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Shelley Carson

Associate of the Psychology Department, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences

  • Education

    P.hD. in Psychology, Harvard University
    B.A. in English Literature, University of South Florida

Shelley Carson.

What are your areas of expertise/interest?

My primary area of research interest is the interface between creativity, psychopathology, and resilience. This is such an exciting area because we are finding that engaging in creative activity or work is actually a health benefit! It can reduce stress, regulate emotions, and also help you find meaning in the events of your life.

We also know that there are a number of very highly creative individuals who have struggled with mental illness; Vincet van Gogh, the composer Robert Schumann, and Nobel prize-winning mathematician John Forbes Nash are some examples. How are their creative efforts intertwined with their psychopathology? This is one of the questions I strive to answer in my work.

A second related area of interest for me is the field of brain health. Our brains control everything from our bodily functions to how we experience the greater world. And we need a brain (a creative brain, I might add) in good working order! I want to understand how we can improve the fitness of our amazing brain.

To learn more about my work, watch “The quick start guide to creativity,” presented in a 2017 Tedx Talk.

What can students expect to learn from your course(s)?

I teach a variety of courses at HES, including courses on Creativity, Psychopathology, Resilience, Habits and Habit Change, and the Science of Brain Health.

All of these courses revolve around a theme of better understanding human nature and how humans can best flourish in the very complex physical and social environment that our earth provides for us. My courses examine subject matter from multiple levels of analysis, including biological, psychological, and social/cultural levels.

We also examine case studies that allow students to see others in a new light and to enrich their own lives from a variety of perspectives.

What do you enjoy most about teaching at Harvard Extension School?

I consider students to be my collaborators in the learning experience. Although I may have some acquired expertise, we are all here to learn from each other. And there is no doubt in my mind that I learn as much from students as they learn from me. Every class I come away with more knowledge, and I am so grateful for this!

What advice would you give students interested in taking your courses or returning to school as an adult student?

If you’re returning to school as an adult (which may mean you haven’t been in a classroom for a few years), I understand that you may have some anxiety about what to expect — both from the school experience and from yourself after the education layoff.

I did the same thing! I returned to school (the Extension School, in fact) after being out of the classroom for 25 years! It was scary, but it was one of the best experiences of my life. Returning to school can take your life in a whole new direction, as it did for me. And please remember that you are never too old to follow your dreams — I’m living proof.

My advice is to embrace the learning experience and watch new horizons in your thought processes open before you. Also, try to get to know some of your fellow students. I’ve seen amazing friendships develop here. The Harvard Extension School is a true gift to society.