Monday, August 22, 2005

The 113th annual American Psychological Association convention was held August 18-21 in Washington, DC. I attended and came across several people with current and former University of Michigan ties. I figure the best way to recap the convention is just to proceed in chronological order.

August 18

Opening night, last Thursday, the UM psychology department held an Alumni Social Hour. Most other schools participate in an overall Alumni Night with each school getting its own table in a large ballroom, but the Michigan program is large enough to have its own social hour. The Michigan social hour was very well attended in the 1980s and early 90s, as I recall, but less so after that; it may even have been scrapped for a time in recent years.

Thus, it was nice to see the Michigan social hour being held this year. Due to a delay in my connecting flight from Dallas-Fort Worth to Washington, DC, I was barely able to get to the final 20-30 minutes of the Michigan social hour, but I was glad I did. The event was co-hosted by current Department Chair Rich Gonzalez and Professor Emeritus Bill McKeachie. I was able to chat with both of them, as well as with a couple of current graduate students.

Copies of the annual departmental newsletter, On Our Minds..., were also available at the social hour (the newsletter is also available online). In addition to news items and profiles about people in the department, the newsletter also announced the merger of the personality and organizational psychology programs into a new one called Personality and Social Contexts.

August 19

The first several sessions I attended on Friday (one of which I participated in) did not include any former Wolverines. However, in the late afternoon at a social hour for researchers of alcohol and other drug use and addiction, I saw 1987 Michigan Ph.D. Kerth O'Brien. Although I didn't immediately associate Kerth with research on substance use, she has studied health and high-risk behavior for roughly two decades, so I guess her presence at the social hour wasn't that surprising.

August 20

Saturday afternoon, things really started to get rolling, in terms of seeing former Michigan people. At a 1:00 poster session, I saw Danny McIntosh. Danny's time in the graduate program (1987-1992) overlapped with mine (1984-1989), and we collaborated (along with Phoebe Ellsworth, whose research interests I described a few entries ago) on a study of stress, coping, and health among law students during the latter part of my time at UM (and continuing after my graduation). References to a couple of articles we published from that study are available on this list of Danny's publications. It had been years since Danny and I had seen each other in person, so it was nice that he was at APA. In recent years, Danny has been part of a colllaborative group studying psychological reactions to 9/11, the products of which include an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

While Danny and I were conversing, another person, Chris Davis, joined in. I did not know Chris, but it quickly became clear that his research background in stress and coping matched Danny's very closely. Chris received his Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia, working with UM Ph.D. Darrin Lehman. Chris also did a post-doctoral fellowship at UM in the 1990s with sociologist Ron Kessler (more on Kessler later) and along the way co-authored several papers with former UM faculty members such as Camille Wortman and Susan Nolen-Hoeksema.

Then, at 2:00, the aforementioned Ron Kessler, a professor at Harvard Medical School after many years on the Michigan faculty, gave a major address on the National Comorbidity Survey, which he has headed up. The NCS was the first nationally representative survey to examine the prevalence of clinically diagnosable mental disorders in the United States, as well as treatment utilization. Thus, even though Ron is a sociologist, the relevance of his work to psychology could not be clearer. During his APA address, in setting up the historical context for the NCS, Ron alluded to the Michigan heritage in this type of research, citing the 1957 study, Americans View Their Mental Health, by Gerry Gurin, Joe Veroff, and Sheila Feld (Ron has also cited this earlier project in his writings).

From there, at 3:00, I went to see a talk by Sheena Iyengar, a rising star in the field of decision-making research. Sheena was introduced by Stanford professor Hazel Markus, who was a Michigan professor during my time in grad school.


In addition to the "maize and blue" presence at the APA convention, another thing I found interesting was the layout of the convention area in downtown Washington. The 2000 APA convention had also been held in the nation's capital, but at the old convention center. The old convention center was imploded in 2004 (see the video!), so now there's a huge dirt field, surrounded by a number of attractive, modern buildings (some of them hotels and the others probably office buildings), with the huge, new convention center slightly off in the distance, though still visible. I think a park or garden would round off the area nicely, but it seems likely some new commercial venture will go in the empty space. It will be interesting to see what the same area looks like when the APA convention comes back to DC in 2011.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Completing the trilogy of my write-ups from my Ann Arbor visit...

Part III: The Ann Arbor Art Fair

Among Ann Arbor's traditional events, the Art Fair every summer would seemingly have to be the most heavily attended -- perhaps a half-million people pass through -- and perhaps the best known. As those of you who have attended know, the town's biggest streets (State St., South U., Liberty, Main, and others) are shut down to auto traffic, in favor of artist booths/tents. Restaurants and other businesses take their commerce onto the sidewalks in front of their stores, and bands perform on musical stages scattered throughout the area.

