Student Spotlight August 2016

David Bellinger

As a former competitive athlete, David wanted to better understand the psychological skills behind elite human performance – so he majored in Psychosocial Kinesiology (a fancy name for “sport psychology”) at Texas Christian University (Fort Worth, TX). David continued his training by earning a Masters degree from Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) and interning at the Evert Tennis Academy (affiliate of IMG Academies) in Boca Raton, FL. Over the next 3 years, he performed a variety of jobs – expanded a private practice and started his own small business focused on training athletes to employ mental skills to improve their performance and consistency, adjunct professor teaching sport psychology at Texas A&M University – Central Texas, and worked on a government contract teaching psychological skills to U.S. Army Soldiers at Fort Hood, TX. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of his work with Soldiers was how to help them execute their skills while under the extreme stress of the battlefield. To better understand why these Soldiers would sometimes “choke under pressure,” David decided to go back to school and work with Dr. Marci DeCaro at the University of Louisville who is one of the leading experts in that line of research. Over the course of his 4 years at UofL, David’s research interests expanded to focus on strategies to enhance learning in the classroom.

 

 

Interview:

1. Specific areas of research (how you chose this research, why it interested you):

I am fascinated by human memory and how simple instructional strategies can lead to dramatic improvements in learning outcomes. Of course, people learn new things all of the time. But there are also many instances when we want to learn something, but it fails to occur. Learning is such a complex process that it takes years and even decades for researchers to advance our understanding of how and why it works (and when it doesn’t). I’m sure most people can empathize with the situation where a student earns a good grade in a course because it was relatively easy to memorize the course content for the exams but then they quickly purge the information from memory after the class is over. I would argue that they completed the course without actually learning. I found this situation to be quite frequent and very troubling, so I invested in reading the empirical literature and conducting my own research on strategies that actually enhance learning. Unfortunately, these strategies are not commonly known or implemented by instructors and students, but I am hopeful that this is changing based on the good work of many learning and memory scientists.

2. How would you describe your area of study/ specific research to your grandmother?

My research focuses on understanding why students forget most of what they learn and what both students and instructors can do to make learning more durable.

3. Awards, honors, publications:

I have authored 3 peer-reviewed publications and 12 conference presentations. I was awarded a research fellowship (2 years) as well as a teaching assistant position (2 years). Also, I received research funding from the Graduate Network in Arts & Sciences (GNAS) to cover expenses for my dissertation research project.

4. How do you think this advanced degree will change your role in society?

There is a great quote from Lee Shulman (winner of the 2006 Grawemeyer award in education) who said "Doctoral education prepares scholars who both understand what is known and discover what is yet unknown…Yet the more they understand, the heavier their moral obligation to use their knowledge and skill with integrity, responsibility, and generosity." This statement resonated deeply with me. I have long believed that acquiring knowledge for one’s own gain was somewhat futile – the greatest reward is in sharing one’s knowledge to help others and in my case that means sharing evidence-based practices that empower people to be lifelong learners.

5. Long term goals/aspirations?

The career path that most excites me right now is to be a User Experience (UX) Researcher because it would enable me to leverage my research skills and understanding of human behavior to make the experience of using technology more intuitive and delightful.

6. What has been your favorite part of the graduate school experience at UofL?

The faculty and fellow graduate students in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. In my experience, everyone was thoughtful and encouraging – two characteristics that are essential for promoting a lively intellectual community.

7. What do you feel is the greatest challenge that graduate students face and how have you dealt with this challenge?

One of my biggest challenges was trying to shut off “work mode” because you can always do more and you are typically behind where you want to be. The unfortunate truth is that I do not think I ever conquered this challenge. The strategies that worked the best for me were regular dinners with my family, exploring new restaurants and bars around Louisville with friends, and taking a trip in the summer to recharge. Admittedly, maintaining the fortitude to produce high quality work at all times can be daunting, so it is critical to find whatever allows you to have some degree of work-life balance.

8. Family Life:

I married my best friend (Maggie) about 8 years ago. We have a 1-year-old boy (Henry) who is typically the life of the party and two Cocker Spaniels (Bailey and Guinness) whose favorite things are chasing balls and loving on humans.

 


Fun Facts
A talent you have always wanted: To be a BBQ pit master and smoke a delicious brisket every time – when it is done right, there is nothing better!
Favorite book: Related to my area of study – “Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning” does a great job of summarizing the research literature and making it accessible for non-scientists.  When reading for pleasure – “The Art of Racing in the Rain” and “The Storyteller” were both enjoyable.
Favorite quote: “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift” – Steve Prefontaine
Favorite Vacation Destination: It is tough to choose just one, so I’ll mention two: Lofoten Islands in Norway and Safari in South Africa
If you weren’t in graduate school, what would you be doing now? I really enjoy photography and videography, so hopefully spending more time traveling the world and capturing those experiences.