When Having the Smarts Is Not Enough with Dr. Gregory Cason

Dr. Gregory Cason  [20:24]

And they want you to graduate, I took me a while to kind of see that as tough as they were at times, they really want you to graduate, like they’re trying to push you to, they just want you to be a good quality that


Dr. Russell Strickland  [20:35]

I think you’re lucky in that regard, I think that there are a lot of people that are indifferent as to whether you graduate or not. And then there are some people who don’t want you to graduate. But if you force them on it, they’ll they’ll let you graduate, like you have to, you know, they consider themselves the guardians to the ivory tower or something like that. And if you can push your way and pass them, so be it, you earned it, but they’re still going to be pushing you back the whole way. I don’t see as much of that anymore, but a lot of indifference I see as opposed to people who really want you to graduate. So I think you may be a little bit lucky in that regard.


Dr. Gregory Cason  [21:09]

I was lucky with my committee, I the the reason I didn’t say but the reason my Stats Professor wouldn’t work with my advisor was because he was notorious for failing people on their defense. So they get all the way to the end, and he would crash them right at the right in the defense. So that was that was a major reason. I’m like, okay, I can’t deal with that I’ve got and I want you. So this is what we’re going to do. And that was quite a political move. Thing I have to say is, you’re right, because unfortunately, I worked with one of those professors as well. And I remember him kind of gleefully saying how he failed people illegally, because he did consider himself a gatekeeper. So I, I just avoided him. I was polite, nice everything. But yeah, I stayed away. So you got to identify those people and stay away from them


Dr. Russell Strickland  [22:06]

It’s very important we, we had so when I was going through preliminary exams. So before the dissertation, we had a professor who now he was he was actually a good guy, he is this was tongue in cheek, but the way our preliminary exams worked is you took these massive written exams all day, you know, one week, and then the next week, you had an oral exam. And everybody knew that the oral exam was all about finding your weaknesses in the written exam. And then just sort of digging into those those open wounds. And so you had to be self aware enough to know what you didn’t do right on the written exam. And then you have to strengthen those those areas, so that when they came back on the oral exam, you’re ready for them. And everybody knew this is the way it was. So no surprises there. Well, we found that the guy after the written exam, we walked by his office one day, and he had I don’t know where he got this from, it looked like a magazine article, I have no idea who would have published this. But it was an article on how to win at giving an oral exam. And and they met like that how the professor could win. And and they talked about, you know, if you remember the old British surgical theatres from Victoria, where they have a, like a funnel, basically, if you will, you the idea is you put the examinee down there on a swivel chair, and the room is darkened, except each professor who asked questions. And they’re strategically arranged throughout the theater, they have a light and they turn the light on when they ask a question. And any professor, or any group of professors who can get the students to turn all the way around in the swivel chair, got a point. And if you can manage to swi to swivel the student around fast enough that they fell off their seat, then you win as a professor, and we’re looking at this and we’re like, okay, that’s all so cute. But we have an oral exam next week, and you’re the one getting it. So a little extra mental pressure there when we were getting getting prepared for that the next week.


Dr. Gregory Cason  [24:06]

That’s cruel. I mean, that’s just cruel.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [24:09]

It is. But he was a good guy.


Dr. Gregory Cason  [24:12]

He was it was always just humor for him.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [24:15]

It was humor for him. But also it was I think it was very intentional added pressure. Because in his mind, at some point you graduate from this was at the University of Chicago, you graduate from this school and you go on, you’re gonna have a target on your back. And he wants people to be ready for that kind of pressure. And so this was a situation where it was not like a risk free area. I mean, if you if you crumbled under that amount of pressure, well, maybe that’s the answer. But, but he basically was just sort of upping the temperature a little bit. You know, I remember I got into the exam and one of the professors, she asked me the question that I knew I was expecting, and I heard the question I’m like, okay, I got this and I explained it everything she said, I’m satisfied. He immediately says, why not? from the other side of the window I’m like, oh, my chair’s swiveling. He’s gonna get a point here. And then he asked me a follow-up question. And again, I remember this series of voices in my head saying, wait, I understand what he’s saying he’s speaking English. I understand the question. I actually know how to answer this question. Wait for just a second. Now speak. And I answered his questions and said okay. And we moved on. But he did. I mean, I think that those two things were related, that he was wanting to sort of have that pressure and have everybody experience this, you know, heart in the throat kind of moment, and see how they handled it.