This year it was held from Wednesday, July 20 to Saturday, July 23. The latter part of my visit overlapped with the Art Fair, allowing me to attend all through the day Wednesday and in the morning Thursday.

Although often referred to in the singular -- the Art Fair -- the event technically comprises four separate fairs, each concentrated in a different region of the general campus/downtown area. The Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, billing itself as the original, dates back to 1960.

All of the fairs are juried, which I understand to mean that artists must submit their work (or photos thereof) for judging, with only the top ones invited to participate. According to the webpage for another of the individual fairs, the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair, works include "ceramics, painting, jewelry, sculpture, photography, glass, wood, fiber and much more," which can be purchased.

I just like to browse around and soak up the atmosphere. As I mentioned in Part I, the weather was quite hot, so I didn't walk around as much as I typically would have. In fact, it was only in the early evening on the Wednesday, after a brief but intense rainstorm, that I felt it was comfortable to walk around. Going along State St. between North U. and South U., most of the booths were still open. My informal observations revealed most of the artists to be from either the Midwest or Southeast.

Although there are subtle changes between the Art Fairs of the mid-late 1980s and those of today, such as in where the musical stages are located, things mostly seem similar. My most lasting memories tend to be of the throngs of people. I couldn't find any photographs on the web from this year's event that I felt captured the atmosphere as I see and feel it. However, someone named Chuck Lohr posted some nice photos from the 2000 Art Fair on the web (if you visit his page, scroll down and click on the photos from the intersection of South University and East University, and of Main and Liberty, to see what I consider the most illustrative photos in the set).

As crowded as it gets, I always tell people that not too long after the 6:00 p.m. Saturday conclusion of the Art Fair, the set-up crews will have taken down the booths so quickly that you'll have to remind yourself of the massive undertaking that just was.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Continuing on with my summary of my July visit to Ann Arbor...

Part II: My Visit in the UM Psychology Department

Several of the professors from my graduate-student days (1984-89) in the UM social psychology program remain on the faculty, plus I've met other people who've joined the Michigan psychology department in the years after my departure. Thus, my trips to Ann Arbor always include a visit to the psychology building on campus.

Not as many people tend to be around in the summer as during the regular school year (many, presumably, are either traveling or just not coming into the office as much). Still, I was able to visit with Phoebe Ellsworth, the professor who launched me on the psychology and law component of my research. Phoebe and I have stayed in regular communication for the entire 16 years since I graduated, exchanging e-mails whenever any new court decisions bearing on social science research come along. We've also collaborated on academic articles, our most recent of which came out in 2000, in the journal Psychology, Public Policy, and Law.

Phoebe actually has a joint appointment in both the law school, where she studies jury behavior (her law school homepage), and in psychology, where she studies emotions (her psychology homepage). Phoebe arrived at Michigan for the 1987-88 academic year, having formerly been on the faculty at Stanford (I had applied to graduate school at Stanford and been rejected, but it worked out nicely as I was now able to work with Phoebe at Michigan).

My association with Phoebe began when she put a notice on the bulletin board seeking a Teaching Assistant for the Psychology and Law course she would be teaching in the Winter 1988 term. I got the job, and things went from there. As I've noted previously, my primary research area for roughly the last 15 years has been in adolescent and young adult drinking. However, psychology and law has been a solid secondary area for me. In addition to periodic academic publications in psychology and law, I also write an informal e-mail newsletter every summer for friends, colleagues, and family members, summarizing that year's U.S. Supreme Court term.

The timing of my recent meeting with Phoebe was perfect, as the Supreme Court nomination of John Roberts had only been announced the evening before. In addition to the Roberts nomination, Phoebe and I discussed the usual stuff, such as what kind of research each of us was currently working on.

I also toured the floors of the psychology building to see who else I might run into or what news items I might see posted on the bulletin boards, and ended up chatting briefly with a few other people.

One thing I noticed for the first time was a series of photographs on display on the social psychology floor. They were taken by Emeritus Professor Mel Manis, of current and former UM social psychology faculty members. The photos make for an excellent documentation of the recent history of the social psych program.

While walking through the developmental psychology section of the building, I noticed a posted announcement of a very sad nature. Harold Stevenson, a longtime UM professor, had recently died, at the age of 80. Stevenson's obituary appeared in numerous newspapers, including the Washington Post, a testimony to his stature in the field.