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Reva Potashin


Training Location(s):

PhD, University of Toronto, (1951)

MA, University of Toronto, (1944)

BA, University of Toronto, (1943)

Primary Affiliation(s):

University of British Columbia, (1952-1986)

Media Links:

Reva Potashin CPA Oral History of Psychology in Canada Interview Transcript



Career Focussociometry; child study; social relationships; child development.


Reva Potashin (b. 1921) is known in psychology for her groundbreaking work in children’s group dynamics. She was described by her former professor David Ketchum from the University of Toronto, as a “pioneer” in this area (Potashin, 1970, p. 38). Through her reflections on her research and career it is evident that Potashin was, and remains, ever passionate about the discipline of psychology, its research, and its students.


Potashin is the youngest of five children born to Fanny Nishnevitz and Oscar Potashin, two Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Despite growing up in Toronto during the Great Depression, she always felt she had everything she needed. Both her mother and father encouraged reading in the home and provided her with money to purchase books. Potashin was influenced primarily by her mother whom she described as a “remarkable woman” (1970, p. 4) who placed a high value on a good education. Although she began her schooling on a slightly tenuous note (in kindergarten she had difficulty colouring within the lines!), she soon blossomed as a student, receiving two jellybeans for her excellent reading skills in grade one. She ultimately graduated from Harbord Street Collegiate Institute at the top of her class. Unfortunately, her high school years were filled with mixed emotions, as she often felt frustrated with the school’s intense emphasis on achievement over learning.


Potashin entered the BA program in social studies at the University of Toronto in 1939. She took classes in psychology, sociology and anthropology, and was particularly inspired by her psychology professor, Norma Ford. She admired Ford’s humanity towards her students and enthusiasm for her subject. Eventually, Potashin settled on psychology as her major, feeling that it was academically challenging and well-suited to her manner of thinking. She graduated with her bachelor’s degree in 1943 and continued into a master’s program.


It was during her graduate work that Potashin conducted her most influential research. Her master’s thesis, Study of social relationships of grade-school children: Friends and non-friends, explored the nature of children’s peer groups. When she administered Mary Northway’s adaptation of “The Sociometric Test for Grade School Children,” she found that friendships exist as part of the entire grade’s social structure. The research also showed that children with friends are accepted more readily than children without friends by their classmates. During this time, Potashin also published “A Study of the Social Relationships of Grade-School Children: Friends and Nonfriends” and “A Survey of Sociometric and Pre-Sociometric Literature on Friendship and Social Acceptance Among Children” with Esther Frankel.


In 1946, Potashin continued her studies as a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Toronto. She completed her dissertation, “An Examination of ‘Withdrawing’ as a Personality Characteristic in Some Pre-Adolescent Children” in 1951. She saw children not as manifestations of their problems, but rather as whole and complex people. Her research identified ‘withdrawing’ children, noting not only their differences from their ‘non-withdrawing’ classmates, but also their differences from other ‘withdrawing’ children. Potashin found that these students tend to be ignored by their classmates and teachers. She also noted they are often viewed as good, problem-free children by their parents. In addition, Potashin co-authored a book during this period, Personality and Sociometric Status. During her graduate training, Potashin worked as a clinical psychologist at the Juvenile Court in Toronto (1944-1946), the Hospital for Sick Children (1946-1948), and on the National Committee for Mental Hygiene (1947-1950). She also gained experience as a teaching assistant, and later on, as a professor at the University of Toronto.


After graduating with her PhD in Psychology, she spent a year working as a professor at the University of Saskatchewan. Unfortunately, this proved to be a rather unpleasant experience. According to Potashin, she found the housing in Saskatoon “dreadful” (1970, p. 45) and the University’s psychology program to be overly demanding. Fortunately, another opportunity soon presented itself. In 1952, she traveled to Vancouver for her summer vacation. As luck would have it, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC) whose area of research closely matched Potashin’s own resigned that summer. Panicked, the UBC faculty heard that she was in town and offered her the vacant position on the spot.


Potashin accepted, and worked as a professor in the psychology department at UBC from July 1st, 1952 until December 31st, 1986. She thoroughly enjoyed teaching, and despite large class sizes, made an effort to make a personal connection with as many students as possible. Though she loved her work, she expressed concerns with the administration at UBC. Potashin was especially frustrated with the large pay discrepancy between male and female professors, and even more irritated with the administration’s rationale for the pay discrepancy. She scoffed when informed that male professors received a higher salary because female professors had male companions to buy things for them, and thus required less money for entertainment and other purposes. Potashin also knowingly gave up the possibility of research-based promotions to focus her attention solely on teaching.


Reva Potashin has maintained her passion for teaching and is currently an active Professor Emeritus at UBC. She is 87 and “a bit”, and states that she is “still in reasonably good shape” (Eich, Witt, & Elliot, 2009, p. 98). She continues to support many charitable causes, including Mount Sinai Hospital, Jewish Family Service Agency, Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care, the BC Cancer Foundation, and Literacy BC. Her graduate research remains relevant and continues to be cited in varying disciplines from psychology to fashion studies.


by Lauren Joly (2013)

To cite this article, see Credits

Selected Works:
By Reva Potashin

Frankel, E.B., & Potashin, R. (1944). A survey of sociometric and pre-sociometric literature on friendship and social acceptance. Sociometry, 7(4), 48-70.


Northway, M.L., Frankel, E.B., & Potashin, R. (1947). Personality and sociometric status. New York: Beacon House.


Potashin, R. (1944). A Study of the social relationships of grade-school children: friends and nonfriends. Bulletin of the Canadian Psychological Association, 4, 57-58.


Potashin, R. (1944). Study of social relationships of grade-school children: Friends and non-friends. (Unpublished Masters Thesis). University of Toronto, Toronto, ON.


Potashin, R. (1946). A sociometric study of children's friendships. Sociometry, 9(1), 48-70.


Potashin, R. (1951). An examination of "withdrawing" as a personality characteristic in some pre-adolescent children. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

About Reva Potashin

Eich, E., Witt, A., & Elliot, J.L. (2009). UBC psychology at fifty. Vancouver, BC, Canada: UBC Press.


Gul, P., Korosteliov, A.,Caplan, L., Ball, L. C., Bazar, J. L., Rodkey, E. N., Sheese, K., Young, J., & Rutherford, A. (2013). Reconstructing the experiences of first generation women in Canadian psychology. Canadian Psychology, 54, 94-104.


Potashin, R. (1970, May 1). Interview by C. R. Myers. [Interview transcript]. Oral History of Psychology in Canada, Canadian Psychological Association, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, ON.