Letter from the Chair

Author: Dan Lapsley

Dan Lapsley

A Department on the Move

Welcome to the annual newsletter of the Department of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame. I hope you enjoy reading stories of the extraordinary achievements of our faculty and students and learning more about our programs, initiatives, and ambition.

Seven years ago, I wrote my first welcome letter for this newsletter. I was the new department chair, and the department was on the move. We hired numerous faculty members at all levels whose research brought dynamic synergy across our four doctoral programs. I affirmed our goal of becoming a premier department where the visibility, importance, and influence of our scholarship was woven seamlessly with our commitment to excellence in doctoral training and high-quality undergraduate education. 

This newsletter will be my last as department chair, so some valedictory comments are in order. Not a day goes by when I am not grateful to walk across this beautiful campus and serve this extraordinary department. A simple perusal of the stories of this issue is testimony to its strengths, its ambition, its visibility, and its promise. We celebrate a legend like Scott Maxwell, who built our quantitative psychology program from scratch and raised it to elite national prominence.

We celebrate the research accomplishments of Nicole McNeil, Darcia Narvaez, Jessica Payne, and David Watson—their landmark work attests to the influence of the department across several fields of the discipline. Sidney D’Mello has practically invented the field of affective “emotion-sensing” computing, and readers will enjoy learning of his robust interdisciplinary research program, as well as the achievements of our undergraduate majors, graduate students, and doctoral alumni.

The best universities in America are engaged in an arms race to build and sustain strong psychology departments. This is because psychology is a hub discipline—psychological science is integral to all parts of the academy, cutting across the disciplines and finding its place in any conversation about the human condition. Consequently, there can be no great university without a great psychology department. Psychological science is the tide that lifts all boats. Our department is riding the tide!

We have five endowed professors and four collegiate chairs. About one-fourth of the faculty are editors or co-editors of important journals, which is an indication of the national and international visibility of our faculty. Moreover, three current faculty have been awarded prestigious National Science Foundation Career grants—I don’t think there is another psychology department in the country that can say that. We also have five doctoral students with NSF Graduate Fellowships—that’s pretty terrific, too.

We collaborate not only with colleagues across psychological disciplines but also with biologists, neuroscientists, engineers; with computer science, management, and business scholars; and with ethicists, educators, philosophers, and other social scientists.

So we are on the move and well-positioned for the future. Let me conclude with three observations:

  1. We are excited by the University’s Campus Crossroads Project that will see the department moving into Corbett Family Hall on the east side of Notre Dame Stadium in May 2018. We currently have labs in seven different facilities across the campus and city, and our new facility will bring us all together in a way that will have a galvanizing effect on our research and teaching.
  2. The study of the brain and nervous system is the major intellectual challenge of the 21st century, and no psychology department can ignore it without being marginalized. We are the home of the new bachelor of arts degree in neuroscience and behavior, which has attracted almost 100 new majors; and we will continue to build faculty capacity in this area.
  3. Finally, our clinical faculty members are attacking real-world problems that affect all of our lives, but we need to move the clinical program to the next level, which will require a departmental clinic. A Department of Psychology Clinic will serve as a center for ongoing clinical science research, as a training center for our clinical doctoral students, as a way to project clinical services to the community, and as a platform for professional development to local mental health professionals.

Moving forward, the department could not be in better hands. My successor, Lee Anna Clark, is the William J. and Dorothy K. O’Neill Professor of Psychology. She is a renowned clinical scientist—one of the most cited psychologists in the world, whose work on personality disorders quite literally has changed the way we think about their assessment and diagnosis.

We are committed to becoming the great psychology department that Notre Dame deserves. We have come a long way, proud of our achievements and mindful of the challenges of building the 21st-century department. But we look to the future with confidence in our common purpose.