The professorial personality-to-profession paradigm

Professor Carolina Nuñez, associate dean of the J. Reuben Clark Law School, sits in her office where she displays images of places she has visited to overcome her fear of flying. While personalities can often influence career paths, BYU professors display how personalities and professions don’t always connect. (Lindsey Bakes)

Personalities — we all have them; tests attempt to define them. At BYU, there are 34,737 personalities on campus; even more if you include faculty. For some professors, aspects of their personality are a quiet, hidden force behind their careers. For others, they’re externally defining traits. 

Almost 2,000 instructional employees teach 178 majors at BYU. From construction management to law, health science to advertising, personality stereotypes are often attributed to different careers and departments. No matter how different their personalities may be, however, they all have one thing in common — each chose to become a professor.

The Daily Universe surveyed a portion of BYU’s faculty to gather their insights on the role personalities play in personal and professional settings, and whether personality tests accurately depict themselves.

 “I think there’s some good to personality tests,” construction management professor Justin Weidman said. “If you’re looking for a certain position then a lot of times you’ll find success in people with those types of personalities.”

Weidman and other BYU faculty completed the Myers-Briggs personality test and assessed whether it accurately portrayed their personality. 

Professor Justin Weidman sits in his office, where gifts from former students line his shelves. Wiedman, who was Cosmo during his time as a BYU student, says he reflects his personality and career in his classroom. While personalities can often influence career paths, BYU professors display how personalities and professions don’t always connect. (Lauren Woolley)

“I come off as very reserved, so when the extrovertedness comes out is when my students are surprised,” said Weidman, an extrovert. “Many students are intimidated by me until they get to know me. Many of them are surprised to find out I was Cosmo when I was at BYU, which is shocking because who I am in the suit isn’t the way I present myself to them.”

Prior to becoming a professor, Weidman worked in the construction industry for many years, where he says he enjoyed being part of a team. Weidman, who says he likes to follow order, reflects this in his classroom by “bringing order and structure,” which his personality test results accurately predicted. 

“I don’t accept any late work from students and I’m very strict on the Honor Code, because I want them to be who they say they’re gonna be,” Weidman said. “I’m holding them to higher standards because we’re in an organized field.”

Fellow construction management professor and extrovert Brian Capt parallels Weidman’s standards of a structured and orderly class setting.

“Construction is such a slave to schedules and deadlines,” Capt said. “So with teaching, even though I have a soft spot in my heart and wish I could give them all a pass for every circumstance and situation that comes up in life, it’s hard to do that because construction is so unforgiving.”

Capt, who has taught at BYU for 17 years, says there is no place he would rather be than teaching in front of a classroom. 

“Teaching is my first love and construction is my second,” Capt said. “I can’t think of anything I’d do to change my profession to make it better suit my personality.”

Professor Brian Capt, who shares the same personality type as his colleague, professor Justin Weidman, says he believes personality types are important to know when making decisions with faculty. While personalities can often influence career paths, BYU professors display how personalities and professions don’t always connect. (Lauren Woolley)

Capt and Weidman received nearly identical results in the personality test, which is reflected in the similar ways they lead their classrooms. However, not all faculty members’ careers reflect their personality.

When picturing a stereotypical attorney, you may imagine someone who is used to presenting to a crowd. Maybe they did speech and debate in high school, or perhaps they enjoyed public speaking. J. Reuben Clark Law School Associate Dean Carolina Nuñez, on the other hand, is none of the above.

“I think I’ve always been an introvert. I think that’s a fairly accurate description of me,” Nuñez said. “When I was younger it was more of a crippling shyness that I had … I came to BYU and the whole idea of facing my professor or coming to office hours was incredibly intimidating.”

Despite her “crippling shyness,” Nuñez entered one of the most challenging and physically demanding law professions out there — litigation.

“This idea of public engagement in argument was actually really, really intimidating but nonetheless I did that for a couple of years, even though I was kind of terrified,” Nuñez said.

Along with tackling a career that is extroverted in nature, Nuñez frequently works at overcoming her personal fears that could hold her back from enjoying everything life has to offer.

Professor Carolina Nuñez, Associate Dean of the J. Reuben Clark Law School, stands in front of her wall of images of places she visits to overcome her fear of flying. While personalities can often influence career paths, BYU professors display how personalities and professions don’t always connect. (Lindsey Bakes)

“I actually have a fear of flying and I so desperately do not want that to affect my travel decisions, that I’ve over corrected that,” Nuñez said. “I made a pact with my husband to go to a new country every year. I travel all the time and I’m terrified all the time, but I do it anyway.”

While she may seem to defy her ‘”ntrovert” status, Nuñez recognizes the possible benefits of proper personality tests. She says being aware of others’ personality types as well as your own can help identify strengths and weaknesses ahead of time, making it easier to plan accordingly for them.

Capt also sees the advantage of knowing others’ personality types, especially when interacting with colleagues. 

“I think personality types are good to know when you’re making decisions together as a faculty,” he said. “It’s important to know who’s thinking out loud as they talk, who’s the analytical one and holding back their thoughts until the end.”

School of Family Life professor Nathan Leonhardt discussed how his values and personality influenced his career choice.

Professor Nathan Leonhardt sits in his new office, holding a photo of his college cohort. While personalities can often influence career paths, BYU professors display how personalities and professions don’t always connect. (Lauren Woolley)

“Growing up I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I always was interested in people and figuring out ways to help people,” Leonhardt said. “I love being able to feel a sense of the importance of values in my profession.”

Leonhardt said he appreciates his career path because it allows him to balance class instruction and research, which he says “tends to be a bit more of an introverted activity.”

While some BYU professors think personality testing can be helpful, clinical psychology professor Ben Ogles finds personality tests to be arbitrary at times. Ogles said he disagrees with personality tests’ way of putting people in “boxes.”

“I think it is a mistake to imagine that all people in the world can be grouped into one of 16 categories or “boxes” when in fact they are more likely to fall on a continuum within all 16 categories to one degree or another,” Ogles said, mentioning they are about as helpful as astrology signs.  

Similar to Ogles’ view that personalities fall on a continuum, some psychologists have argued that it is career that influences personality, and not the other way around.

Though some professors fit the stereotypes of introverts and extroverts, BYU professors are proof that personalities are not barriers to a fulfilling career. While personalities may influence career choices, careers can often influence personality developments, pushing individuals to explore opportunities beyond their comfort zones.

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