The Examined Life

The Examined Life

Curiosity has fueled the world’s biggest discoveries. Here’s what it means for UCF researchers on the front line.

By Laura J. Cole

Adventure is about more than traveling to new places. It’s about meeting new people, taking on new experiences and learning new things. At its core, it’s about being curious.

Over the years, various studies have shown the benefit of curiosity — from improving memory and overcoming anxiety to strengthening relationships. But what does it mean for researchers, whose work is driven by big questions that impact every level of our lives? We asked four professors how exploring new possibilities has impacted their work, their disciplines and their lives.

Jascinth Lindo

Jascinth Lindo

Associate Professor of Nursing

While working as a registered nurse in her native Jamaica, Jascinth Lindo realized the importance of taking a public health approach to nursing. “The patients had a number of social and economic problems that affected their care, and I felt that I could affect the lives of more people with a more holistic population-based approach,” Lindo says. She has since earned a Ph.D. in public health, worked with Jamaica’s Ministry of Health and Wellness, and published numerous articles on fetal infant mortality, workplace health, nursing education and nursing practice.

Spark of Curiosity

“My interest in learning was kindled in high school when I realized that I enjoyed the sciences beyond the career opportunities that they offered. In particular, I was fascinated with how the body worked and how it failed. I found myself reading college texts on anatomy and physiology.”

Inspiration

“My experience teaching research methods to graduate students in Jamaica afforded me an opportunity to address practical issues in the community by mentoring nursing students in the field of research. This fueled my desire to build research capacity among nurses in the Caribbean, addressing issues related to nursing education and practice issues such as nursing documentation.”

Role of Curiosity in Nursing

“Curiosity is constantly questioning how we practice nursing, regardless of specialization. It’s being aware of current evidence, applying knowledge to practice and understanding how policies directly affect patients.”

Importance of Intellectual Adventures

“Both intellectual and physical adventures are rewarding because of the pleasure of discovery. Intellectual adventures open new pathways with rewards and new challenges. These are often refreshing and renewing and are essential for intellectual growth and discourse, but we need both.”

Valerie Sims

Valerie Sims

Associate Professor of Psychology

Since childhood, Valerie Sims has questioned why people choose to behave certain ways — regardless of popular opinion. As an undergrad, she studied video games. “No one was doing it, and people thought it was a silly topic,” Sims says. “Today, people are very interested in the effects of video games and whether or not games can be used effectively for training.” Her unbounded curiosity has fueled her research in topics ranging from the cognitive abilities of video game experts to how humans interact with computers and animals.

Spark of Curiosity

“Although I did not know it at the time, I started in this field with a seventh-grade science project on why people chose specific fast-food restaurants. It was the first time that it had occurred to me that things I was interested in studying were studied by others, and that there was a field called behavioral and social sciences.”

Inspiration

“My family has been my biggest inspiration. Since I study developmental and cognitive psychology, I am often inspired by things happening at different stages of the family life cycle. For instance, when my daughter was in elementary school, I became interested in how children understand computers and how they anthropomorphize them. As my mother gets older, I wonder how interfaces can change to accommodate age-related barriers.”

Role of Curiosity in Psychology

“I am interested in how humans think, and how to make the world a better place for them. I am particularly interested in how people apply their knowledge of humans to understand nonhuman entities, such as machines and animals.”

Importance of Intellectual Adventures

“Thinking creatively is truly a luxury, even for academics. In a society that constantly requires concrete evidence of work, thinking can go by the wayside. Yet thinking and mentally arguing with ourselves may be our most human trait.”

Michael Strawser

Michael Strawser

Professor of Philosophy and Department Chair

As a philosophy professor and coach of the UCF Ethics Bowl team for more than a decade, Michael Strawser helps students explore and answer life’s most challenging questions. “Answering difficult questions is about more than a desire to understand,” Strawser says. “It’s about learning to do the detailed research necessary to understand the complexities in every particular situation.” That approach has led UCF teams to qualify for national ethics bowl competitions for the past two years and win a national title in 2011. It also guides the approach to his own research in topics ranging from ethics to the philosophy of love and religion.

Spark of Curiosity

“My curiosity was sparked by an exceptionally dynamic and knowledgeable philosophy professor in an Introduction to Philosophy course. I then discovered my passion for the kinds of questions philosophers ask, the first of which I encountered being ‘Why do we suffer?’ ”

Inspiration

“Reading great writers inspires me. There’s something very alluring and somewhat mysterious about the quest for new meanings and the possibility of deepening oneself in relation to the written word, especially as it informs one’s life view.”

Role of Curiosity in Philosophy

“Philosophy is a discipline that places paramount significance on questioning, such that it is arguably more important to generate new questions than it is to provide final answers. Curiosity in ethics, for example, is connected to openness and being willing to accept new ideas brought about through research and discussion.”

Importance of Intellectual Adventures

“There’s great value in taking risks in both asking new questions and asking anew the all-important questions about ourselves and our world, and then trying to develop new ways of thinking to respond to these questions. This pursuit provides a context for living a meaningful life.”

Tingting Zhang

Tingting Zhang

Assistant Professer of Hospitality Management

Tingting Zhang is no stranger to customer experience. After gaining degrees in tourism marketing and consumer science, she taught at Beijing International Studies University while working in various departments — from front desk and food and beverage to the executive lounge — as part of Marriott’s faculty trainee program. “Hospitality is a practical subject, which reacts closely to industry practices and people’s daily lives,” she says. This is especially true for areas she studies, which are customer engagement, mobile and smart technology, and value co-creation.

Spark of Curiosity

“As a graduate student, my graduate advisor asked me to write a case study on Starbucks for his book. After studying their business model for MyStarbucksIdea.com — one of the most representative value co-creation business practices in the hospitality industry — I found it fascinating and useful to solve real-life problems, particularly in people-intensive businesses.”

Inspiration

“I am most interested in the evolving nature of what encourages customers to move from a passive to proactive role.”

Role of Curiosity in Customer Engagement

“One of my research focuses is technological innovation, which is rapidly changing and progressing over time. Staying open to new ideas and new innovations is a necessity for me to keep up with my research work.”

Importance of Intellectual Adventures

“I believe researchers are explorers — mostly intellectually, but sometimes physically. My ethnographic research projects, for example, require firsthand observations and findings. Intellectual adventures are necessary for researchers to explore the world of their academic field. As my advisor told me, every piece of research I do should propose or find something new that contributes to the existing body of knowledge.”