Posted May 29, 2020
Laura Luchies is the Associate Director of the Calvin University Center for Social Research (CSR). She earned her Ph.D. in social psychology from Northwestern University in 2011. CSR is a research and evaluation consultancy that aims to be a valued learning partner by supporting evidence-based decisions through innovative social-scientific research.
Can you recall a moment, experience, or person that influenced you or led you to decide that personality and social psychology was the path for you?
A few years after completing my undergraduate degree, I started thinking about applying to graduate school in some area of psychology—but I didn’t know which area. I also realized that I should get more recent experience in psychology to strengthen my application. I was fortunate to be able to work with David Myers on tasks related to a new edition of his introductory psychology textbook. While reading through David’s textbook, I realized that the social psychology chapter was the most interesting to me. Because that process had been helpful, I re-read the social psychology textbook I had saved from my undergraduate studies and identified the close relationships chapter as the topic area I wanted to pursue in my graduate studies. I learned a lot by working with David and, no doubt, having a reference letter from him raised my grad school application up a notch or two.
In what ways do you feel your background in personality and social psychology makes the biggest impact in your career?
I use a variety of research and evaluation methods in my work at the Calvin University Center for Social Research, including interviews, focus groups, statistical analyses, and interactive data visualizations. Yet, survey research is one of our most frequently used methods. Understanding cognitive biases like anchoring and psychological phenomena like order effects equips me to design effective surveys. My colleagues and clients tend to enjoy it when I put on my “psychology professor hat,” go to the white board, and draw the results of a social psychological study that is relevant to the project we are working on.
What period in the academic year do you enjoy or look forward to the most?
Because I work in an alt-ac position, the rhythm of the academic year is different for me than it is for traditional academics. My team includes 6-8 undergraduate Research Assistants, who work full-time during the summer and part-time during the school year. This means that the summer is our busiest time as we onboard and train a handful of new team members each year. Each summer, we lead half-day trainings on an array of topics and software programs, including relational databases, Qualtrics, Tableau, Quick Base, Kumu, Stata, Word, Excel, and more, Although I look forward to the energy of the summer, I’m also worn out by mid-August and ready for the fall semester to begin.
In what unique ways have you involved students in your research?
I work with undergraduate student employees who contribute to—and sometimes lead—research and evaluation projects for our clients, which include non-profits, government units, and businesses. These Research Assistants attend client meetings and often take the first pass at designing database structures, drafting survey instruments, or creating data visualizations. I enjoy working side-by-side with students on projects that will influence our clients’ decision-making and future work in the community.
Outside of psychology, how do you like to spend your free time?
It depends on who I’m spending my free time with. When I’m with my two daughters, I like to play board or card games. When I’m with my husband, I enjoy wine tasting and slowly eating our way through a charcuterie board. When I’m by myself, I recharge by reading a novel or painting dot mandalas.
What is the best movie/performance/concert that you’ve seen recently?
A few months ago, my husband and I went to an Andrew McMahon concert at a winery in Southwest Michigan. What more could I ask for—we were sipping on wine that had been produced from grapes grown in the vineyards surrounding the venue, and Andrew McMahon pulled out all the stops, including crowd surfing atop an inflatable rainbow-maned unicorn. Then the clouds started rolling in and the rain started falling. And suddenly, the rest of the concert was cancelled because there was lightning nearby. Even though we missed a few songs, we had a great time and won’t forget the experience any time soon.