Two Fulbright scholars join psychology program


Courtesy of Oakland University

From left: Anna Szala and Rania Bellaaj join Oakland’s Department of Psychology as part of the Fulbright scholarship program, which offers grants to students studying abroad.

Bridget Janis, Features Editor

The two newest additions to Oakland University’s Department of Psychology are Fulbright grantees Anna Szala and Rania Bellaaj. They are both pursuing graduate degrees. The Fulbright program provides scholarships for foreign students willing to study or do research in the U.S.

Szala is from Toruń, Poland, and was encouraged to apply to OU by a colleague at the Polish Academy of Sciences. She has already received a master’s in psychology from Kazimierz Wielki University and a master’s in biology from the University of Wrocław in Poland. Now, her next step her in career is to obtain a Ph.D. from OU.

“Oakland University has one of the best world-recognized labs focusing on evolutionary psychology,” Szala said. “I applied here specifically to be a member of that lab.”

With a focus in the evolutionary approach to human behavior, Szala will be trying to further broaden scientific understanding of the biological foundations of human nature. She will be working under the supervision of adviser Todd K. Shackelford, a professor of psychology, to help further her research.

“It is definitely a great opportunity for developing my scientific career,” Szala said. “Working with the professors from OU’s Department of Psychology will allow me to significantly strengthen my knowledge about the subject I’m studying, and therefore make me well-prepared for diving further into academia.”

Szala’s background working as a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, the Åbo Akademi University in Finland and the University of Oxford in England will help Szala further her research.

Bellaaj is from Tunisia and earned a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy from the University of Sciences Techniques of Health in Sfax, Tunisia. Then, she studied English linguistics, literature and civilization at the University of Arts and Humanities, also in Sfax, with a focus on psycholinguistics, where she was investigating mental and psychological processes of linguistic behavior. The next step in her career was to apply for the Fulbright program at OU to study personality and social psychology.

“It is a long process — I applied to Fulbright two years ago, and then when I was accepted, it took one year to finalize all the tests and paperwork,” Bellaaj said. “It is a very selective scholarship, and I am grateful that I was one of the awardees.”

Bellaaj’s main focus will be on the personality and organizational part of psychology, as her research revolves around investigating how basic need satisfaction in the workplace leads to an increased job and organizational commitment. After her graduation, she aspires to work as a consultant in international organizations and then pursue an organizational psychology Ph.D. program so she can teach it in Tunisia.

“Studying personality and social psychology is very important because it allows us to better understand human behavior and how it is impacted by different situations,” Bellaaj said. “This field can be implemented anywhere: research/academia, working with organizations to enhance job performance or in the psychology of marketing and working closely with governments to develop public policies.”

The Fulbright program is sponsored by both the U.S. government and the governments of the awardees’ respective countries. It aims to promote collaboration between the United States and other foreign countries.

Szala and Bellaaj are happy to be two of the recipients of the scholarship. Both are hoping to gain as much knowledge as they can while attending OU.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the original version to better explain the purpose of the Fulbright program, as well as the goals and accomplishments of its recipients. Some content has been provided by Anna Szala and Rania Bellaaj.