Pioneering Psychologist Dan P. McAdams Named Interim SESP Dean

Pioneering Psychologist Dan P. McAdams Named Interim SESP Dean

Dan McAdams “We are all storytellers of the self, narrating our lives as we live them,” McAdams says.

Dan P. McAdams, one of the nation's foremost researchers in the field of narrative psychology, has been named interim dean of Northwestern University's School of Education and Social Policy.

McAdams will succeed Dean David Figlio, who is stepping down May 15 to become provost at the University of Rochester. McAdams will begin his appointment on May 16.

“My heart belongs to SESP because 30 years ago, SESP took a big chance in hiring me,” McAdams said. “I am honored to serve as interim dean, and I hope to advance our School’s matchless legacy of excellence in research, teaching and service to the world.”

McAdams, the Henry Wade Rogers Professor of Psychology and a professor of education and social policy in the Human Development and Social Policy program, was one of the first researchers to grasp the transformational power that stems from talking about our lives.

He helped pioneer the field of narrative psychology by developing the life-story model of human identity, which argues that adults derive meaning and purpose in their lives by creating stories or “personal myths” that they use to define themselves.

“We are all storytellers of the self, narrating our lives as we live them,” said McAdams, whose seminal 2001 paper “The Psychology of Life Stories” laid the groundwork for this emerging field in psychology. “I look for patterns in the stories people tell about their lives, and I explore how the patterns may either enhance or undermine our psychological and social well-being.”

McAdams’ own life story includes growing up in Gary, Indiana, where he was valedictorian at Lew Wallace High School. He received his bachelor's degree from Christ College, Valparaiso University’s Honors College, and his doctorate in psychology and social relations from Harvard University.

He joined Northwestern's faculty in 1989 and has served as chair of the Department of Psychology and coordinator for the Human Development and Social Policy doctoral program. He has had a joint appointment in the psychology department of Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences since 1997.

From 1997 through 2019, McAdams was the director of the Foley Center for the Study of Lives, which was dedicated to interdisciplinary research on personality development and the biographical study of lives. The Foley Center’s mission lives on at his current center, The Study of Lives Group.


"Dan has the critical skills for being an effective interim dean,” said Regina Logan, assistant professor of instruction who served as director of the Foley Longitudinal Study of Adulthood. She met McAdams in 1989 and has worked with him ever since. “He’s a great mentor, mediator, creative problem-solver, delegator, entertaining communicator, and–as those who have worked with him know–a brilliant scholar.”

A prolific writer and highly sought-after media commentator, McAdams helps the public understand how empirical psychology can shed light on politics. Journalists consider him a public intellectual, often turning to him as an evidence-based spokesperson for psychological science, especially with respect to the fields of developmental, social, and personality psychology. 

In addition to cover articles for magazines such as The Atlantic, McAdams has written more than 300 scientific articles and chapters, and eight books, including The Strange Case of Donald J. Trump:  A Psychological Reckoning, George W. Bush and the Redemptive Dream: A Psychological Portrait and The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By. He also is the author of a leading college textbook in personality psychology, The Person.

"Dan is a remarkable scholar and an even more remarkable human being," said SESP Dean David Figlio, Orrington Lunt Professor. "In every interaction I've had with him these past fourteen years, I've been impressed with his wisdom, his fair-mindedness, and, of course, his SESP Love."

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 1/26/22