Pursuing a Never-Ending Slate of Questions

Eric Goedereis is a developmental psychologist at Webster University

Eric Goedereis, PhD

Associate Professor, Department of Psychology
Co-Director, Gerontology Program
College of Arts & Sciences

“It’s okay to swing for the fences and fail.”

Eric Goedereis is at home on the court as he is in the classroom, where he encourages students to embrace the struggle and see the beauty of pursuing things that don’t come easily. A developmental psychologist and expert in gerontology, he has played a major role in creating and nurturing research opportunities for Webster students.


How would you describe your teaching style?

Similar to effective coaches, I try to encourage my students to approach the joy of learning like an athlete or musician might approach a practice. In these domains, improvement comes through sustained effort and struggling over time. And similar to the game setting, I believe that education, particularly within a liberal arts institution such as Webster, is an interactive and team effort.

What motivates you?

Failure, but not in a sense that “I am so afraid to fail that I will do…” I see failure as a necessary outcome of the effort it takes to be successful and happy in life. I love being able to swing for the fences and fail. There’s another sports analogy here: Sometimes, you’ll strikeout, but you’ll eventually connect. And if you’re doing it right, you have to take risks and be willing to fail in order to push yourself to accomplish your goals.

Eric Goedereis posing on staircase at Webster University

How do you use this approach to motivate students?

Just as a coach pushes players, I remind my students that they’re probably not truly improving if they only do things that come easily. Instead, I work hard to get my students to embrace the process and effort associated with learning. Instead of the outcome or grade, I encourage students to embrace gradual improvement and to appreciate the value of failure as we work toward something difficult and meaningful.

What makes teaching at Webster distinctive?

Everyone says this, but our small class sizes really make Webster a unique place to teach and learn. I think it is especially beneficial in the sciences, where some of the most impactful learning experiences come out of working closely with a faculty mentor on a research or creative project. During my doctoral program, I taught sections of nearly 200 students and had over 300 advisees. In that environment, a few students worked very hard and were able to make some meaningful connections. That said, I saw far too many students disengaged from their courses and not connected to their work.

At Webster, it’s no exaggeration to suggest that I am able to get to know each and every student who wants me to know them. It is hard to hide in our classes!

What is your favorite travel destination?

I was fortunate to be able to teach at Webster’s campus in Vienna, Austria. So having lived in that amazing city for nine weeks, I can say emphatically that Vienna is my favorite travel destination.

In the U.S., I absolutely love New Orleans for the food, music, and culture. And the Denver and Colorado Springs too. That region’s outdoor recreational offerings and commitment to health and well-being are incredible.

Eric Goedereis playing a pickup game of basketball

What is the focus of your scholarship?

Broadly speaking, I examine health beliefs and behaviors across the lifespan. Working out of my Lifespan Wellness Lab, my individual and student-driven research has examined two over-arching questions related to health beliefs and behaviors: (1) How do psychological, interpersonal, and cognitive factors relate to successful goal pursuit? and (2) What are the psychological and interpersonal factors associated with optimal development?

We’ve presented and published research on a range of topics like obesity stigmatization; optimistic bias and e-cigarette use among emerging adults; the psychological characteristics of STEM majors and graduates; death anxiety among undergraduate and graduate students; using social media to promote physical activity and well-being; and sexual harassment experiences among college students.

Students in my lab have been successful in seeking and receiving funding to support their research. Many have gone on to present their work at local, regional and national conferences.

What are you most curious about?

Well, I’m a Developmental Psychologist, so for me, this field offers a never-ending slate of questions. How do people become who they are? What is the relative role of biological, environmental and sociocultural factors on various developmental outcomes? Can we build environments that optimize development?

What's always in your suitcase?

Running shoes and clothes. I really try to make a point to sneak in some exercise whenever traveling. It’s especially important when I’m on a work trip. And in my opinion, there aren’t many better ways to explore a new city than going out for a run. Oh, and deodorant. I suppose that’s pretty important, especially if I’m able to squeeze in a run!

What three words best describe you?

Constructive, empathetic, and humorous.

Eric Goedereis overlooking the courtyard at Loretto Hall

 

Eric Goedereis conversing in his office

Psychology and Gerontology Programs

The BA in psychology is designed to provide students with an understanding of the complexity and diversity of human behavior and the psychological theories and concepts that help them. Graduates may be able to apply psychological principles to become more effective managers, educators, or pursue a variety of career or graduate opportunities within psychology, counseling, and related fields.