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An Interview with Professor Jonathan Schooler (Part Two)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2017/08/15


An interview with Professor Jonathan Schooler. He discusses: advice for students wanting to engage in psychology; gaining research experience; being the director of The Center for Mindfulness and Human Potential; counterintuitive data; practical life skills; self–actualization and Maslow; and the remaining importance of the research.

Keywords: brain science, Jonathan Schooler, mindfulness, psychology.

An Interview with Professor Jonathan Schooler: Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara; Director, The Center for Mindfulness and Human Potential (Part Two)[1],[2]

*Footnotes in & after the interview, & citation style listing after the interview.*

*This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Any advice for students with the intent to target and pursue undergraduate and graduate education in psychology?

Professor Jonathan Schooler: First off, I would say there are a lot of related fields in psychology. Routinely, students misunderstand what psychology is when they think about it first. Much of psychology is scientific in nature, it can be thought of as astronomy or biology, or chemistry, where it involves understanding empirical questions. When people hear psychology, they usually manage that you’re clinically trained and a big portion of what you do is therapy. That is certainly true for many people that call themselves psychologists, but there are many disciplines that do not involved clinical practice. I have absolutely no experience; I am not qualified to assist anybody than anyone else, except as a human being. However, students need to understand what the field of psychology entails, and scientific psychology, and the area, to understand the difference between the science of psychology and the practice of psychology.

If they are interested in the practice of psychology, they should understand there are a lot of other areas besides explicitly psychology, which involves the kinds of things they are really thinking about when they’re thinking about counselling. A lot of school’s of education have a counselling social work. Also, of course, there’s medical school and psychiatry. That is something to consider. In fact, if people want to treat people and are sufficiently talented, I would encourage either to go into psychiatry because it allows people to diagnose and provide drugs, and therapy. it is very helpful and something to consider, going to medical school as well.

If they want to follow along the lines of what I’ve pursued, then they nee to find a mentor, they need to really work tog et to know somebody in the field. They start by graduate students, who they can work with and getting to know a professor. But it is critical to find a mentor, keep your grades up, study hard, and really try to master, as best as you can, the GREs. Another thing is to make sure you are in contact with professors beforehand – make the letter thoughtfully related to their topic area.

It is another possibility. Several students have done this with me: volunteer to work with somebody whose work you find interesting such as moving there, working part-time. If you’re good, they will hire you. I have done this several times.

Jacobsen: What about acquisition of research experience at graduate and undergraduate levels? Much of the research that people will become involved in will tend to start at graduate level, but there are more and more opportunities at the undergraduate level, at more and more institutions. Do you have any advice there?

Schooler: So, people need to take advantage, as undergraduates, of office hours. It amazes me how rarely a student simply comes into the office hours and wants to talk about research, especially research I am doing in an informed and enthusiastic way.

Professors keep office hours. They keep them for those kinds of interactions. I would advise students to read up. I would find a professor who has research that you’re interested in, ask them questions, go in there, and then get excited. Then through that, you can generate ideas and become excited about their ideas.

Through that interaction, you can leverage that into opportunities for research. With respect to graduate students, one big analogy that I think is useful is having a diversified portfolio. I have two somewhat contradictory pieces of advice. I will try to resolve them.

One, you need to end up being the authority on something. You need to find your slice; your end goal; the thing you know the best in a field. That you can make a case of, wherever you’re going. Ideally, you’re going to diversify around that.

It is nice to not just be a one trick pony. You got to have that thing. How do you find that thing? This is where my other piece of advice comes in, which does seem opposite. You need to have a diversified set of interests in projects. Some are not necessarily the ones that will knock it out of the park.

But they are solid and programmatic, reliable, and so you know you’re accumulating progress. You are going to need to have solid experience and then accumulate publications, but then you also need to have the higher risk investments, which may not work.

Most of them won’t. But if one does, it will hit it out of park. Unless, you’re a genius. You can simply figure it out. My hat goes off to you. But my advice and my strategy has been this diversification approach.

Jacobsen: You are the Director for The Center for Mindfulness and Human Potential. What tasks and responsibilities come with this?

Schooler: My responsibilities will be evolving as it develops, as it is still developing. Historically, it is based on a series of projects that we have underway involving understanding the nature of mindfulness, exploring the benefits of programs that enhance mindfulness and other aspects of human potential and understanding the factors that underpin those benefits.

My responsibility involves overseeing the research and speaking with potential benefactors about contributing to it. Another very important aspect of our research is being supported by the Institute of Educational Science. It involves examining the benefits of introducing mindfulness practices into school settings and exploring the way they assist teachers and students in maximizing mindfulness.

Schooler: The major counterintuitive thing has been the ease with which we have been able to produce sustained and dramatic improvements in people’s combined wellbeing, cognitive performance, and changes in brain activity.

Jacobsen: What practical life skills can come from this line of research?

Schooler: We think this can be transformational. In that, it helps people to help themselves by appreciating their capacities for mental control and self-actualization. People can direct those skills towards whatever it is that they most want to manifest.

Jacobsen: You mentioned self-actualization. Does this research line to Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy?

Schooler: It does in spirit. We believe that the priorities that were expressed by Maslow and the Human Potential Movement were right on. The approach that we’re taking, however, is more modern and draws on research in mindfulness, mental sets, and the refinement of potential capacities.

Jacobsen: Why does this research center remain important to you?

Schooler: I believe the center is a way to integrate the insights of science and to merge those with the driving goals of a society.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara; Director, The Center for Mindfulness and Human Potential.

[2] Individual Publication Date: August 15, 2017 at; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2017 at


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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