When Personal Experience Meets Psychology: Mark Koranda

While lectures and classroom discussions certainly affect our understanding of a given topic, applying classroom insights to life experience takes that knowledge to another level.

Such is the case for two of our own – graduate student Mark Koranda and undergraduate Samantha Michaels. Each leads a student organization that was launched through the thoughtful pairing of personal experience and psychology. To learn more, read on and then visit the Student Organization Fair on Tuesday, February 11 at the Kohl Center to meet Mark and Samantha.


Graduate student Mark Koranda

Mark Koranda’s path to a psychology PhD began when he enlisted in the military out of high school, translating Pashto in Afghanistan for the Marine Corps.

“Despite bridging language divides, it was clear that conflicts were more about differences in individuals’ views, about psychology. So I enrolled as a psychology major at the University of St. Thomas. It was there that I began wondering if language might be part of the problem. I went on to study the subtle biases built into using language as a graduate student in the Language and Cognitive Neuroscience Lab here at UW-Madison.”

“Among other things, the  lab looks at how using language – talking or writing – is crucial to learning and insight. I’ve been journaling since high school, but for the longest time the experience would frustrate me as much as create insight. After learning more about the cognitive mechanisms of using language in the lab, I started modifying my journaling process in my personal life into a reliable, powerful tool for self-growth.”

Mark first developed reflection practices as personal exercises in critical thinking to help with his dissertation work, but saw how adapting them could help with broader, more personal goals. His student organization, Skilled Reflection, invites participants to journal, guided with concrete, grounded questions.

“At Skilled Reflection meetings, everyone writes individually for about an hour, in response to specific questions, to work toward better understanding themselves as a student and a person. We reflect and write about changes of mind and behavior that address the challenges of being a student and discovering ourselves at the same time. The best part is that it’s just journaling. Everything you write is entirely self-defined and stays private.”

For students, the benefits of journaling are many, says Mark. Reflecting on topics like identity conflict (“like when you feel like you’re not student material”) and work-life balance can greatly reduce stress and free up time. At its core, “skilled reflection is the idea that each of us is a ‘course’ in personal critical thinking puzzles. A course worth mastering.”

Check out skilledreflection.org for more information.