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The Science of Relationships

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    2005 graduate Erin Crockett is now an assistant professor of psychology at Southwestern.

New psychology professor incorporates biology into her studies of relationships

After graduating from Southwestern in 2005, Erin Crockett never thought she would find herself back at her alma mater.

But as luck would have it, she has. Crockett served as a visiting assistant professor of psychology during the 2011-2012 academic year and beginning in fall 2012, she will be a tenure-track assistant professor of psychology.

Crockett said she feels very fortunate to have landed the temporary position, and then to have been hired as a full-time faculty member.

“The job market in academia is so tough,” she said. “For your dream job to come open when you are on the market is very rare.”

Crockett originally came to Southwestern thinking she wanted to be a lawyer, but her First-Year Seminar on “Frontiers of Masculinity” with former English Professor Walt Herbert changed all that.

“I became very interested in gender and family dynamics,” Crockett said. “After taking a few psychology classes, I switched to just a psychology major.”

Traci Giuliano, a psychology professor who Crockett had two courses with, encouraged her to apply to an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program at UT-Austin called Human Development and Family Sciences.

Ironically, Crockett said, her Ph.D. dissertation at UT ended up tying back to her First-Year Seminar at Southwestern. Her dissertation looked at how things that can happen in relationships cause different stress levels for men and women. She measured stress levels by using a biomarker called cortisol that can be obtained through saliva samples.

Two teaching experiences while she was in graduate school – one at UT and another at St. Edward’s University – solidified her desire to teach after graduate school. But first, she did a nine-month postdoctoral fellowship with a researcher in Scotland who also studies family relationships. While she was in Scotland, the opening for a visiting professor came up at Southwestern.

“Six different people wrote to tell me about it,” Crockett said.

Last year, Crockett taught Principles of Psychology, Research Methods I and II and Health Psychology. This year, she will be teaching the same classes, as well a year-long capstone class.

Crockett said all the other faculty members in her department have been very supportive of her. “I actually have taken classes with every member of the department; in so many ways, they have really invested in me and want me to succeed,” she said.

Southwestern has given Crockett funds to set up a lab where she can continue her cortisol research. She said she plans so have four students working with her in the lab this fall.

“Having this lab on campus will be a huge advantage for students,” Crockett said. “As a field, we are using cortisol more and more as an objective measure of stress. Students who have experience working with cortisol will be coveted by graduate schools.”

Crockett said experience working with cortisol also can lead to jobs in research.

As a student at Southwestern, Crockett was a member of the first women’s club lacrosse team, so she is looking forward to seeing women’s lacrosse become a varsity sport next year. She also plans to serve as the faculty advisor for the Sigma Phi Lambda Christian sorority.

And someday, she also hopes to teach her own First-Year Seminar at Southwestern.