September 2008 -

Gold Minds: Jaime Olavarria - Psychology

As told to Jonathan Kiefer

Jaime Olavarria
Mary Levin photo

I wasn't really planning on going into teaching, and I would have gone anywhere to study—even to an institute that didn't offer teaching. But I came here, and I said, "Fine, I'll do it." I found that I could really talk to students. In a sort of plain way, using a lot of metaphors and a lot of humor. I mean humor that I wasn't really preparing for; it just kind of came to me. I make reference to some brain system working the way a toilet works: If you flush it, water comes in, until it activates a valve and it stops. Things like that. Or, my kids introduced me to that movie Dude, Where's My Car? And there's this part where they order Chinese food and the guy says, "And then?" And he keeps repeating it. "And then?" Once I was saying something about a brain system, and I started doing that. "And then…" And the students who got it, I didn't have to tell them what it was from. OK, sometimes I laughed at my own jokes more than the students did, but it didn't matter. I think the students appreciate it when you can give the material some lightness—that you're not taking it too seriously. I also bring in a rubber brain that I threaten to throw at them.