The Student Notebook welcomes Jeffrey Scott Mio as this months’ Champion of Psychology. Mio, California State Polytechnic University, specializes in three lines of research: metaphors, and their use in political persuasion; multicultural issues; and how to develop allies. He teaches multicultural issues at both the undergraduate and graduate levels in addition to social psychology, cognitive psychology, and psychopathology. Mio earned his PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Illinois in 1984, has published numerous articles and books, and received an Emmy award for his role as a consultant in a public television educational series.
APSSC: What are some of the mistakes you see graduate students making today?
Jeffrey Scott Mio: Some students feel they can do everything, and they try to design a dissertation project that will answer every possible question, which no one study can do. The other type of mistake students make is when they have too narrow a focus and consequently shut out professors who can help them. They need to develop a mentoring relationship with their professors, and select a dissertation topic that is within the domain of their major advisor.
APSSC: What are some of the qualities mentors seek when selecting a graduate student apprentice?
Mio: I used to teach at Washington University, a PhD granting institution, and the professors would see which students had an interest in their area of research and select them into their programs. Likewise, if a student wanted to get into a particular program because the professor published research in areas that interested them, then that student would select that professor based on their area of research.
APSSC: What if a student (undergraduate) has no idea what their interests are?
Mio: Many programs are set up so that the first year or two students take various courses, and at the end of each course they do a research proposal. This range of courses offer an opportunity for the student to see what kind of research they want to do and then they can choose the appropriate mentor.
APSSC: What advice would you give students who want to enter academia?
Mio: To look for as many opportunities as possible to present and publish. The model for departments hiring people is based on tenure, so people select those who they know will get tenure at the end of the tenure period. If a student can publish various publications, either as a reviewer or in the press, this will help their chances of getting into an academic program.
APSSC: If you could design an ideal graduate program, what would that look like?
Mio: I would like to see programs make more of a commitment to teaching multicultural issues. This could be done as a course, a cluster of courses, field placement, or as a comprehensive examination. There’s broad latitude given to people who want to fulfill this requirement and yet there are still programs that resist it. There hasn’t been one instance where an institution has been denied accreditation on the sole basis of not providing multicultural experiences. The theory in America is that students at a PhD granting institution gain broad experience in their first few years and then they begin to focus on dissertation topics during their last two years. In other countries, students are encouraged to explore their interests in middle school and high school, so that by the time they are undergraduates they are already focusing on these interests.
APSSC: What advice would you give an undergraduate student applying to graduate school?
Mio: They should begin preparing in their junior year by looking for opportunities to work with professors. Graduate schools look for students who have research experience, and this can be transferred to any type of experience the student will be conducting at the graduate level. Not only that, but if a student has high grades in addition to research experience, and then this will be noted in their letters of recommendation when they apply to school in the fall.