opportunities to undergrads, get involved, if possible, with a faculty member that you like and in a subject that interests you.


Author’s Note

Craig Bentti is a senior at Northern Michigan University. Craig can be reached via email at: cbentti@nmu.edu.