Dr. Gregory Cason  [25:34]

So, you know, what you’re pointing out is actually something kind of interesting. One, I mean, yeah, how difficult that process is, I don’t wish that process upon anyone. But, you know, you get through it. The The thing about the oral and preparing for the oral that’s it’s good advice to prepare for the oral, then presentation. And I’ll tell you in psychology, here we were used to in California, we no longer have this because they sued. But we used to have an oral exam for psychologists, see do a written exam, once you passed it, then you had to do an oral exam. The oral exam was notorious, people that’s like two thirds of people fail that every time. And I took it and I was completely confident. I’m like, I can take you know, I sail through I’m going to do this, I had all kinds of false confidence, failed, spectacularly. And then I took our class and the how to do an oral exam, I took it with some other fellows who I was with you from UCLA, they all failed too, they were incredible people. The thing that was interesting about them was this class, as he said, “It isn’t about knowledge. It’s about presentation.” Yeah, he goes, “You already know this stuff, we’re not going to work on that. We’re just going to work on how to present the information.” And his advice was golden. And what we did just to present the information ended up being the thing to do. And with, I think with, with your dissertation defense, it really is good to think about how you’re going to present it and practicing that defense.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [27:20]

Yeah. Can you remember? Was there a nugget that you can remember that that really was an epiphany moment from that class?


Dr. Gregory Cason  [27:28]

Yes, he repeated the same thing over and over and it used to take it drove me nuts, but he was exactly right. He said, “If you pull your car into a driveway, you have to be able to back it out.” And he, so basically anything you said you had to be able to justify and be able to talk about. So he said, the minute something comes out of your mouth, you have to be able to figure it out and be able to say it, like what what’s underneath it, because that that was a lot of that. So some of it was holding yourself back from saying everything you just said what you were really comfortable speaking about.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [28:07]

Yeah, when I was in school, they told us, you know, the most important thing that you can learn while you’re here is to know what you know and know what you don’t know. He said, it’s okay to not know everything because no one does. It’s not okay not to know anything, you’re supposed to be well informed. But you no one knows everything. So just know what you know, know what you don’t know. And understand that if you’re at a professional conference or something like that, and someone’s asking you a question. There’s a 70 to 80% chance that they’re asking you that question so that they can talk more and have a 20 to 30% chance that they legitimately want to know the answer. So definitely do not start answering somebody, when you’re basically playing right into their research or something like that. If you don’t know what you’re talking about.


Dr. Gregory Cason  [28:51]

I go, Wow, that’s great, great advice. I was once with a woman who was giving a talk. And I was sitting next to one of the professors. And she the someone else asked this woman a question that she just kind of ventured and answer. Clearly, it wasn’t based on fact, the woman next to me looked it up. Because you have phones now. So she looked up the answer, which was on this certain research that absolutely contradicted what this woman said. And I’m like, afterward, I was just like, you got to be really careful about doing that.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [29:29]

Yeah, I think it’s perfectly okay to say, “Well, I really don’t know,” if you’d like we can, we can talk about it. Maybe it works this way. And if you’re very, very clear that you’re you’re spitballing and you’re you’re thinking it through with them. It’s that’s a respectful way of really engaging with the question. And of course, the intent there is that you’re starting a little bit of a discussion with the person as well. So if they know something, they can contribute to it. You’re not shutting them down. But yeah, if you if you’re just sort of spitballing and you’re not making it very, very clear that that’s what you’re doing. Yeah, you can get in a lot of trouble for that. Because a lot of times the the people who you might want to review your next paper or help you with your next job or work on another project are all in that room. And if they all lose respect for you, because you do something like that, quick way to torpedo yourself,


