Meghan Duff, PsyD '06Clinical Psychology
The Power of Curiosity and Convergence
In technology and politics, every day we see further evidence of the philosophy that drives Dr. Meghan Duff: to seek connections that lead to cooperative solutions. From childhood, Meghan trained her curiosity on integrating her interests. “I haven’t been very good at seeing disciplinary boundaries as they are,” she says with a laugh. And, as a professor of psychology at the University of Maine in Machias, she teaches her students in sociology, anthropology, and psychology to recognize and respect boundaries of those disciplines, then move beyond them, and discover where bodies of knowledge and experience intersect.
In tiny Machias, about as far down east as the U.S. coastline runs, Meghan sends students in all three disciplines out to work on community projects. “I love how schools of thought connect. I never wanted to only treat people in clinics; I want to know how that work is attached to policy and how that’s attached to the lives of other community members,” she says. “When I came to Antioch University New England with a degree in anthropology and russian language and linguistics, I used to joke with my professors that I was an anthropology student doing a very long participant study.”
Seeking Connections Over Specializations
Meghan eschews specialization, preferring what may be an emerging trend toward addressing social problems. “I don’t want expertise. It’s enough that grad school forces a level of expertise. I think we need more people who know how to see connections.” Her internship sent her to Portland, Oregon to hone her skills at advocating for immigrants and refugees, but she drifted toward working to help fractious groups cooperate. “My training came alive in asking ‘how do you work across divides, through conflict, to see where goals converge?’ Instead of training experts at working with, say, left-handed blind Somali refugees, so they can be the best in the world at that, we need more people who value stepping back and listening, trying to figure out how to work together.”
Meghan’s sensitivity to circumstances and readiness to respond have shaped the way she’s made career decisions, and planning seldom plays a role. She studied Russian because she “thought the Cyrillic alphabet was interesting” and explored psychology after being asked to help an eight year-old Russian girl adjust to her new school in Vermont.
About her decision to enter Antioch University New England’s doctoral program she says, “I thought I’d give it a try and see what it’s about,” an approach she takes to all stages in her development. “I don’t really plan things, and have never felt stress from lack of knowing what my plans were. As long as I’m around people I enjoy working with, have a relatively stable way to keep a roof over my head, and I’m interested in what I’m doing, I’m happy. Think about it, think about all the wonderful jobs there are to do in the world.”
Finding Comfort in Her Compassion
Like many compassionate people drawn to graduate study of psychology, Meghan admits that she’s imbued with a deep and often difficult concern for others. As a young 4-H kid, she mostly reached out to animals, extending her caring nature toward suffering humans, and now devoting her life to students. She recalls the first time she saw homeless people on the streets of New York, and how she wanted to give them all her money but her parents told her that wasn’t a good idea. “And I wrestled with that dilemma as a therapist, too – the impulse to help when you know there are reasons you shouldn’t. When teaching, I think students have their own experience with that emotional reaction. So I ask myself how I can make room for that without shutting them down and telling them they have to ignore people. How do I make space for them to consider it without feeling like there are great problems in the world that are going to crush them?”
She says she learned to cope with her extraordinary concern through the consolation of teachers, who told her it was alright. One of those teachers was the late AUNE faculty member Dr. Peter Martin. Meghan says she thrives on students seeing how lessons in sociology, anthropology, and psychology can connect to relevant issues in their lives and futures. “My thing as a teacher is: engage complexity, don’t run away from it because it’s there.”