Serge Onyper

James R. Wallace Associate Professor Psychology Department

Syracuse University

Serge Onyper

I had a unique experience in college – as a junior, I enrolled in a psychology course that placed students at internship sites in the local community. I ended up at a residential rehabilitation facility for adults suffering from traumatic brain injury (TBI), and saw firsthand the cognitive outcomes of TBI – amnesia, deficits in reasoning and decision-making abilities, emotional problems. Until then I had at best a very vague notion that I wanted to study psychology, but did not know what area of psychology was for me. After working with TBI individuals for almost two years, I made my decision – I wanted to learn more about the human mind, about its capabilities and limitations.

I received a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from Syracuse University in 2007. I came to St. Lawrence because of my love of teaching and my passion for research, and St. Lawrence was the perfect place to combine the two. Soon after, however, I realized that what I treasure most is being able to work closely with talented, motivated students – who are the rule at St. Lawrence, rather than the exception. I enjoy teaching classes with laboratory components that present opportunities for small group discussions with a few students at a time or one-on-one work, and I have an active research lab where students, my colleagues on the faculty, and I study topics that fascinate us. I love watching students learn and grow – as rational beings, aspiring scientists, or individuals – and teaching, advising, and working on research all allow me to do just that.

I have two favorite classes that I regularly teach – Research Methods and Memory & Cognition. Research Methods allows me to convey my passion for the scientific foundations of psychology while teaching students analytic, communication, and teamwork skills via problem-based approach. When I teach the course, I can’t stop wondering at the complexity of who we are as a species, but also at how similar we are to each other - otherwise, how could we understand and predict human behavior? Memory & Cognition allows me to explore in depth the subject of cognitive psychology, my specialty area, and to show students how we can use science to study the invisible – thought processes, memories, emotions – and at the same time learn so much about ourselves.

I like to involve the students in whatever is being taught in the classroom – active learners learn more effectively, and also enjoy the learning process better. I favor doing whole-class demonstrations, asking many questions that do not have simple answers, and trying to keep students slightly on edge, by making unexpected comments and drawing surprise connections between concepts and real-life applications. In recent years I've moved away from the lecture-based approach to teaching in favor of team-based learning and problem-based approaches, and I love every minute of it.

Finally, I’ve come to believe that one of the best things you can do as a student in college is try to get to know your professors outside of the class, and to not be afraid to admit that you may not know what you’d like to do with your life (and even if you do, you might be surprised to learn that the opportunities open to you are countless). After all, we know what it’s like to be in your shoes, we’ve all been there, and we are here to help you make the best of your time at St. Lawrence and – if we can – nudge you in the direction of discovering where your true feelings lie.

You can read about my recent research here (feel free to request full text of these articles):

(2017) How movement can enhance memory

(2016) How delaying school start times helps adolescents succeed

(2012) The role of sleep and school start times in academic success in college

(2011) Research on the effects of chewing gum on cognitive function

(2010) Research on cognitive functioning during pregnancy

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