Dr. Gregory Cason  [30:17]

It is, the minute you introduce that doubt, people are gonna start doubting other things you say. So yeah, it’s really important not to do that.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [30:24]

Exactly. Right. Well, so it’s been an interesting transition, I would say from wanting to be a psychologist, all a Bob Newhart character, who I don’t remember what his name was, I think it was


Dr. Gregory Cason  [30:36]

Bought up was Bob, Bob something, but it was yeah.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [30:40]

I think was Bob Newhart in the second show. But it was something else in the first one if I remember. But anyway, to the things that you’re doing now seems to be a little bit of a of a little little different than what Bob did back then. So how did what was it like after you graduated?


Dr. Gregory Cason  [30:59]

Ah, well, you know what, first of all, I can say, whatever you whatever you plan on probably won’t happen. Unless you’re very, very


Dr. Russell Strickland  [31:09]

Don’t shut yourself off to possibilities, because there’s so many possibilities out there.


Dr. Gregory Cason  [31:13]

That’s true, or you go like I did, and see, when I was coming up through school, the AIDS pandemic was absolutely ravaging the gay community. There were people dying all over the place, we had a government that didn’t care. We had people all over the place who were saying, just send them off to an island, it was a terrible, terrible situation to go through. So one thing I did was in my fellowship, as I, I did a fellowship specializing in dealing with people with a terminal illness and dealing with HIV. And it was absolute was a medical psychology was absolutely wonderful. And I wanted to then work in the field. Well, the minute I was in my fellowship, they came out with something called protease inhibitors, which are a drug that absolutely arrested HIV, it didn’t eliminate it, but it stopped it in its path from replicating as severely and it saved people’s lives everywhere. So it was really exciting to be a part of that we established new programs and all kinds of things to help people get back on their feet as part of the fellowship. But one thing I didn’t anticipate was every job in the field got completely frozen, then because they’re like, oh, well, we don’t need people anymore. We don’t need psychologists anymore. So I had couldn’t find a job. And I don’t have other sources of money, I had to pay for everything myself. So I went, Oh, my God, I just randomly applied, I did my internship in a counseling center, UT Counseling Center, just because I wanted to have that experience. And it was a great experience as well, I’m not trying to say everything was great. It wasn’t I had a lot of struggle, believe me. But looking back, I can push away the bad and just look at the good. But the bottom line is that I was like, I applied to all these jobs. And I got jobs in counseling center. So I went on to do call, ran on to direct a college counseling center, a small college counseling center, here in Burbank. And, again, every job is what you make it. So I’m like, I’m gonna make this really more expanded not just see people for therapy, but do lots of interactive programs and presentations and do things like this work with the professors, again, a wonderful job. And then from there, I wanted to go into HIV. So then when a job did come available, I did take that and I was heading up here and we had a we had a organization we still do called Aids Project Los Angeles, or AP LA. And there I was in charge of the mental health case management, women services and residential services. So I was overall these programs, and and more directly took on the mental health step. But the other ones I was just a super, I was the director. So really, in all those programs got to really work in that field. And so it was it was just a continual evolution for me as I walked through.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [34:15]

Absolutely, yeah. It’s amazing to me how many people I’ve talked to on this show, who are doing things that they never envisioned doing while they were in school, because of the opportunities that are available. It’s so difficult to write the script even when you were a small child, saying I want to be a psychologist growing up, that’s still not exactly what you envisioned this life now, at that time.


