Alberta Engvall Siegel -- Accomplishments
Excerpts from an interview with Alberta E. Siegel (AES) by Lloyd Borstelmann (LB), at Stanford University on September 15th, 1992.

LB: I wonder if there's other aspects of your career to date, that are more salient, or that particularly salient or memorable for you that we haven't touched upon so far?

AES: Well I did do more writing in the field of television and children. And the result of that writing is that I served on the Surgeon General's Advisory Panel on television and social behavior. And that's how I got to know Eli Rubenstien, who you may have met.

LB: Oh yes.

AES: Subsequently he was the staff director of our program. He and I have stayed friends ever since. And then 10 years later they did an update on that report, and I served on the committee that oversaw the update, and Eli also served on that committee. Eli and I served on a panel for the National Science Foundations on the effects of TV advertising. He and I kind of became a team, and really did a number of things together. And liked each other very much. I never did more research on television. Not having done any in the first place, I never did any more. But any way, and I never had the capability, but it led to all kinds of things. And John White once said. someplace, that I was the Godmother of television research in North America, and that's about right. I did a lot of things to make television research happen, without doing much of it myself. I served on two or three NIH study sections. And those experiences are very valuable for keeping up in the field. I especially enjoyed the one that gave the research career awards. And we were able to travel around the country and identify promising young people, and promising young psychiatrists and support them for a research career. At Stanford, what I have been doing in recent years is an awful lot of grievances and sexual harassment situations, and sex discrimination situations. I don't join organizations that try to advance the cause of women and try to segregate men and women. I don't believe in that. And so when the administration looks around for a woman on the faculty to serve on some high level panel they find me. And I end up doing a lot of that.

LB: Indeed.

AES: So I learned all about neuro surgery. And just now we're finishing a report in which I learned all about radiology. And in almost everyone of these situations, I have come down on the side of the woman. So I get a little nervous when people say. "Well this committee is going to be just another white wash." Heck, you know.. my record is almost 100% that I recommend on behalf of the woman. But I don't sign too many petitions, and I don't sit around and participate in seminars about, "Can you have it all?" And all of this stuff that's going on with respect to women. But I do, most of what I do at Stanford now is really on behalf.women...

LB: I think there's a difference between a militant and an activist.

AES: That's probably about it, I'm the activist, who's not the militant. But there is so much of that stuff going on now at the universities, at least in this university.

AES: One of the things that I did for the SRCD, was I got the history committee started. Alice Smuts got in touch with me through Harold. I forget what the original contact was, but I said to her, "You know, I know all of the old timers in child development, because they all live in California." She was writing the history of child development. And I said if you'd ever like to meet these people, why, come out to California. So she couldn't resist that. And she came out and did oral history interviews with Mary Jones and I think she saw Nancy Bailey, and talked with Lois. Lois was kind of a professional oral history giver.

LB: Yes I know.

AES: And talked with some other people, Jean Walker McFarland. I believe she talked with her. So then she was telling to me about this problem that people in the field of child development, their papers aren't properly taken care of and don't get into archives. And so I said we ought to have a committee at SRCD. I think it was that same meeting in New Orleans in 1977, that I brought Alice to the governing council, of which I was a member of that time. And she made her pitch and a lot of people said. "This has been the only interesting thing that has happened in this whole council meeting." You know, everything else is, journal budgets...

LB: Routine.

AES: Yeah. routine. And this was exciting; she was talking about what had happened to Gazelle's papers, and what had happened to the various folks. And so they set up this standard committee on history and they bought the chairman. Bob Sears. I believe by then he had published his...

LB: Yes in '75 it was published.

AES: That's right. And he did that because, Milton Sen wanted to publish a monograph about his interviews that he did. And Bob gave Milton Sen a lot of help, as he was the editor of the monographs. He gave Sen a lot of help in getting those materials into shape. And that got him interested in history, and he went ahead and did that chapter for, was is volume four, or whatever, whatever he used. And then he became chairman of the history committee. And Alice, I think, was made a member of that committee. And they got money from Phil Sapeer.

LB: I think so.

