David Mandell pulling a cooler in the woods. Photo provided by David Mandell
David Mandell pulling a cooler in the woods. Photo provided by David Mandell

David studies how to improve care for people with psychiatric and developmental disabilities, both by examining how state and national policies affect the care they receive, and by working with schools and mental health programs to increase their use of evidence-based practices. He is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, where he directs the Center for Mental Health. You can learn more about him and the center at https://www.med.upenn.edu/cmh/

1 Are you an early bird or night owl?

Early bird

2 Are you pro- or anti-pun?


3 Do you have any pets?

Two skeptical cats and a joyful dog who is right now trying to change my answers

4 Do you have any science-themed home decor?

Does detritus from my kids’ science fair projects, proudly displayed around my house, count?

5 Do you prefer cooking or baking?


6 Do you prefer sweet or savory?


7 Do you speak any other languages?

I know just enough to ask for directions and not understand the answer in several languages

8 If you could switch professions, what would you do?

short order cook, wood worker, or gardener

9 If you could switch science fields, what field would you want to work in?

I’m stumped. I really love what I do. But maybe astrophysics.

10 If you got a plane ticket right now, where would it go?

In my pocket, silly. Or maybe Portugal. Or Copenhagen. Or Morocco. So many places I haven’t been!

11 If you had one superpower, what would it be?

To heal people

12 Is there anything you strongly recommend we watch and/or read and/or listen to?

The short stories of Ted Chiang (Exhalation, Stories of Your Life and Others), the Marvelous Ms. Maisel, the reboot of “One Day at a Time”

13 It’s your day off. What do you want to do?

go for a run, garden, make pizza, goof around with my kids

14 What are three things you can’t live without?

peanut butter, my family, my running shoes (not in that order)

15 What beverage gives you life?

Diet Dr. Pepper

16 What book did you read in school that positively shaped you?

So many! But Emile Durkheim’s “Suicide” changed the way I thought about psychiatric disorders, behavior, and the role of society.

17 What did you want to be when you grew up?

Since I was 12, I wanted to be a child psychologist

18 What drives you and keeps you going?

The idea that each day there’s another inequity in our society one can try to fix

19 What got you excited in science?

When I learned that you could conduct applied science that could make people’s lives better. That was a revelation to me. Before that I had no interest in being a scientist.

20 What excites you about science now?

The same thing that excited me in the first place. It never gets old. There’s always more to do.

21 What is a guilty pleasure of yours?

Immersing myself in the Marvel Universe

22 What is a secret talent of yours?

I almost have enough songs down on the piano to play a complete set as a lounge singer.

23 What is your favorite game?

Most party games: Charades and Wits and Wagers to name two

24 What is the last book you read?

There There, by Tommy Orange

25 What is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve received?

“How many good ideas do you need to get a grant funded? One.”

26 What is something you’ve always wanted to try but you’ve been too scared to do?

Improv comedy

27 What is the best advice for your 18 year old self?

It’s ok to say “I don’t know.” Stop trying to prove that you’re the smartest in the room.

28 What is the best way to de-stress?

Run long distances

29 What is the last thing you watched?

One Day at a Time. I love Rita Moreno.

30 What is the weirdest thing you’ve had in your bag?

Colleagues at meetings always look askance when I pull out my neon and pastel gel markers to take notes.

31 What is your favorite animal?


32 What is your favorite book?

The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, by Roberto Calasso

33 What is your favorite comfort food?

peanut butter on graham crackers with chocolate chips.

34 What is your favorite day of the year?

The end of daylight savings time, when we get another hour to sleep. Or is that the beginning of daylight savings time?

35 What is your favorite plant?

Cherry trees, because cherries.

36 What is your favorite science fact?

Many famous psychological research findings are difficult or impossible to reproduce. We always need to be humble about what we think we know.

37 What is your favorite season?


38 What is your favorite smell?

Pine forests

39 What is your favorite sound?

Bach’s cello concertos

40 What is your favorite thing about yourself?

So many things make me laugh

41 What is your favorite word (in any language)?

kunstpause – German for an artful pause.

42 What is your proudest moment?

Any time one of the people I mentor experiences success.

43 What kind of tree would you be?

A treedom fighter for pun rights.

44 What’s the best thing about where you live?

Neighbors who care about the important stuff, racial, ethnic and socio-economic diversity, parks, amazing food from all over the world.

45 Tell us something we probably don’t know.

I once fought off a mugger on a Brazilian beach using my shoes.

46 Who would you like to see 46 Questions interview next?

@enola_proctor, Sonja Schoenwald (sonja.schoenwald@oslc.org), @greg_aarons, Marc Atkins (atkins@uic.edu)