Visiting instructor of Psychology Rachel Clark graduated from Knox in 2012. She continued her academic career in the field of Psychology at the University of Iowa. Professor Clark is originally from Newton, Iowa.
The Knox Student: How does it feel being back at Knox? Do you feel more like a student or a professor?
Rachel Clark: I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel, so it’s interesting. It’s been four years [since I graduated from Knox], so that is kind of a long time and also not that much time. Although I don’t feel nearly as far along in my career as the other professors here, I do feel more like a professor than I expected to. At the same time, being here brings back all of the undergrad memories of staying up late and going to the Gizmo. I use to go almost every night, doing homework in Taylor Lounge and just hanging out with people. It’s interesting to be back here, but also live off-campus, in a house, make dinner, cook and do all those ‘normal’ people things, so I think I feel not like a student, but it does remind me of my college days.
TKS: How was your first week as a professor?
RC: It’s been really fun and exciting. Everything is new, which is good, but also exhausting. I’m sure the students are too, by the end of the day. It already feels like we’ve been here for multiple weeks, but it’s been really fun to see what the classes are going to be like for the rest of the semester; starting to get to know the studentsÑit’s definitely been busy. It’s been fun to just have students around campus because last week it was really calm and quiet. It was nice, but it was kind of weird, but it’s finally nice to get started and going.
TKS: What can you tell me about the classes you teach?
RC: I’m teaching PSYC 201, which is Cognitive Psychology, and PSYC 281, which is the research and stats class. They’re very different because one is very topic based. Cognitive psychology has lots of different topics and ideas focusing different cognitive functions and then getting to put all those together to understand how the human mind works. PSYC 281, the stats class, is very different because it’s focused on building the students’ foundational knowledge of statistics. Statistics is a critical tool for any type of research because it allows us to apply the information that we collect to the questions we are interested in. Without statistics, you really can’t do that, so to me it’s very important that students do start understanding how and why we need statistics.
TKS: What would you say about students who say, “I won’t ever need math in my life.”
RC: Math is something people want to ignore, because it seems scary, but once you start looking for it in the real world, it’s there, everywhere. For students who are not going directly into a science related field: statistics is very important, at least to understand because we constantly consume popular science, [which] often gets statistics wrong, so popular science like news and magazines articles, anything that has a catchy title, is very likely to overstate claims and take something like a correlational study and suddenly make a strong claim about the cause. So I think it’s critical for every intellectual consumer of popular media to understand when a claim is being overstated and that’s something that understanding statistics really helps with. If you don’t understand where those [statistics] come from, it can be easier to feel overwhelmed by them, but I think understanding how those numbers are first generated, and then actually used, gives us a better sense of what’s actually going on. [Math] comes up in many more careers than people think. Just figuring out the possibility of a potential for something specific to happen, like in the stock market, or in a risk evaluation, or when buying a house. You actually have to do math as adults to figure out what you can afford, and what the interest is.
TKS: What experience are you looking to obtain, by becoming a professor at Knox for a term?
RC: I’ve been a TA [Teaching Assistant] at Iowa, and it’s been good. I’ve learned how to speak in front of a group of students and how to interact with them, but it’s been a very different experience because some classes, especially Psych classes, [have] 800 students, at Iowa. When I learned about the opportunity at Knox, I thought, “I have to see what that’s like.” I loved [Knox] as a student, like the size, closeness of this student-professor relationship, [which] was so important to me as a student. I thought that was going to be important to me as a professor too.
Ultimately, I’d like to teach at a place like Knox, and having this experience where I am making [most] of my own course material, designing the way I want to teach the course, will be hugely valuable as I go forward on the job market for other types of places to teach. I think I will learn a lot this term about how to best convey the material, how to manage two different classes at the same time [and] how to effectively interact with students. I think all of that stuff will help me start on a better foot when I hopefully do actually have a job, after I graduate from grad school, hopefully in this type of environment. There is nowhere like Knox, but I hope I can find some place that has similar values where I can teach.