Alumni Spotlight: Steve Most '94, Fencing

Alumni Profile
Steve Most '94
Associate Professor of Psychology, University of New South Wales
Includes photos of Professor Most as a student and a head shot from today

Alumni Spotlights are Q&A's with former Brandeis student-athletes, across a myriad of disciplines, as they reflect on their Brandeis experience and how it has shaped their lives today. Read more spotlight features here

Name: Steve Most ’94
Job Title: Associate Professor of Psychology 
Institution: University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

A native of Montclair, New Jersey, Steve Most ’94 was a four-year member of the Brandeis fencing team. During his career, Steve was a four-year member of the epee squad, winning the University Athletic Association title as a junior and additional All-Association honors as a senior. He also qualified for the NCAA Championships in 1993, placing 17th overall.
After graduating from Brandeis with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a minor in Creative Writing, Steve served as the Brandeis assistant fencing coach for two years before going on to earn a Ph.D. in Psychology from Harvard University in 2002. Postdoctoral work took him first to Vanderbilt University in Nashville and then to Yale University. He took his first academic faculty job in 2006 at the University of Delaware, where he received tenure.
In 2012, Steve moved with his wife to her home town of Sydney, Australia, where he now teaches and runs the “Motivated Attention & Perception Lab” at the University of New South Wales (UNSW Sydney), specializing in understanding how attention and emotion shape what we see and remember. In addition to his research papers, Steve has co-authored a new textbook on Cognitive Psychology, which will be published this year by Oxford University Press.
Steve and his wife Kim have two daughters: Ella (age 10) and Anna (age 6).     

Describe your overall experience as a student-athlete. What does it mean to you now/what did it mean to you while you were an undergraduate?

It was an incredibly impactful 4 years of my life, and when I look back it’s hard to believe that it was only that short. The friends I made at Brandeis have now been tightly woven into the fabric of my world for 30 years. When I arrived as a freshman, I was trying to figure out who I was and was still trying to gain self-confidence, and I found supportive role models in professors like Joe Cunningham (Psychology) and Alan Levitan (English), and in Coach Bill Shipman. Beyond academics, I think what shaped my Brandeis experience the most were the teams I got to be a part of, from the fencing team, to our comedy sketch troupe, Boris’ Kitchen - which is still active, to a band I put together with good friends called The Brave New Squirrels. Together, these gave me opportunities to find my voice, learn to handle both wins and losses, and grow into leadership roles. I’ve actually sometimes wondered how different I’d be if I’d not gone to Brandeis, and it’s hard to picture. I feel really lucky to have gone there.

What originally attracted you to Brandeis as a student-athlete? 

It’s hard to pin down any single thing. As a prospective student, I stayed with a host in the dorms and was excited by just about everything, from the beauty of the campus to the vibrancy of the classes I attended, to how welcomed I felt. At the time, I didn’t quite know what I wanted to major in, but it was clear that I could explore and pursue a wide range of possibilities at Brandeis. The fencing team was also definitely a big draw - I had fenced in high school and wanted to continue. 

How did your time as a student and student-athlete at Brandeis prepare you for your career and life after college?

It’s hard to think of any part of my life after college that has *not* been shaped or made possible by my time at Brandeis, both inside and outside the classroom. First, I found direction, guidance, and support at Brandeis. My professor for Introduction to Psychology, for example, was Joe Cunningham. He was the person who got me excited about psychology in the first place and was one of my first inspirations for the kind of teacher I wanted to be if I ever became a professor. He also was a really important mentor for me even after I graduated, meeting with me regularly to give me feedback as I did independent reading and tried to hone my interests before applying to graduate school. I also believe that whatever career success I’ve had owes much to what I learned through fencing (learning to handle wins and to bounce back from defeats) and through writing for and performing on stage, all of which comes in handy in my line of work, which involves applying for grants, writing for an audience, and teaching and presenting in front of large groups. I believe this so strongly that when I had the opportunity to address an undergraduate honor society a few years ago, I encouraged the students to supplement their studies by losing themselves to their passions outside the classroom as well. University life provides such a wealth of opportunities to develop yourself. You never know where they will lead, but they often generalize in unexpected ways. 

Do you have any advice for current or future Brandeis student-athletes?

People often regard athletics as a distraction that can get in the way of their work or study, but I actually think the opposite can be true. My advice for current or future student-athletes is to recognize how the lessons and skills you gain through athletics apply to almost anything else you do in life. Whatever path you pursue, I hope you enjoy many victories, but you’ll find that these often come after - or are interleaved with - setbacks, defeats, and some failures.

In my line of work as a professor, those who are most successful at publishing papers and getting grants often also have long track records of rejected papers and grant applications.

What really makes the difference - in everything! - is being able to pick yourself up, shake off a loss, dig in, and focus on what you need to do to improve next time. On the flip side, when you do succeed, you can show leadership by relating to and supporting others on your team who may have fallen short of their goals. As student-athletes, don’t take for granted the opportunities you have to practice these skills, which I firmly believe generalize to every aspect of life, work, and study. A great coach – as I had in Bill Shipman – can play a big role in helping you develop them.

What do you miss most about your Brandeis experience?

Having so many of my closest friends in one place was amazing, particularly in retrospect. The friends I made at Brandeis have been lifelong and are like family. To this day, we’re constantly in touch over social media, but nothing can quite replace being together in person. 

What personal or professional accomplishment are you most proud of since you graduated?

I’m very excited about the new Cognitive Psychology textbook I’ve co-authored with the Dean of Yale College, which will be published later this year. We’ve worked really hard – for longer than I want to admit –  to put together a textbook that is both engaging and scholarly, and I hope we succeed in getting students as excited about the field as we are.

This interview was lightly edited for clarity.