Clemson to Vienna, the journey of a Fulbright-Freud Scholar and martial arts enthusiast

This article originally appeared in Clemson University Blogs and is being republished courtesy of Clemson University

Blog post by June J. Pilcher, Ph.D., alumni distinguished professor, Department of Psychology at Clemson University

Vienna, Austria – the City of Music – consistently ranked in the top 3 of the world’s most livable cities (and often number 1) – and my home while I completed my Fulbright-Freud Scholar Award from January through August of 2012.

I have known for many years that I would one day apply for a Fulbright Scholar Award, the only question was when. It all started when I had a Fulbright Student award in Freiburg and Munich, Germany. My work at the Max-Planck Institute for Psychiatry in Munich as a Fulbright student gave me a head start on my academic and scientific career. As I became established on my career path, I began to consider how and when to apply for a Fulbright. I wanted to work with international students and offer them a chance similar to the one I had as a student to interact with a professor that was from a different culture and a different scientific background. I was not sure; however, that I would succeed, at least not at my desired location. Fulbrights can be very competitive, especially to the big cities in Europe. And, I wanted to go to Vienna; more about ‘why Vienna’ later.

I applied for a Fulbright to work in the Social, Cognitive, Affective, Neuroscience Unit (SCAN) at the University of Vienna and to teach at the university. But, as sometimes happens, things worked out slightly differently than I had initially planned. Instead of being awarded a Fulbright to work exclusively at the University of Vienna, I received the Fulbright-Freud Award which allowed me to work at the university but also to work with the Sigmund Freud Museum.

June Pilcher, Ph.D., Fulbright-Freud scholar

My work at the University of Vienna included teaching a course (yes, in English) about brain and behavior. The course was an upper-level seminar and had “only” 40 students enrolled. For comparison, the lower-level psychology courses had about 600 students enrolled. Teaching a course in Vienna was a fantastic experience. Interacting with the students was fun but also an opportunity to polish my teaching and mentoring skills. I thought the Austrian students were much like our students at Clemson. Some complained that there were too many readings and too much work. Others seemed to dive right in, participate in every class (yes, in English), and learn everything they could. The vast majority of students did very well in our course and seemed to enjoy the opportunity to better understand what the human brain does for us but also what it does to us.

The remainder of my work at the university focused on developing collaborative research projects in the SCAN unit. We successfully initiated two major research projects. Project 1 examines sleep habits and social cognition in college students. This project will allow us to better understand how sleep is related to social functioning. We collected data from approximately 400 students and are in the process of analyzing the results. Project 2 will examine the effects of brain stimulation on self-control under sleep deprivation conditions. Participants will be deprived of sleep for one night. During the night they will complete a variety of performance tasks as well as several social functioning measures related to emotion and empathy. At the end of the night, half of the participants will receive brain stimulation while the other half will receive sham brain stimulation (the electrodes are attached but no electrical current is delivered). Both groups of participants will complete several tasks to determine if brain stimulation affects decision-making and performance under sleep deprivation conditions. This project is currently in the planning stages. We anticipate beginning to collect data in January 2013. Although there was not enough time to complete either of these projects while I was in Vienna, I will continue to work with my new collaborators which will offer my Creative Inquiry teams and graduate students at Clemson the opportunity to be involved in an international research effort.

I am also working on a separate research project where I will incorporate the Freudian side of my Fulbright-Freud award. I am working on a manuscript on the human brain and consciousness that will partially focus on Freud’s vision of the human conscious. The manuscript will explore the current models of brain processing and how these relate to Freud’s theory of the brain and consciousness.

Although I went to Vienna for my Fulbright, I had another reason to be there. I decided early in my academic career that I wanted to apply for a Fulbright specifically in Vienna because the headquarters of my traditional martial art group, Karatedo Doshinkan, is located there. Our grand master, Hanshi 10.Dan Nobuo Ichikawa, moved from Tokyo to Vienna in the 1960s and leads classes in the honbu dojo (training headquarters) in Vienna. Training in and teaching Doshinkan has been a major part of my life for over 25 years. I go to Vienna every summer to train in our honbu dojo. Usually I can only be in Vienna for a week or two each summer. This year, I stayed in Vienna for six months; six months to complete a Fulbright but also to train with the grand master of my martial art.

My Fulbright in Vienna was a wonderful experience. In addition to my work at the University of Vienna and the Freud Museum, I attended and made presentations at research conferences in Rotterdam, Netherlands; Athens, Greece and Berlin, Germany. I also traveled for Doshinkan trainings to Warsaw, Poland; Salzburg, Austria; Tyrol, Austria; Faistenau, Austria; Nurnberg, Germany; and Tittling, Germany. My life in Vienna was filled with other experiences unique to that locale such as watching the 400+ varieties of roses bloom in the Volksgarten, going to the Summer Night Concert by the Vienna Philharmonic at Schoenbrunn Palace, and attending the 4th of July reception (with fireworks) at the U.S. Austrian Ambassador’s residence. Although I expected my time in Vienna to be productive and fun, what surprises me is how happy I am to be back and working with our students at Clemson University. It is great to be home!