September 27, 2021

Miriam Liss: Research Persistent

After her first interview for an academic position – at Mary Washington – Miriam Liss knew right away she wanted the job.

Professor of Psychological Science Miriam Liss

Professor of Psychological Science Miriam Liss

“It was so much fun. I loved everything about it,” said Liss, who earned a doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Connecticut. “The people were wonderful. The students were wonderful. The town was charming.”

That was 20 years ago. Since then, she has risen in rank from assistant to full professor in the Department of Psychological Science. This fall, she’ll take on the role of chair.

Along the way, her life has woven itself into her work, which always focuses on students. With them, and with many fellow faculty members, she’s explored and published on myriad topics, from feminist identity and body image to sensory processing and self-injury. When Liss became a mother herself – to Emily, 12, and Daniel, 14 – her research turned toward the subject of parenting.

More recently, she’s embraced the concept of mindfulness. The results of a three-year study – with UMW professors Mindy Erchull, Dan Hirshberg, Angela Pitts and David Ambuel – appear in the current issue of The Journal of Contemplative Inquiry. Their research, a collaboration between the departments of Classics, Philosophy and Religious Studies, along with Psychological Science, found decreased levels of depression and anxiety in students who take UMW’s Contemplative Practice course.

Miriam Liss has pursued a wide range of research at UMW, involving students every step of the way. Results of a recent study conducted with felllow faculty members were published in the current edition of 'The Journal of Contemplative Inquiry.'

Miriam Liss has pursued a wide range of research at UMW, involving students every step of the way. Results of a recent study conducted with felllow faculty members were published in the current edition of ‘The Journal of Contemplative Inquiry.’

Liss hopes to instill the idea of mindfulness, and its effects on mental wellness, at an even earlier age, by collaborating with Mary Washington students and a social worker at Spotsylvania’s Riverview Elementary School to implement a first-grade curriculum. She’s guiding her research team to get the program off the ground and evaluate its effects, and to explore how mindfulness might protect against a variety of mental health outcomes in college students.

From the first course she taught, after that “fun” and fortuitous interview, to the classes she’s teaching, virtually, this semester – Psychology of Women, using the textbook she wrote with Erchull, and Abnormal Psychology – students have remained front and center.

“That’s one of the things I like so much about Mary Washington,” Liss said. “We’re allowed to develop our research agenda in any way we want as long as we’re involving students.”

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
A: Working with students, especially my research students, and allowing their interests, along with my own, to shape what I do. Over the years I’ve worked with so many amazing students.

Q: What’s most challenging?
A: Balancing everything. Sometimes I feel like I have so many balls in the air I’m afraid I’m going to drop one.

Q: Any big plans as department chair?
A: My colleagues and I have been working to develop a course through the Department of Psychological Science to prepare students for careers after college.

Q: What’s the one thing people would be most surprised to learn about you?
A: They might be surprised to know how involved I’ve been with theater. I made my Fredericksburg début in 2015 as the mother in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I love singing. I can do a mean show tune. My true fantasy is to retire and get on the stage.

Q: Any mottos you live by?
A: Don’t get so tangled up in your thoughts. Just because you think it, doesn’t mean it’s true. Also, I have a general motto of self-acceptance. We’re all going to mess up. It’s OK. We can still love all the parts of ourselves, not just the great parts.