Baker uses educational leave to explore a new line of research


By: Sara Banton
Creative Services Student Writer

Baker research screenshot

For faculty members, educational leave is an opportunity for professional development, allowing time for activities that expand teaching abilities and foster intellectual growth without the constraints of teaching courses. Suzanne Baker, psychology professor and assistant department head, took educational leave during the fall 2019 semester.

With a research team composed of several psychology students, Baker studied attitudes towards animals and developed a survey to further research this topic. “The best part was having a lot of flexibility and time to focus on a new project without being distracted by other professional commitments,” she said.

“Working on these projects provides research experience for JMU students,” Baker said. “My research team this semester was heavily involved in designing the survey to examine what factors are correlated with attitudes." 

Baker’s main goal was to explore a new line of research. Thus far, her research has focused on animal behavior, specifically looking at basic behavioral processes in deer mice. “I wanted to work on projects in a new area for me, looking at people’s attitudes toward different animal species, and how those attitudes relate to support for things like conservation and habitat protection for different species,” she said.

To begin this project, Baker had to first study what was already known about people’s attitudes toward animals. Literature about the topic spans different disciplines, including psychology, wildlife management and tourism studies to name a few. “Even just finding some of it was kind of a treasure hunt,” Baker said. “Evaluating this literature to determine factors that seem to be most important was a fun task.”

During the second part of the project, Baker and her research team designed a survey that looks at correlations among important variables that play into people’s attitudes towards certain types of animals, like the size of the species, its taxonomic group, and how familiar people are with the animal. It also looks at the role emotions have in a human’s attitude toward animals and how those relate to both liking the animal and support for conservation. Baker hopes to administer the survey in the fall 2020 semester to gather the data.

Faculty are only eligible to apply for educational leave every seven years, but Baker said she would enjoy taking another one in the future. She isn’t sure what she would work on just yet during it—but knows that she would have more ideas by then.

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Published: Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Last Updated: Wednesday, September 16, 2020

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