What motivates college faculty? Lyon psychology professor shares her findings

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What motivates college faculty? Lyon psychology professor shares her findings

On Friday, February 8, Assistant Professor of Psychology Dr. Jennifer Daniels presented at the semester’s first faculty colloquium her analysis of data gathered regarding the motivations of faculty at small colleges. Her talk was entitled “Exploring Predictors of Faculty Motivation: Perception is Everything.”

The study revealed that for many professors at small colleges the top motivators were relational, with the most influential being developing mentor-mentee relationships with students and the second being working and collaborating with peers. A close third motivating factor was rooted in finances—often, the fear of their college’s immediate financial future.

Dr. Al Holliman, a business professor at Lyon at the time of the study, “spearheaded” the survey, and Daniels was recruited to analyze the data because she “knew how to use statistics to answer the questions he had.” With this data, Daniels investigated what motivated faculty at a variety of small colleges—not all were liberal arts schools, but many bore a strong resemblance to Lyon.

The results suggest that regardless of geography or personal status within their college, what mattered was not the “truth” of whether a given faculty member’s school was actually in danger, but if individuals perceived financial distress.

The interdisciplinary approach taken by Daniels and Holliman allowed for more thorough analysis and interpretation of the data collected than if either had worked alone. Daniels said she is an avid supporter of such cross-discipline work; she is currently working closely with junior biology and chemistry double major Melanie Beehler on an independent study involving multivariate statistics.

Lyon’s liberal arts philosophy encourages students to pursue any and all of their interests; Beehler took statistics for behavioral sciences with Daniels which she says, “left [her] wanting to know more [about Daniels’ work].” Many students find themselves focusing on surviving the day-to-day stresses of college, but Beehler says these colloquiums remind her that “there is more to college than class, homework, and sleeping.” Lyon’s students are here to get the most of their liberal arts experience.

Daniels says she loves being at a small school because “[the student] get[s] to be [their] whole person instead of just one part of [themselves] which is what you might get, maybe, at a larger institution.” As a biology student working independently with a psychology professor, Beehler is a great example of this idea because, Daniels says, though “the likelihood of us actually going to the same conference is pretty low,” Lyon’s colloquiums allow for professors and students involved in all fields of study to be exposed to each other’s research and find ways to connect with each other’s studies.