AES: To get that committee going. And so I was a very minor midwife, but got it going. So I never served on that committee, but I've always been tickled to see how it's developing. And now I have a. I finally have a graduate student who's interested in a historical topic that I've always wanted to investigate. And she's just done her dissertation on it, and that is the history of orphanages.

LB: Oh my, yes.

I've always wondered why that literature on the effects of orphanages was so confused and muddled. And I suspected that it was because people didn't understand orphanages. And I now feel very strongly that, that was the case. So I have this student named Bernadine Barr who has been working on the history of orphanages.

LB: Good. My impression from all you've been saving is that you really have enjoyed teaching.

AES: Yes I have.

LB: And could you talk a little bit about that and having your own ways of teaching and what it is that has been rewarding to you about it?

AES: You know when Helen Coake was given the G. Stanley Hall award, I think it was Larry Colburg who said that, in presenting the award, he said that, a student would go to Miss Coake and say I'd like to study some topic, and Miss Coake would say, "Well I don't know anything about that topic, but if you would give me a list of references I will learn." So end up knowing that Miss Coake was a fine professor, but don't associate her with any one topic of research, except I suppose siblings. But you know, she launched Harriet, on Harriet's work with institutions, which came out of Harriet's clinical experience. And she launched Larry on his work on moral development and suffering. And I always admired that so much. I met Miss Coake once in later years. and she was kind of a starchy character. But I admired that idea that a student could come to a professor and the professor would encourage the student to work on what they were interested in. And the professor would try to learn. And I haven't done as well as Miss Coake did, but that's kind of been my...

LB: Your approach, right.

AES: I had a, I guess one of my pet students, was a man named Fred Volkmar, who was a medical student. And came to me on the recommendation of Joe Hunt. He had done his undergraduate work with Joe Hunt. And the trick with Fred was helping him fit in psychology study with being a medical student and then later a resident. So it took a lot of accommodating, but we managed it and Fred got a masters degree in psychology while he was in medical school. And he's just not gotten tenure on the faculty of the Yale Child Study Center. And as he told me at the time, "And I didn't have to do any bio-chemistry to do it!"

LB: Incidentally didn't you spend a year at the Child Study Center?

AES: Yes. And that was in an effort with Fred to finish up some stuff that we had done together. By then he was working there, and it was effort to finish up some research, I don't know that we succeeded really in doing that very well, but we made a good try. I get very fond of my students, and I continue to be close to them and continue to work with them, in the cases when they're quite gifted and they become my friends. I would say that teaching in a medical school you have to have a lot of tolerance for somewhat superficial approach to your subject. Because you don't have enough hours to do much more than a superficial approach. And you also have to be willing to teach students who aren't really very interested. Some are, and some say, "Oh this is the only class that I've had in medical school that makes any sense to me." But more commonly they say. "I don't understand why I'm supposed to be learning this." And see, you have to be able to work with that to teach in a medical school. Also the case in teaching residents, it is surprising people who go into psychiatry and child psychiatry how little they know about human development.

LB: They know nothing. And how little they care.

AES: Yeah, right. They're commonly very technique oriented. They want to learn to be a good interviewer; they want to learn to...

LB: Be a good therapist.

AES: Be a good therapist, but don't bother me with the facts. Yeah, that's true.

So I would not say that teaching in medical school, is the most rewarding career for a developmental psychologist. And I think one of the reasons that I have enjoyed working with the NIMH so much, and with the social policy committee, and with the SRCD, is I had to do things like that in order to be a developmental psychologist. Because there is nothing intrinsic to a medical school, which makes you be a developmental psychologist. Everything makes you be a clinical psychologist, which I'm not. But that's where all the press is, including my own faculty colleagues in the rest of the university who think I'm a clinical psychologist because I'm in the medical school. And who could blame them? So it takes some doing to retain an identity as a developmental psychologist.

LB: Well I would guess that your appointment is somewhat unusual in medical schools. That is to say, a non-clinical child psychologist.

AES: That's right in a tenure line position, it's unusual in another way; I was the first [women] ever to be promoted to the rank of tenure in the medical school at Stanford, to be promoted to the rank of professor. And there had been women psychiatrists and women clinical psychologists around here, but neither of those fields creates the academic credentials that enable you to be promoted to professor.