Author Archives: Allison M. Hermann, Ph.D.

About Allison M. Hermann, Ph.D.

Manages research and extension outreach for the Laboratory for Rational Decision Making (LRDM), Human Neuroscience Institute, and the Department of Human Development.

Developmental psychologist Charles Brainerd to receive APA award

Charles Brainerd

Charles Brainerd, professor of human development and human neuroscience, will receive the American Psychological Association’s G. Stanley Hall award for distinguished contributions to developmental science at the APA’s August 2019 meeting in San Francisco.

Regarded as the highest honor in the field of developmental psychology, the award is given to an individual or research team who has made distinguished contributions to developmental psychology in research, student training and other scholarly endeavors.

Brainerd’s research has had an impact on educational, developmental and cognitive psychology, and he is credited with major breakthroughs across his theoretical and empirical work.

“Chuck has done groundbreaking work in human memory and reasoning through experimental behavioral methods, mathematical models and neuroscience techniques,” said Qi Wang, professor of human development and department chair. “He co-developed fuzzy-trace theory of memory, judgment and decision-making that has been widely applied in the law and in medicine. His work exemplifies the best integration of theory-driven experimentation and evidence-based translational research.”

According to the APA, the award is based on the scientific merit of the individual’s work, the importance of this work for opening up new empirical or theoretical areas of developmental psychology, and the importance of the individual’s work linking developmental psychology with issues confronting society or with other disciplines.

Brainerd’s current research centers on the relationship between memory and higher reasoning abilities in children and adults, also focusing on false-memory phenomena, cognitive neuroscience, aging and neurocognitive impairment.

He has published more than 300 research articles and chapters and more than 20 books. His research covers human memory and decision-making, statistics and mathematical modeling, cognitive neuroscience, learning, intelligence, cognitive development, learning disability and child abuse.

Brainerd has been elected to the National Academy of Education; is a fellow of the Division of General Psychology, the Division of Experimental Psychology, the Division of Developmental Psychology and the Division of Educational Psychology of the American Psychological Association; and is a fellow of the American Psychological Society.

The editor of the journal Developmental Review, Brainerd has served as associate editor for journals including Child Development and The Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

Brainerd’s win of the 2019 G. Stanley Hall Award immediately follows the 2018 win of Stephen Ceci, the Helen L. Carr Professor of Developmental Psychology in the Department of Human Development.

Stephen D’Angelo is assistant director of communications at the College of Human Ecology.

FEATURES

Spotlight on HD department in APS feature

In a new recurring feature, the Observer showcases university labs and departments that have advanced integrative science. In the inaugural installment, APS Fellow Qi Wang talks about Cornell University’s Department of Human Development, which she chairs.


Human Development welcomes new faculty

The Department of Human Development welcomes 4 faculty members with research interests that include network science, social media, epigenetics, ecology, conceptual development and cultural diversity, and social cognition.


Lin Bian – Early gender stereotypes impact girls’ aspirations

Lin Bian will join the Department of Human Development in January 2019 as the Evalyn Edwards Milman Assistant Professor. Watch the NBC News video to learn more about her research on the acquisition and consequences of gender stereotypes about intellectual ability.


Innovative research at the Cornell Magnetic Resonance Imaging Facility

One of the central goals in the establishment of the Cornell Magnetic Resonance Imaging Facility (CMRIF) has been to help foster innovative technology development among faculty from diverse disciplines, including animal science.


Using gist to communicate end-of-life treatment choices

Valerie Reyna is collaborating with Holly Prigerson of Cornell Weill Medical College on an intercampus palliative care project as part of the recently established Academic Integration Initiative which fosters research between the Cornell Ithaca and the Cornell Weill New York City campuses.


Qi Wang – Studying Memory Development in Cultural Context

APS President Suparna Rajaram invited four distinguished psychological scientists to speak about memory from cognitive, neuroscientific, cultural, and developmental approaches as part of the Presidential Symposium at the 30th Annual APS Convention in San Francisco. Watch Qi Wang's presentation, "Studying Memory Development in Cultural Context: A Multi-Level Analysis Approach".


