Ronald Harvey, Professor of Psychology: “Do Not Be Afraid of Making Mistakes and Starting All Over Again”

Following two years of preparations and hard work, AUBG launched its major in Psychology in fall 2018. Professor Ronald Harvey, an experienced researcher and practitioner, played a key role in bringing psychology to the AUBGers. In an interview for, he talks about his unique career path, his experience living in Bulgaria, and what it means to teach community psychology to students coming from over 35 countries.

Please tell us a bit about yourself: where are you from, where did you study, what has been your professional/academic experience prior to AUBG?  

I am the youngest of eight children, all boys. I was born and grew up in Joliet, IL, an industrial town 100 km southwest of Chicago. I lived in Chicago proper for 25 years. I got my Ph.D. in Community Psychology from DePaul University in Chicago in 2014. Prior to my studies, I worked in IT as a programmer and software tester for a large telecommunications company, but most of my work experience (10 years) was at a global investment bank. I was an IT software librarian and IT manager and officer of the company for seven years.

How did you first become interested in psychology?

As the youngest of eight kids, I have ALWAYS been interested in psychology! I like to say that all of us are amateur psychologists because we are almost always trying to understand ourselves and others.

I became interested in studying psychology when I quit the investment bank and traveled the world for two years mostly in Russia and Ukraine and other parts of the former Soviet Union. I was always interested in people but seeing firsthand how culture affected how people think and behave made it the natural choice when I decided to return to university. Although industrial-organizational (I/O) psychology was probably a better fit based on my prior experience, I was not impressed with the I/O psychologists I worked with for 10 years. I knew I wanted to study group behavior, something that could be applied internationally and was concerned with the well-being of people struggling with problems imposed on them. Community psychology was the best fit, and I am so grateful for that.

What are your favorite teaching topics and why?

As the only Psychology professor at AUBG for the past two years, I have had the opportunity to teach Intro to Psychology, Social Psychology, Community Psychology (the first in the Balkans!), Abnormal Psychology, Personality Psychology, and now with Professor Diaz, I teach Psychology Research Methods and Physiological Psychology.

I love teaching PSY101 (Intro to Psychology), Community Psychology, and Research Methods. I love teaching brand new psychology students in PSY101! We start with the smallest (neurons) and the largest parts of ourselves, which is us in a social world. It is challenging and not at all an “easy” class. I like teaching Community Psychology (now called “Psychology of Social Change”) because it really challenges students to think about how systems affect individuals. And I love teaching Psychology Research Methods because it is about knowledge and science, and I love these subjects.

What led you to AUBG?

In the first half of 2016, I was in Bulgaria as a Fulbright Scholar doing research on how Bulgarians with drug addiction problems re-integrate back into their communities after drug treatment. I had been following the musical performing group from AUBG around Bulgaria. I was impressed with the enthusiasm of the students performing in this show, and I thought it would be fun to teach them.  However, when I visited, I noticed they did not have a psychology program, so when I met the president of AUBG at an awards ceremony in April 2016, I asked why that was, and we struck up a conversation about psychology at AUBG. The rest is, as they say, history.

What do you enjoy about teaching to AUBG students?

In a typical class of 32 students, anywhere from four to 10 different nationalities will be represented. For an international community psychologist like me, this is like striking gold! My assignments are designed to take advantage of this by having students to describe psychological concepts from their cultural perspectives. So many different cultural perspectives from everything from marriage and sex to gender, mourning, and words to explain feelings that do not exist in English. It is very interesting for me, and students tend to be honest and enthusiastic!

What advice would you give a recent graduate on building a fulfilling life and career?

Three things: 1) Do not be afraid of making mistakes and starting all over again. I know there is significant pressure to get things right the first time, but life absolutely does NOT require you to do so! I am on career No.5 and am glad I am here. 2) Be socially connected. Be genuinely interested in people and try to be helpful to everyone you meet. That means you are networking in a friendly manner; the more connections you make, the better, but be a good connector yourself, and ask for help when you need it! 3) You will get MUCH further along by saying “yes” and failing than by saying “no” and not failing.  Saying “yes” opens doors and opportunities that you can’t even imagine.

What are some of your hobbies? 

My biggest hobby is learning, teaching, and performing in improv comedy. It is a fantastic therapeutic tool as well as a fun, creative outlet. Every year I do improv workshops at Bulgarian foreign language high schools in conjunction with talking about AUBG and the psychology program, and it is very fun and informative. I also love to travel, listen to classical music and watch ballet, playing guitar, and astronomy.

What has been your experience living in Bulgaria?

Bulgaria is my home now, and I like living here most of the time. The best advice I got for living abroad is to start as a tourist before turning into an expat. I like to keep this at about 30/70 tourist/expat so things are still fresh and exciting. Bulgaria has a beautiful countryside that I can’t stop staring at! I lived in Chicago all my life and it is flat as a pancake. I’ve been to about 30 cities in Bulgaria and still have a long list of things I want to see and do. I’d like to stay in Bulgaria for a long, long time.

Interview by Dimana Doneva

Photo by Anastasiia Hryshchenko

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