Professor spotlight: Psychology professor awarded Distinguished Professor Award

Brenda Zelaya

Profesor Dominik Guess in Germany. Photo courtesy Dominik Guess
Professor Dominik Guess in Bamberg, Germany where he studied and worked for 10 years. Photo courtesy Dominik Guess

For a German student and now psychology professor, choosing a career path was not an easy task. This uncertainty was stirred because he couldn’t figure out what really moved him. But– something changed.

He realized that his real vocation was centered on the cultural knowledge he had gathered while learning numerous languages and studying abroad in his teens. At this moment, he knew that researching and teaching others about cross-cultural behaviors was his real mission.

This professor, who at one point in life even considered dropping out of school, achieved one of the most important awards UNF grants to its faculty members at the Fall Convocation Ceremony on Friday, Aug. 26.

Professor Dominik Guess. Photo courtesy Dominik Guess
Professor Dominik Guess. Photo courtesy Dominik Guess

This is the story of Psychology Professor Dominik Guess, who received the Distinguished Professor Award for his achievements in teaching and applied research.

“It’s an honor,” Guess said of the award. “I am very thankful that I can be at UNF, thankful that I can work with wonderful students, thankful that I can do the research that I wanted to do.”

Guess has been teaching at UNF for 13 years, during which time he has been able to combine his passion for teaching with research centered around human behavior. Guess is native to Germany. While growing up there, he always enjoyed studying abroad learning new languages, including English, Latin, French, Portuguese and German, his mother tongue.

“I went to France, and then I thought, ‘Wow, I can use what I used in school.’ And we spoke French in the families, we lived there for two weeks and I was so curious,” Guess said. “And I realized that I think in a certain way, but when I’m in a different culture I realize, ‘Wait a minute, they do things differently.’”

It is through these experiences that he gained cultural awareness, leading him to study the behaviors of different cultures. To satisfy his curiosity, he’s traveled to diverse countries, including India, the Philippines and Brazil, where he collected data and compared decision making procedures.

Students also accompany Guess on trips to South Africa, Guatemala, Germany and other countries where they study how creativity varies across nations. These trips allow Guess to experience differences, starting with basic gestures, that he can then share with his students in his classrooms.

Student participants in Trivandrum. Photo courtesy of Dominik Guess
Student participants in Trivandrum. Photo courtesy of Dominik Guess

“I remember when I was the first time in India. [I was] very nervous, and I had asked for support of the University of Trivandrum and we were sitting there in a room,” Guess said. “I thought, ‘Oh my goodness. He [a professor] doesn’t want us to do the research.’ And I didn’t have the cultural knowledge that in India this kind of making an eight with the head is a sign for listening and for approval.”

The University ended up approving of Guess’s request to do research, revealing to him that even simple aspects of human behavior hold different meanings for various groups of people.

Guess recommends students to always follow their passion. He remembers that there was a time in his college career when he couldn’t find his interest, he felt disappointed of professors, and even thought of leaving school.

“I mentioned that in my [convocation] speech that I worked at a tea and wine store. And the owner was selling the tea store, and he liked me, and he said, ‘Why don’t you buy the tea store?’” Guess said. “And I thought for a while, ‘It would be nice to own a tea store and a wine store, sell tea, drink my tea and give up the studies.’”

One of his professors at the time captivated him with his curiosity and ability to explain complex concepts with examples. He was open-minded and supportive, and he helped Guess recognize that being passionate about something is the key to staying focused.

Students in Baguio City, Philippines fill out a survey. Photo courtesy Dominik Guess
Students in Baguio City, Philippines fill out a survey. Photo courtesy Dominik Guess

“I think it’s important to get excited about something,” Guess said. “Go for your passion — if you work outside, if you work in academia, whatever you do — and that gives you the drive and motivation to succeed.”

Guess didn’t purchase the wine store, but he did find his passion in cross-cultural research. As with much research, this came with a price.

“I was lucky that I got grants from the National Science foundation and grants from the European Commission to study these behaviors from different cultures,” said Guess. “The acceptance rates are 10 percent, so it is very tough to get money. I am lucky that I got the support.”

Guess plans to be more selective on his research moving forward and investing most of his energy in bigger projects.

“I know I can retire, but it’s a little early to retire,” Guess said. “I think it’s good, rather than 10 small projects, to do three big projects, perhaps. Now I can afford that they take two or three years — the big projects — but then you have probably more impact.”

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