 

Crossing Disciplines and the Lifespan

Qi Wang, Chair of Department of Human Development

Reprinted from APS.org, September 28, 2018.

In a new recurring feature, the Observer showcases university labs and departments that have advanced integrative science. In the inaugural installment, APS Fellow Qi Wang talks about Cornell University’s Department of Human Development, which she chairs.   

 

What is the history of the department? What was its genesis?

The Department of Human Development at Cornell University is an interdisciplinary entity that uses multiple approaches, methods, and levels of analysis to study human development across the lifespan and integrates basic and translational research to enhance development and well-being in diverse contexts and populations. The department distinguishes itself with an ecological view of development as unfolding in multiple overlapping contexts. It has consistently been ranked as one of the top human development programs in the country.

The department, founded in 1925, was one of the first departments in the United States established by a university that focused on child development within the context of the family. Over the past 90 years, the mission of the department has expanded to include the full lifespan: Adolescence and emerging adulthood were added to early childhood development during the 1960s, and adulthood and aging were added during the 1980s. The study of contextual influences has expanded outside of the family to a greater number and variety of contexts, including peer groups, schools, neighborhoods, and workplaces. The faculty have come to include scholars of multiple disciplines and methodologies. Currently, the department has a professorial faculty of 24. Undergraduate majors typically number between 250 and 300, with approximately 35 masters and doctoral students in residence.

How has it evolved over the years?

The department has become increasingly dynamic and integrative. It has maintained its ecological focus, exemplified by the influential work of APS James McKeen Cattell Fellow Urie Bronfenbrenner, APS Past Board Member Steve Ceci, and others, and in the meantime has redefined the ecological perspective to align with the development of the general field. This is reflected in our study of an increasing number and variety of contexts and their interactions with developmental (social, cognitive, biological) processes across the lifespan. We increasingly emphasize interdisciplinary and integrative approaches that span areas of psychology (cognitive, developmental, clinical, social, cultural), along with law, neuroscience, sociology, education, and history. We recently recruited a computational political scientist who studies social networks, political communication, online social support, and health. The department also has evolved to increasingly focus on culture and diversity, examining basic developmental processes in relation to a variety of demographic factors including socioeconomic status, gender, race and ethnicity, and cultural background.

Our interest in advanced methodologies is reflected in the addition of neuroscience, biological/life sciences, and data science in the department and in the importance we place on multiple levels of analysis. From the sociology and psychology of health and aging to the neuroscience of memory, emotions, and decision-making, the department mixes equally observational and correlational studies with rigorous experimental approaches and interventions within and outside the laboratory. The department has made a strong investment in neuroscience, being the only human development program in the country to house an MRI facility. The department is also unique among human development programs in housing a nonhuman animal laboratory, allowing us to lead examinations of lifespan developmental changes in the brain and behavior and how they are shaped by diverse environmental contexts, early life experiences, and genes and their expression. The recent addition of social networks research and data science further extends our interdisciplinary strengths.

The department embraces translational activities and “use-inspired research,” seeking evidence-based solutions for real-world problems. Both its pedagogy and outreach are research-based — often research conducted by the very faculty member teaching a particular course or engaging in a particular outreach activity.

How many faculty members are in the department? What departments or disciplines are represented?

The department has consistently attracted a distinguished faculty. Many mainstream psychological scientists have decided to join our faculty, with four of our newer faculty leaving tenured positions at top psychology programs. In the past year, we have recruited four assistant professors who are among the very best of their cohort. Several members of our faculty hold National Academy memberships, including the National Academy of Education, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Medicine. Members of our faculty have garnered just about every prestigious award within psychological science, including the APS William James Fellow Award, the APS James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award, the G. Stanley Hall Award, the Society for Research in Child Development Senior Distinguished Contributions Award, and the E. L. Thorndike Award. The department has a professorial faculty of 24, from various disciplines within psychology, sociology, political and information science, and neuroscience.

The research topics of the faculty fall into three general areas: Law and Human Development (LHD), Health and Wellbeing (HW), and Cognition in Context (CC). All areas are characterized by interdisciplinary focus, lifespan perspective, cultural diversity, multiple approaches, methods, and levels of analysis, and integrative basic and translational research to study real-world problems.

