Psychologist? Check. Beloved professor? Check. Accredited researcher? Check. Novelist? Check.
It would seem as though Dr. John Suler of the Psychology Department has done it all, and after this past summer he was able to add speaking at the Smithsonian Institution and being quoted in Cosmopolitan magazine to his ever-growing list of accomplishments.
“It’s a lot to do,” Suler said. “You start to take on so many activities because there are so many exciting things to do that you want to do more and more, but over the course of your life you learn to focus and prioritize.”
And a lot of Suler’s hard work is praised by his students, many of whom recognized his name in the Cosmopolitan article before he ever mentioned it.
“He is awesome,” said Sheri Flacks, a junior psychology major who is enrolled in Suler’s Group Dynamics class. “He is very laid-back and has a sense of humor.” She also added that she had never raved about a professor before but that in Suler’s classes, “you don’t have to watch what you say and are always free to give your own opinion.”
Suler, who was once a practicing psychologist in Pennsylvania, has more recently begun to delve into researching imagery and the connections people make on the Internet.
“I am interested in general on how people communicate online,” he said. “How people form relationships online and how people use pictures to communicate, like with online groups and photo sharing communities.”
It was just this past June that Suler gave a day-long, four-segment conference presentation at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., about the various states of consciousness people experience.
“It was about dreams, about religious experiences, how the unconscious works and how it can flow into the conscious mind,” he said. “I made an emphasis on images and visual experiences which overlaps with my interest on how people communicate online.”
It was that same overlapping interest that led Suler to become very knowledgeable about certain communication sites like Facebook.com. So when Cosmopolitan needed an expert on the subject, the magazine went straight to Suler for the facts.
“There is a lot of journalistic interest on Facebook because it has become so popular,” he said. “It really is becoming like an icon of online communication, and a lot of journalists are asking about how students go about communicating on Facebook and why they like it and why they don’t like it.”
Other popular publications also want to hear what Suler has to say about online communication and imagery; he has been quoted on the Washington Post Web site as well as in magazines both in and out of the country.
The fact that Suler is so Facebook savvy, and even has one himself, may be one of the reasons Flacks and others find him easy to relate to.
“Dr. Suler is not as old-fashioned about what students are interested in as some of the other professors are,” she said. “He also has a unique way about talking about topics discussed in class.”
According to Flacks, class discussions range anywhere from drug addictions to trust and forming relationships.
“If you seem withdrawn from the discussion he will coax [your thoughts] out of you,” she said.
Suler also understands the importance of finding topics that his students will find stimulating in order to create a positive atmosphere in the classroom.
“I think a lot of the things I talk about they can relate to immediately because it is psychology as opposed to other disciplines which are more abstract,” Suler said. “A lot of the topics really apply to their lives.”
As for Flacks, she is already looking forward to signing up for a class with Suler next semester, because as she repeatedly mentions, “He is awesome.”