Behind the Screen: Talking with Psychology and Writing Tutor, Carriann Mulcahy
Tutors are the heart of the Pear Deck Tutor (formerly TutorMe) platform. Everyday, subject matter experts log on to share their knowledge and expertise with new learners. These 1-on-1 sessions help students grow in confidence and skills, and provide support for struggling learners.
The Behind the Screen series aims to highlight the expert tutors that contribute to Pear Deck Tutor’s tutoring platform everyday. These individuals are passionate about education, their subject field, and their students, and Pear Deck Tutor is honored to connect them with students around the nation.
In a continuation of this series, we're thrilled to shine the spotlight on another accomplished subject matter expert, providing psychology and academic writing support on our platform — Carriann Mulcahy!
During the interview, Carriann shares her passion for psychology, tutoring, and her top skills as a veteran tutor. She also shares strategies on structuring a successful tutoring session, common challenges, and how to engage students throughout their learning.
Which university did you attend? And what did you study?
I studied psychology at Kaplan College (now Purdue University Global) and earned my bachelor's degree in applied behavior analysis. Afterward, I went to North Central University and earned my Master's and doctorate degrees in health psychology.
What drew you to tutoring?
I got my doctorate degree at the end of Summer 2019, and then COVID hit. Finding work was difficult, and I wanted to keep my knowledge of psychology fresh. Online tutoring seemed like the perfect way to stay up to date while helping students learn. I spent the past ten years of my life learning and have 30 years of experience as an admin, so I could understand where struggling students are coming from. With online tutoring, I am able to take full advantage of the learning technology that's out there to support them.
Why did you choose specifically to tutor on Pear Deck Tutor?
I'd say the platform's sheer capabilities and versatile features are what drew me to Pear Deck Tutor. I can show students how to utilize programs like Word and Excel to grasp fundamental concepts and complete assignments. For instance, I can show someone how to do a statistical analysis in Excel or apply APA format to a Word document.
What are your top tutoring skills?
First of all, I can relate to the student, no matter who they are. Maybe it's because I have a higher degree in psychology and have studied a lot of different types of people, but I find myself able to overcome whatever barriers are between us to forge a genuine human connection.
I also have a knack for taking a topic that a student is having a hard time grasping and turning it into something relatable to them, like a current event or pop culture reference. I like to help students relate to the topic instead of describing it using only technical terms.
Finally, I'm very flexible. If a student has to take a break and return in an hour, that's fine! I'll be there. Every student learns differently, so I have to be flexible in how I tutor them. If I adopt a specific methodology for every tutoring session, then students will suffer because I'm not adapting to their learning needs.
How do you structure your tutoring sessions?
I have a lot of repeat students. For my dissertation students and other upper level students, they come to me with comments from their professor. I help them try to understand what their professor means and where they should go from there.
With undergrad students, I often have to help them understand what they need to do. They'll come to me with an assignment and ask, "What does this mean?" I break down the basics of the assignment, go over what they have already done, suggest ways they can tweak it to fit the parameters of the assignment, etc. I am semi-structured, letting the student lead on what they need.
Do you have any proven strategies for making new students feel at ease?
When meeting with a new student, I prefer they use audio/video chat so I can talk to them face-to-face. If they’re a bit shy, I just reassure them that we can communicate just fine through text chat. Before we dig into the session, I like to give new students a little background about myself. Then, we go over their assignment and how I can best support them throughout the session. It’s all about establishing that human connection and making them feel heard.
What is one of your greatest accomplishments as a tutor?
I currently tutor two students working on their dissertations in Psychology, and they'll graduate really soon. It's been incredibly rewarding helping them refine their writing and find their voice. Watching them blossom into confident, successful students has been amazing!
Have you faced any challenges as a tutor?
Sure! Anyone who helps others learn is bound to encounter a challenge, but how you overcome those struggles is what matters in the end. I've worked with students who need me to explain specific concepts in multiple ways before they understand them, but I have empathy for students who need additional support because I've been there myself. You really have to have that empathy and patience and draw from it to be the best mentor possible for students. Often, struggling students don't get that kind of unwavering support anywhere else, so tutors have a responsibility to be that supportive figure in their lives.
How do you motivate students?
I tell students, "I believe you can do this. I know you can do this. You have excellent writing skills!" I remind them that they sometimes need a little help getting over a hump. I tell them to do something else, like take a walk, to get their mind off of it. Then, inspiration will suddenly strike, and they'll know exactly what they want to write.
Sometimes, humor can be a wonderful motivational tool. I have one student ten years older than me, and I tell them, "If I can get my Ph.D. when I'm 49 years old, then you can do this!"
Is there an influential figure that has impacted your career?
I like to read a lot of older psychology books. There's one quote by William James that has influenced me a lot. In Principles of Psychology, he writes, "Men must keep thinking; and the data assumed by psychology, just like those assumed by physics and the other natural sciences, must sometimes be overhauled." This quote helps me realize that you have to think outside the box. No one fits inside a box. All the different fields in psychology and in other disciplines should work together. They sometimes need to be overhauled because things change, people change, times change, and so must psychology.
Do you have any advice you’d give to new tutors?
Find as many resources on the subjects you tutor as you can. Similar things come up constantly, and to be able to upload a handout to the students is very helpful. I have lots of handouts about how to write in APA or MLA format and how to cite academic sources. Get samples, resource roundups, and guides, and give them to students during your tutoring sessions. These resources reinforce the topics you cover during sessions and can really go the extra mile in helping students learn.
Enriching one-on-one interactions are foundational to effective, high-impact online tutoring programs. Sharing Carriann's experience on Pear Deck Tutor provides insights into the quality face-to-face collaboration your students can enjoy when learning on our platform.
Learn more about partnering with Pear Deck Tutor to empower your students with one-on-one learning support that cultivates deeper learning through personal face-to-face connections.