Hometown: Soldotna, Alaska
Fun Fact: Taught English in Japan through the JET Program.
Matthew Myers is one of the stellar students whose work was featured in Student Showcase 2014, a UAA-scale version of TED Talks delivered by student experts. The juried conference puts students front and center for 10-minute talks about their work, whether it’s creative or academic or both. At the urging of his professor, Dr. Gwen Lupfer, Matthew submitted his final paper from Evolutionary Psychology: “Does This Title Make Me Look Sexy? Gender Differences in Attraction.”
Take images of men and women, give them short biographies, including any professional titles, like Dr. or Senator, and what happens when you let people rate their attractiveness? Does the same image of John Doe get extra points if we tell you he’s Dr. John Doe?
Influenced by the published research of David Buss and David Schmitt—who are well known for their evolutionary perspectives on human mate selection—Matthew actually got the idea for his proposed experiment from another study in that same vein. Researchers had subjects rate images of men in high-dollar sports cars vs. low-end sedans. Even though the same man was featured in both vehicles, his attractiveness was rated higher when he appeared in the sports car.
“A car is physical indicator of resources,” Matthew said. “A title has more social implication.”
The possibility of seeing more of his academic research proposals through to completion is spurring Matthew on toward his next big step after UAA.
“I just recently got accepted into a Ph.D. program at Northwestern University,” he said. In July he’ll be heading to Illinois to study cognitive psychology beginning fall 2014.
And, honestly, he’s not the least bit worried about whether completing the doctoral program and being referred to as “Dr. Myers” will make him seem more attractive. I asked.
When he leaves for school, lifelong Alaskan Matthew will take with him an undergraduate degree in Japanese studies from UAF and two years of upper-division psychology study at UAA. He’ll also bring along a blossoming appreciation for his home state.
Growing up with a sport fishing guide dad on the Kenai Peninsula, Matthew said he had just too many 3 a.m. wake-up-let’s-find-a-fishing-spot calls to really be charmed by one of the quintessential Alaska pastimes.
“It kind of weaned me off fishing,” he said. “As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve become more of an Alaska kid. I didn’t think much of it when I was little.”
With the typical spring fever of most Alaskans, he’s looking forward to longer, warmer days.
“I’m eagerly anticipating summer so I can go out and do outdoor things,” he said.
Toward Japanese fluency
While heading off to Illinois for a Ph.D. program is an exciting prospect, it’s not the most adventurous leap Matthew has taken in recent years. Following four years of Japanese study at UAF, he moved to Japan for two years to teach English with the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. And before that, while he was still a student at UAF, he studied abroad in Japan.
The teaching experience he gained in elementary and middle school classes through the JET Program is something Matthew can parlay into his teaching responsibilities at Northwestern. As a doctoral student, he’ll be required to teach lower-division psychology classes.
In between learning and teaching psychology, he’s also motivated to dive back into his Japanese studies and work toward fluency.
“Recently the Japanese consulate in Anchorage asked me if I’d like to interview prospective JETs this year in Anchorage,” he said. “I agreed to do it, but I had to go and brush up. It reignited a spark.”
“I would like to pass the Japanese language proficiency test,” he said. “After four years of studying at Fairbanks, I need to at least do that, make those four years count.”
Although he won’t be walking away from UAA with a degree, he’s grateful for his classroom and lab experiences on campus. He feels fortunate to have connected with his advisor, Dr. Yasuhiro Ozuru. Together they’re currently working on a research project about argument structure.
“He has been instrumental to my success at UAA,” he said. “And UAA’s been great for me.”
It helped him find his footing and his passion for psychology and spurred his next adventure.
Following graduation from the Ph.D. program at Northwestern—likely in 2020—Matthew is looking forward to a career as an academic researcher.
Written by Jamie Gonzales, UAA Office of University Advancement.