As a first-grade student, Dr. Brett King once guessed his future profession would be a “dinosaur picker.”
“I couldn’t spell paleontologist,” says King, now a professor of psychology.
King says even years later, as a Colorado State University student, he still could not have predicted his future career. Though an art history major, he says he fell into love with psychology by chance.
“I needed to kill some credits, so I took a psych class,” he says.
After a semester with a professor who King says appeared to be the prototypical psychologist, he worked up the courage to ask about the subject that had caught his interest.
“I blurted out that I wanted to be a psychologist,” he says. “I think it surprised me to hear those words coming out of my mouth.”
His future career choice would be challenged yet again by a film course that tempted King to pursue a career as a director. Before allowing for another quick switch, King consulted with his wife. A mathematical list of pros and cons favored psychology two separate times, and the choice ultimately glued him into the academic world.
“I set foot on a college campus back in 1981 and never left,” he says.
King has been a psychology professor at CU since 1990. He has taught more than 150 courses and has yet to take a semester off.
King’s popularity on campus is well known. He received the 2008 CU Parents Association’s Marinus G. Smith Recognition Award for making a significant impact on the life of an undergraduate. CU students awarded him with the Teacher Recognition Award twice, in 2005 and again in 2007.
Sophomores Alison McCarthy and Danielle Robinson are fans of King who had him in a social psychology class. Both students enjoy his sense of humor and use of pop culture.
“I like that he’s up to date,” says McCarthy, an English and psychology major. “He talks about YouTube and music that we know and Family Guy.”
Robinson, a psychology major, says King teaches real-life application of his subject.
“He makes it easy to connect the topic to our lives,” Robinson says.
Robinson says that a student who is familiar with King will know of a long-running joke between him and fellow psychology professor Joe Berta.
“He’ll make fun of Berta all the time,” she says. “It’s really funny.”
King explains that he and good friend Berta constantly tease one another in lectures, sending “spies” to report on what is said during class.
“Of course we’re really the best of friends,” King says. “I just see us someday as two old men sitting on a park bench.”
King explains that he is not satisfied to simply be a well-loved professor, or comic faux-enemy to a colleague, but is constantly searching for new challenges.
“I just get bored easily,” he says. “It’s so easy to be complacent in life.”
So what is King up to now?
“For something different a couple years ago, I started to write a novel,” he says.
King is writing novels in the appropriate genre of psychological thrillers, the first of which being looked at by agents in New York, while the second keeps him working late into the night.
Overly dedicated, King conducted enormous amounts of research in order to include a factual basis to his novels. Having already read more than 200 books, he is currently reading a technical manual about electrical systems to learn how to plausibly blackout the eastern seaboard.
King says he has found his experience of writing to be related quite differently to that of teaching.
“I tell a lot of stories in my lectures to bring to life the facts, whereas in my fiction I use facts to bring life to the story,” he says.
King says that writing has been “very therapeutic” for him.
After his wife, who was the first to challenge him to start writing, found the start of his novel on their computer, she offered to type as he dictated.
“I talked for three hours,” King says. “It was so liberating.”
As in the process of writing his fiction, King says his wife and children are very important in life.
“We were high school sweethearts,” King says of his wife. “She’s my soul mate.”
King and his wife have been married for 25 years now, and they even give marriage counseling together.
This practice started when King was asked by a former student to officiate a wedding, the first of several he has officiated. He says he has “just loved” doing this for students.
For King, impacting the lives of his students in more way than one is of the utmost importance.
King says students have complimented him for his storytelling skills in class. In the past, King says he felt this was not an adequate representation of his goals as a professor. But he now realizes this is one of his strengths in both lecture and fiction writing.
“I guess I am a storyteller,” he says.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Molly Maher at Maherm@colorado.edu