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Professor Pavel Blagov Nurtures Student Research in Whitman’s Personality Lab

By Pam Moore

Pavel Blogav

You could say Pavel Blagov is captivated by connections.

As a Professor of Psychology and Director of Whitman’s Personality Lab, his research makes connections between memory and personality—and between personality and life outcomes.

At the same time, his multiple roles—including researcher, professor and psychotherapist—are also about making meaningful connections with both the Whitman and Walla Walla communities.

Intersecting Interests

Growing up in Bulgaria’s capital city, Blagov worked hard to gain admission to a highly competitive American high school, where he studied biology and philosophy. While those subjects might seem unrelated, Blagov was fascinated by their intersections—and he saw psychology as the discipline where they overlapped.

“Where biology explains how science can trigger our actions, philosophy explains what it means to be a good human. And psychology seemed to me a perfect blend of both,” he recalls. 

His passion for psychology led him to Connecticut College, a small liberal arts college not unlike Whitman, where he double-majored in Psychology and Neuroscience/Neurochemistry. 

Alongside faculty advisor and mentor Jefferson Singer, Blagov researched the connection between autobiographical memories and certain aspects of personality and mental health.

Following research at York University in Toronto, the completion of his doctorate at Emory University in Atlanta, and a predoctoral internship at Columbia University Medical Center in Manhattan, Blagov found a home at Whitman, where he teaches courses like Research Methods, Psychological Disorders, and the Science of Sexual Orientation.

A Meeting of the Minds

Blagov couldn’t help falling in love with Walla Walla. Recalling the stunning view of the valley spreading out at the foot of the mountains the first time he visited, he says, “Walla Walla was like Shangri-la.” Since he joined the Whitman community in 2009, the area has more than lived up to his expectations.

“You have everything you need in this beautiful, small, self-contained city,” he says.

As a scholar of psychology, Blagov has a deep appreciation for being part of a supportive community and having the opportunity for personal expression—and he sees Whitman as having the just-right balance between the two.

“As a professor, a significant part of my role is to be nurturing and supportive of my students and to collaborate with fellow faculty and staff toward a shared goal of higher education,” he says. “At the same time, this kind of career allows me to work toward the professional pursuits I’m passionate about while helping my students reach their individual goals.”

Blagov recalls being particularly impressed by the Psychology Department’s collaborative nature. He appreciated that faculty members involved students in their research projects. And it was important to him that various areas of the field were represented and mutually respected. 

“My colleagues see applied psychology as part of psychological science, so they value the fact that I’m trained as a clinical scientist, and I value all that they bring to the table from their perspective as well,” he explains.

In addition to the Personality Lab—where Blagov and students study individual differences, mental health and neuropsychology—the department runs student-faculty research labs focused on cognitive, social, educational, developmental, comparative and abnormal psychology.

In the Classroom, the Lab & Beyond

As the Director of Whitman’s Personality Lab, Professor of Psychology and the owner of a local private psychotherapy practice, Blagov wears many hats—but he feels they complement each other seamlessly. “All of my roles influence each other and are interconnected,” he says.


While Blagov sees teaching as his primary role, he notes that his courses are informed by both his research and his clinical work. At the same time, as a researcher, he draws on his teaching skills when working with undergraduate research assistants. As a clinician, he relies on his skills as both a scientist and a teacher.

For example, in his practice, he often uses evidence-based techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of learning that “invites clients to examine their assumptions, learn new information and experiment like scientists as they try out new things in their lives.”

Blagov’s student research assistants at the Personality Lab benefit from those intersections too. 

While they help to expand the body of knowledge in the field of psychology, they’re also developing skills they can use wherever life takes them next.

“No matter what their career path looks like, whether they go on to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology, work at a nonprofit, start their own business, or anything else, my goal is to provide my students with a full range of experiences that will help them develop skills that can generalize to nearly any professional setting,” says Blagov.

Those include hard skills like research, critical thinking, study design, data collection and analysis, article writing, and public presentations, as well as soft skills like getting along with peers, effective leadership, and learning from supervisor feedback.

Blagov hopes his students remember what they learned at Whitman—and use those skills to become their best selves in a world that needs them. 

Read more: What Happens in Whitman’s Personality Lab? Alums share their insights learned.

Published on Apr 19, 2024
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