Sylvia Niehuis

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Personal Background Educational Background Teaching
Presentations Works in Progress Professional Affiliations

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Personal Background

Two primary influences have shaped the person I am today: an emphasis on strong and close family relationships and an early and extensive exposure to science. Family is very important to me; my extended family is very close, and each family member has had some impact on my intellectual development. My father is a biologist teaching at a University in Germany, researching diverse areas with an emphasis on entomology. Due to his position at the university and his research studies, I was fortunate to travel to many countries, to take part in scientific excursions, and to become exposed to different cultures. I was also strongly influenced by my mother who has a leading administrative function at a secondary school and who teaches English and Geography. She, too, raised my curiosity in other cultures and countries and provided me with the opportunity to travel to England to improve my English. My uncle, Pierre van den Berghe, a sociology and anthropology professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, has always supported my interests in science; through him, I have learned about other cultures by attending some of his scholarly presentations and accompanying him on a field trip to a Hutterian community. He continues to challenge me intellectually in many ways; for example, we often engage in lively debates about controversial theories, such as sociobiology.

Influenced by my intellectually and emotionally rich background, I decided to focus my interest on the interactions of humans on a cross-cultural, sociological, and economic level by studying Ethnology, Sociology, and African languages at the Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. Soon I realized, however, that I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of interactions on the level of individuals rather than societies, and went to the Goethe-University in Frankfurt to earn a Vordiplom (B.A.) in psychology. After college, I decided to travel to the United States in order to gain additional practical knowledge of the ethological and biological bases of human behavior by doing internships in animal communication with Professor Beecher and in primate developmental research with Professor Sackett at the University of Washington. Both internships increased my interest in interpersonal developmental research. Consequently, once I was back in Germany, I focused more specifically on Social Psychology by becoming a research assistant for Professor Schwanenberg, assisting him in his research on interpersonal perception. I also began working on my Diplom Thesis (Master's Thesis) "Romantic Relationships in Germany: A Test of Adult Attachment Theory and Motivational Orientations," utilizing a theory which is based on cross-cultural, evolutionary, ethological, developmental, and psychological thinking and research to study romantic dating relationships. I was very fortunate to have both Professor Schwanenberg from the Goethe University in Frankfurt and Professor Ochsmann from the Gutenberg University in Mainz as the supervisors of my thesis. Both are experts in research on interpersonal relationships, with Professor Schwanenberg focusing on person perception and Professor Ochsmann on romantic relationships.

Over the course of my graduate studies in Germany, I decided to specialize in the study of personal relationships and their long-term development. I became a member of the International Society for the Study of Personal Relationships and attended the 1994 conference in Groningen, Netherlands, where Professor Schwanenberg introduced me to Professor Huston. Professor Hustone described the University of Texas Ph.D. program and his own research project (the PAIR Project), and encouraged me to apply to the program. For the past three years now I have been working with Professor Huston.  I have shifted my interests from romantic dating relationships to the development of close relationships over time with focus on the transition from courtship to marriage and the long-term outcome of these relationships.

I am also strongly interested in international perspectives of and collaboration in the research on personal relationships. I am currently pursuing this interest on an international basis in my position as student/new professional representative of the International Society for the Study of Personal Relationships. Outside of academics, I have several private interests, although my studies have left me little time to pursue them. I am interested in ornithology and try to attend field excursions regularly. I am also interested in art, especially contemporary watercolors, and am a member of the Austin Waterloo Watercolor Group.

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Educational Background

08/95 - present     Ph.D. Program in Human Ecology, Division of Child Development and Family                                Relationships, University of Texas at Austin, U.S.A.

04/92 -07/95         Diplom (MA) in Psychology, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University, Frankfurt,                                Germany.

04/89 - 07/91         Vordiplom (BA) in Psychology Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University, Frankfurt,                                 Germany.

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Teaching Assistant for CD 304 - Family Relationships

During my first year at the University of Texas at Austin in 1995, I worked as a teaching assistant for CD 304 (Family relationships). My responsibilities included:

the construction of exam questions
the administration of exams
holding office hours during which I answered students questions and helped students with assignments
grading of written assignments
giving single lectures

Teaching Assistant in the Child and Family Laboratory

During the same time I was also a teaching assistant for the 3-year-old toddlers in the University Child and Family Laboratory. My responsibilities included:

assisting the master teacher in implementing developmentally appropriate guidance and curriculum
assisting the master teacher in assessing children=s developmental progress
assisting the master teacher in parent-teacher conferences

Teaching Assistant for HE 322 - Personal and Family Finance

During my second year and the beginning of my third year at UT I worked as a TA for HE 322 (Personal and Family Finance), for which I performed the following duties:

construction of exam questions and administration of exams
record keeping
holding office hours during which I answered students' questions
helping students with written assignments
grading written assignments

Assistant Instructor for CD 304 - Family Relationships

For the past three semesters I have had the wonderful opportunity to teach the introductory-level Family Relationships course as an assistant instructor. For this class, I perform the following duties:

organizing the class for the entire semester
teaching the class
constructing and administering the exams
grading assignments
keeping records
holding office hours and helping students with their questions and assignments

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Scholarly Presentations

Niehuis, S., & Huston, T. L. (1998). The development of couples' shared reality during courtship and its implications for long-term marital outcomes. Paper presented at the 9th International Conference on Personal Relationships, Saratoga Springs, New York, U.S.A.

Huston, T. L., Niehuis, S., & Smith, S. (1997). Divergent experiental and behavioral pathways leading to marital distress and divorce. Symposium Presentation at the National Council on Family Relations 59th Annual Conference, Crystal City, Virginia, U.S.A.

Niehuis, S. (1996). Designing and carrying out a longitudinal study of relationships: Lessons from the PAIR Project. Workshop Presentation at the 8th International Conference on Personal Relationships, Banff, Canada.

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Works in Progress

I have currently two projects in progress: My comprehensive exam paper, "The Importance of Premarital Predictors of Marital Outcomes," in which I review the scientific literature on the transition from courtship to marriage (and which ultimately needs to be published), and a collaboration with Ted Huston based on my ICPR 98 paper presentation (which also needs to be written up for publication).

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Professional Affiliations

APA (American Psychological Association)

INPR (International Network on Personal Relationships)

ISSPR (International Society for the Study of Personal Relationships);

Student/New Professional Representative and Member of the Board of Directors (1998-2000).

NCFR (National Council on Family Relations)

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Last updated Fall 2000