There was a real cultural difference between my poorly educated parents and the ‘outside world’, which I was taught by example to see as a distant, untrustworthy establishment of privilege. Survival, not the broadening of intellectual and emotional experience, was the guiding motive of most of the people in my family.
Both of my grandmothers had lost their husbands when the youngest of their children were infants. Of my more than 25 first cousins, I was the only one to get a college education. As a young girl, I was fortunate to go to a camp for inner city kids. Most of the counsellors were college students from upper-middle-class families; most of them were also psychology majors. I wanted to be like the counsellors, so I set as my goal going to college and majoring in psychology.
Adjusting to college was easy. I was living in Philadelphia, and I commuted with my neighbourhood friends to the University of Pennsylvania. I could not, however, find anything in my study of psychology that satisfied my need to find a niche for myself. As a junior in Professor Phillip Teitelbaum’s course in physiological psychology, and later in an ‘independent study’ course with him, I finally found it.
Not only did I learn how to conduct an experiment, collect data and write up the results; I learned about the powerful influence of a mentor relationship upon growth, creativity and development. Then in graduate school, Bill and Martha Wilson played an even more significant mentoring role in my life. Some 45 years later, we remain dear friends.
The trusting support of a young student by a revered professor can be critical. For me, it was more than critical, since I had not yet left the values of my parents behind.
Marlene Oscar Berman is a contributor to The Concise Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology and Behavioural Science (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)), and Neurobehaviour of Language and Cognition: Studies of Normal Aging and Brain Damage (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).