Wednesday, April 27, 2005

I just received my Spring 2005 issue of the Michigan Alumnus magazine. One of the articles was entitled, "The Institute for Social Research: Interdisciplinary, International, Influential" (full text not available from the magazine's website).

The Institute, widely known as the ISR, was where nearly all the social psychology faculty and graduate students had their offices during the 1980s (and perhaps before). East Hall, which houses the psychology department and all its subdisciplinary components, opened some time in the early '90s.

Today, I would say, the ISR is best known for conducting at least four prominent national surveys: the Monitoring the Future (on high school seniors' drug use), National Election Study, Panel Study of Income Dynamics, and Consumer Sentiment surveys.

Although my primary research area for nearly the last 15 years has been adolescent and young-adult drinking, I mainly conducted laboratory experiments during my graduate school years (in the ISR's basement labs) and never had any connection to the Monitoring the Future project (the only 1980s-era student from the social psych grad program I can think of who worked on Monitoring the Future was Greg Diamond; you can see here where he has some publications from that work).

One of the undergraduate courses I teach at Texas Tech University is called Problems of Adolescence; I regularly refer to findings from the Monitoring the Future study in that class. In my other undergrad course, Research Methods, I draw upon various ISR studies as occasions warrant.

Some of the key areas covered in the Michigan Alumnus article (which was not very long) were:

*The potential applications of ISR research to public policy.

*ISR's role in helping develop social science research centers around the world.

*The long history of experimental/laboratory social research within ISR's Research Center for Group Dynamics.

*ISR's long history also in the field of longitudinal research.

Today, many UM social psych professors retain an ISR appointment, as seen on this list (not everyone on this list is a UM social psych professor; the social psych program is big, but not that big). Also, talks and other events continue to be held at ISR.

Although the ISR probably does not play as central a role in most social psych grad students' training as it once did, it is one of the many outstanding academic resources at UM.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

One of the more unique, although to outsiders, obscure, aspects of going to school at the University of Michigan is how early the academic year ends. I have purposely chosen to write this entry today, because today happens to be the final day of regular instruction for the Winter 2005 semester at UM.

As noted in the linked academic calendar, UM's classes end today, Tuesday, April 19. Students have Wednesday, April 20 (as well as the weekend) as study days, then begin final exams Thursday, April 21. Although various commencement activities appear to take place between April 29-May 1, the big graduation is Saturday, April 30 in Michigan Stadium (aka "The Big House," due to its current seating capacity of 107,501).

I never got to participate in a graduation at The Big House. I defended my dissertation in August, 1989, and so had to come back for the December graduation at Crisler Arena. I remember a couple of other students, Monica Biernat (social psych) and Dori Frewald (individually designed program in environmental psych) also coming back for that graduation. Having come in from Houston, where I was on a post doc, I got a major cold during that visit back to Ann Arbor.

At Texas Tech University, where I'm currently on the faculty, we don't end classes until May 3.

One way that UM gets to have its second semester end early is by starting early, January 5, this year (Texas Tech started only a week later, January 12, so there's got to be more to it than the starting date). UM is also known for its early spring break, usually beginning in late February.

Within the state of Michigan, at least, word gets around about UM's early end to school. As seen in this newsletter from Michigan Technological University, where there was a proposal a few years ago to cut back from 15-week to 14-week semesters, "...MTU students complain[ed] that students at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, which has 13-1/2-week semesters, get a jump on summer jobs because their semester ends two weeks earlier."

I certainly enjoyed the early end to the second semester and the early start to summer. After the cold winters, it's nice to have some extra time to be outdoors, and the timing of the semester end allows more opportunity to travel during the summer.