Dr. Gregory Cason  [34:41]

No, and you know, it’s interesting, 9/11 happened while I was working at a play, and that changed, will change everyone, I think at that time and really tried to get a different perspective. And I thought, you know, is this really what I want to do? I didn’t like working there. I didn’t like administration. And that was it. Thought I wanted to do like research and administration and head up big programs and make a huge impact. It was interesting. I, I started to do some clinical work. And that’s when really I allowed the clinical work to start to expand. And then I refocused on clinical work, which wasn’t my intention going through school. Yeah. So how did you go from there, to becoming Dr. Greg and all over the place  On the media? You know, it’s some of it was happenstance. You know, when I worked at that Counseling Center in Houston, they would, they would put me in front of the camera whenever they wanted to do an interview for that. They’re about 2025 people that work there, but I was the one that did like their interviews and whatnot. And so, you know, as time went on, I got to do all these different things. And did things just as a therapist, and so long story short, I think it’s a lot of it’s because I live in Los Angeles. Opportunities came my way and, and I went for them. So a lot of psychologists will say no, or not go for them. I’m I’m of the mind. No, I’d love to do it. Because one thing that that original professional brought me to University of Houston, his whole thing was giving psychology away. Psychology is not something that we practice inside of a room in secret, give away the information. And now with the internet and everything, we we see this as a very common practice. So people, I think sometimes people give away incorrect psychology, ergo, Tiktok and Facebook etc. Sometimes they say some pretty damaging things or lead people astray. But But I think to give away the information of psychology is really one of my passions, I love to educate people.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [36:48]

Yeah. So one of the things that as we’re recording this right now that we, the the Olympics is going on in Tokyo, and by the time everybody sees this, he’ll probably already be forgotten, such as our new cycles, right. But I’m wondering if you have any perspective on here most recently, the one of the big faces of the Olympics was is Simone Biles and, and she decided to take a step back during this process. I’m wondering if you have any any any thoughts on that, that aren’t just apropos to the Olympians but people who are maybe working on their doctoral degree or, or any other thing where they might encounter what they consider to be an undue amount of stress?


Dr. Gregory Cason  [37:33]

Yeah, well, you know, I, it wasn’t even the stress that my first impression of Simone Biles, when she came out, was how tremendously strong and brave she had to be to say that, right? It was interesting to see all these nasty white male talking heads. I don’t know what was going on, on TV, when she did that saying how horrible she was, she couldn’t stand the pressure, she’s weak, etc. And I thought How dare they, it is takes so much courage to say I have a mental illness or an a, you know, even I’m suffering. And what she said she didn’t even say she had mental illness, she just didn’t feel like she was mentally able to be there. And that makes sense. Because these people have to have absolute focus to be able to perform at their top level. And it’s the same if you want to expand it to, you know, doing doctoral work, etc. We have to be able to say when we need help. And we also have to be able to say when we can’t do something, if we just power through because we’re afraid of appearing weak. Guess what? You are weak. Yeah. The reality is, is that strong people admit weakness, weak people try to pretend it’s not happening. So I thought, I don’t know what it was. But she impressed me so much. And now I’ve seen conflicting stories I have to I’ve not even read up on the whole thing. But I’m very I was so initially impressed and the words that she used, that she was so reflective and so respectful of her teammates, if she had broken her ankle, we’d all understand, right? We’d all say, oh, that’s a bummer. She can’t perform. Yeah, it’s really very similar. It’s just in the mind, so we can’t see it.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [39:24]

Well, I think that one of the things that you just said there really resonated with me, which is that strong people admit weakness, and weak people do not, it does take strength to do that. And that’s something that I’ve seen time and time again, doing what I do, you know, I help people through the dissertation process. And it seems like so many people want to have this story of, you know, herculean, I was Atlas, I pull the world up on my shoulders, when in fact, that’s not how most people get through the doctoral program. Most people do get help from somewhere, whether it’s someone like me or not, is not relevant to this discussion, it’s that you shouldn’t think that you have to do this all yourself, you know, if you because every dissertation has this page of acknowledgments, dedication, you know, things like that. I haven’t seen one yet that was blank. Everybody, they take someone along the way, think someone along the way, and it’s important to let them earn that thank you ever let them actually help you out in the process, and feel good about that yourself.

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Dr. Russell W. Strickland

RUSSELL STRICKLAND, Ph.D., has been referred to as a “rocket scientist turned management consultant.” In truth, he applies an eclectic body of work from astronomy and nuclear physics to dynamic inventory management to market research to each of his student engagements.