Gatepost Interview: Robert Donohue, psychology professor and MSCA vice president

(Framingham State University)

What is your educational and professional background?

I received my undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I received my Ph.D. from the University of Florida. I have three years of post-doctoral training, which I completed at the University of Denver. Then, I’ve been a faculty member for, I don’t know? 23 years. I’m on my 21st year here and then I was on the faculty at the University of Hawaii for a year. And I was on the faculty of Franklin and Marshall College, which is in Pennsylvania, for a year. … There were three years between when I got my undergraduate degree and went back to graduate school. And one of those years, I had a part-time research position and a full-time dishwasher position. And then, I worked in customer service for Jordan Marsh, which is a now-defunct department store, and then I was the foreman of a landscaping company.

What sparked your interest in psychology as a profession?

I had an opportunity to work with a biologically based psychologist at the University of Massachusetts. … She basically recruited me from a class I was taking, and we got to a lab and did research in infant cognitive development for a few years, and then I went and got a Ph.D. in infant cognitive development. … The reason I liked it was it was really hard. If you’re dealing with post-infancy research participants, you can talk to them. You can try to get answers about what’s going on with them psychologically, verbally. With non-human animals, you’ve got all kinds of latitude with what you can do to try to extract information from the rat or the pigeon. But with human infants, you don’t have the verbal access and you also have extreme constraints on how you can interact with them in terms of, just, ethically and logistically. I thought it was really interesting because how do you unambiguously get the infant to reveal what they understand about the world around them? … Reading research in the field, I was just amazed at how clever people were at coming up with methodologies that would allow them to unambiguously get these answers about what infants understood about the world. … I enjoyed having to build my own equipment and having to solve a lot of engineering puzzles. It was a relatively technologically intense area in psychology in terms of we were using infrared video technology and frame-by-frame video analysis and measuring the baby’s electrical brain activity and their heart rate and their blood pressure.

How did you get involved with the Massachusetts State College Association (MSCA)?

A lot of it goes back to my religious experience as a kid and a lot of the ideas about how you’re supposed to treat people and ideas of being fair and not being happy with gross inequities in people’s stations in life. … My older sister actually got involved in some union movements and I was able to observe that and that was interesting. And it fits my general tendency to like to tell people to go to hell. … I took a course when I was an undergraduate in U.S. Labor History. It was just this whole realm of U.S. History that I had never been exposed to and just realizing the battles and sacrifices that people participated in and made to provide so many things that we take for granted – weekends off, overtime pay, safety in the workplace. … Then when I started as a graduate student, I found out that the graduate school really misrepresented the financial package that they had offered me. The graduate assistants at the University of Florida had a union. I was really upset at the absolutely disingenuous way the university had treated me, so I immediately joined the union to try and prevent that kind of deceptive approach, to try to protect other people from that type of deception and to try and improve the pay for graduate assistants. … I ended up being a chief negotiator for the union and a grievance officer for the union. … And so, I did that for several years as a graduate student and we were able to really get some good victories and really improve the situation for graduate students. So, I had a good experience and then when I came to Framingham State, I joined the union. Then after several years, I had the opportunity to get a leadership position in the union, and I took advantage of that and I’ve been doing it ever since.

What advice do you have for FSU students?

Become politically involved. Framingham State is a public institution and your state representatives, your senators and the governor have tremendous influence over how much it’s going to cost to go to this school and the resources that are going to be available to students at this school. If students are overwhelmed by how big the problems seem to be in society, one way to manage that is to think about the relationship between the government and Framingham State and start doing some advocacy to improve, say, funding for the state universities so your tuition isn’t as high, so your fees aren’t as high and so there’s more infrastructure here so you have an excellent experience. And then what I really hope students take from that is the idea that you can impact government policy. You can take on power structures, and you can influence them.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.