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The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Faculty Artist Spotlight: Psychology professor John Shaw lives double life as mystery novelist

Photo by Patrick Hansell for The Lafayette
Professor John Shaw finds writing mystery novels rewarding as an educator and author.

Does the name John Shaw III ring a bell? You might know him as an associate professor of psychology, but that name can also be found on the front cover of two published mystery novels. 

Fifteen years ago, Shaw put pen to paper and began his journey as a writer after discovering an interest in scientific storytelling. 

His first book, “Death by DNA,” follows a 19-year-old girl who is charged with killing her own baby by carbon monoxide poisoning, but things are not quite as they seem. The story explores the lengths people will go to have the perfect baby through genetic manipulation and engineering. 

His second book, “Yellowstone Directive,” is about a series of murders that happen in Yellowstone National Park. Though written before the pandemic, the book has themes surrounding widespread viruses. 

Shaw is a self-published author, which allows him greater autonomy over his stories. At the end of the day, Shaw is not in the business to make money, but because he has a passion for educating the world about science. 

“I’m not in this to become a best-selling author,” Shaw said. “That’s not my goal. My goal is to write stories that might entertain people, to make people think.”

Shaw was a reader first before becoming a writer. His inspiration for becoming a writer was author Michael Crichton, who is most widely known for his best-selling novel “Jurassic Park.” However, it was his book “The Andromeda Strain,” about the outbreak of a deadly microorganism, that taught Shaw how to mix science and storytelling. 

His shelves are filled with books and magazines on topics explored in his novels, from genetic engineering to microorganisms called archaea. Researching is a vital part of his process and one that he enjoys deeply. 

Shaw’s books have layers of mystery, but they also touch on the growth and development of women in underrepresented fields. “Death by DNA” centers around a female defense attorney and “Yellowstone Directive” follows a female volcanologist who works for national parks. Shaw himself is a former defense attorney.

“I like to write about women who are in roles of power and in fields that we often associate traditionally with men,” Shaw said. 

Since writing novels, Shaw has found it especially rewarding to be an educator. Through his “Introduction to Psychological Sciences” course, one of the most popular classes on campus, he has infused the learnings from his books into his lectures. 

“In that course, there’s eighty to a hundred people each semester, the vast majority of those will never take another psychology course,” Shaw said. “I like to educate them about things that they might not otherwise encounter in their major.”

Shaw is currently developing his third book, which is a sequel to “The Yellowstone Directive” but can also be read as a standalone. 

“I’m thinking my next book might be a murder mystery set in a small liberal arts college … You could see where I could draw my inspiration for that,” Shaw said. 

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About the Contributors
Bernadette Russo
Bernadette Russo, Culture Editor
Likes trees and hates writing bios.
Patrick Hansell
Patrick Hansell, Staff Photographer

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