Pyszczynski named 2020 Outstanding Research Mentor

Thomas A. Pyszczynski, distinguished professor of psychology

Tom Pyszczynski, distinguished professor of psychology, has been named the winner of the second annual UCCS Outstanding Research Mentorship Award.

Pyszczynski is internationally recognized scholar in the field of social psychology and one of the co-creators of terror management theory. The theory’s development led to the creation of a sub-discipline of social psychology, called experimental existential psychology.

Pyszczynski’s nominators for the award called attention to his dual status as an outstanding scholar and a compassionate mentor. He has co-authored more than 150 publications, nearly 100 of which include student co-authors. His sponsored research totals more than 2.4 million dollars in grants, which have supported numerous graduate students. 18 of his former mentees hold faculty positions at universities across the country.

As Molly Maxfield ’09, one of Pyszczynski’s former mentees and now Associate Professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at Arizona State University, wrote, “On a professional level, he is incredibly accomplished, publishing in the most prestigious journals in his field and acquiring numerous grants to fund his work and support his students. And on a personal level, he is thoughtful, patient, and constantly encouraging growth in his students – wonderful qualities in a mentor.”

Research mentors foster the success of their mentees in a number of ways. Pyszczynski’s nominators highlighted his individualistic approach, frequently helping students to develop their own research “niche.”

“Tom does not create carbon copies of himself,” Maxfield wrote. “He gets to know students’ interests, helps them take a deep dive into the relevant literature, and supports their development of creative research methods to investigate those interests. His mentees have gone on to develop research investigating some of the ‘big’ questions – meaning, identity, connectedness and life after death, among others. As a result, his mentorship has broadened the scope of the sub-discipline he helped create.”

Nominators write that Pyszczynski treats students as junior colleagues with their own skills, interests and ideas. His style of questioning is “both challenging and kind,” encouraging students to think through difficult decisions and critically consider their own research trajectory. Above all, former students and colleagues celebrate his willingness to put in additional work to create meaningful research opportunities for students, all while simply saying, “I would have wanted someone to do this for me when I was a student.”

“I am a stronger and more confident researcher directly because of Dr. Pyszczynski’s thoughtful mentorship,” wrote McKenzie Lockett, a current UCCS Ph.D. student pursuing her doctorate degree in clinical psychology under Pyszczynski’s mentorship. “He exemplifies the type of research mentor I hope to be one day.”

The Outstanding Research Mentor Award is awarded by the UCCS Office of Research and recognizes the extraordinary efforts by a faculty and/or staff member for providing outstanding research mentoring to UCCS students, staff, research associates, and/or faculty.

Pyszczynski was recognized during the Nov. 20 closing ceremony of the first-ever virtual Mountain Lion Research Week.