The LHD area assembles a group of world-class psychologists and legal scholars to study the interplay of law, psychology, and human development. It offers a top-notch PhD–JD dual degree program. The HW area houses leading research on typical and atypical development across the lifespan in diverse populations. Faculty in this area examine the relation between mental and physical health in response to contextual factors and have produced groundbreaking and policy-shaping work. The CC area offers the most dynamic and rigorous investigations of the developing mind in interaction with a variety of biological, social, and cultural factors. Faculty conduct research using neuroimaging, EEG, cross-species modeling, field and laboratory experiments, and longitudinal designs to understand fundamental processes underlying human mind and behavior in context.

What would you describe as the most surprising or unexpected collaborations that psychological scientists have been able to join or lead within the department?

Every generation brings new scholars from diverse disciplines to our department. Their research transforms the department into new directions and in the meantime also is transformed by the interdisciplinary culture of the department. Often they collaborate across disciplinary lines. One example is an outstanding young neuroscientist we hired, who began a collaboration with a sociologist in HD who studies aging. It is the sort of collaboration that would be unlikely in a homogenous setting. There are many similar instances of cross-disciplinary collaborations to study machine learning, affective neuroscience, decision-making, and so forth, within and outside of the department. The disciplines that have been involved in HD faculty’s collaborative research include law, particle physics, mathematics, microbiology, biomedical engineering, business, behavioral economics, communication, and information science.

Here are some of the current cross-disciplinary collaborations of our faculty:

  • A cognitive developmental scientist is working with a sociologist from Cornell’s sociology department and a particle physicist at the Fermi Lab in Batavia, Illinois, to conduct a study on women in science.
  • A cognitive developmentalist is working with a law professor at the University of Michigan on children’s testimonial competence.
  • A sociologist is working with a team of physicians and health-care providers to conduct intervention research and policy analysis related to aging and health care, using evidence-based methods to develop a competent, caring, long-term care workforce.
  • An HD neuroscientist is working with an HD sociologist on Alzheimer’s disease research.
  • An HD member has had a long-term collaboration with a professor of pediatrics at another university around the evaluation of outcomes associated with the Nurse Family Partnership program.
  • A member of HD collaborates with a member of our business school faculty on cultural influences on bias.
  • A sociologist has been collaborating with both a pediatrics professor and an epidemiologist to examine the impact of poverty-related stressors on the cognitive and physical development of children in low-income families. She also works with two members of the Communications Department at Cornell to develop social-media use for health care among older adults.
  • Another member works with a pediatrician/public health scholar in another university on the projected behavioral impacts of global climate change.
  • An HD neuroscientist collaborates with a microbiologist here on the gut–brain axis and the biome.
  • Faculty from an education department, a mathematics department, and a veterinary school have also worked with our faculty members.

Has forming an interdisciplinary entity such as this made it easier or more challenging to obtain grant funding and get research published?

Our interdisciplinary focus has made us more competitive in obtaining grant funding and getting the research published. Specifically, our research often cuts across the more traditional categories of psychology and amplifies their applied nature.

On the one hand, our faculty has demonstrated “mainstream” excellence. Our publications appear in all of the top specialty psychological journals and the top general–general journals. Our faculty also frequently publish in top specialty journals in nondevelopmental core areas of psychology. In addition to the research being of the highest quality, a key reason for our success in publishing is that our research targets theoretical and empirical questions that our peers perceive as important, no matter whether they do or don’t fit into intuitive categories.

On the other hand, our faculty also excel in many integrative and interdisciplinary publishing outlets and make broad scholarly contributions beyond their core areas and beyond psychological science. Our publications also appear in nonpsychology journals such as those focused on sociology, education, anthropology, and medicine, and as a result our work has reached vastly different audiences. In addition to peer-reviewed articles in journals outside psychology, our faculty have also published a range of influential books, op-ed pieces, and Chronicle of Higher Education articles that address a wide range of audiences. Oftentimes, building a reputation for solid work in core psychological science journals opens up opportunities for important broader contributions.

Part of the “translation” and “interdisciplinary” process is collaborating with colleagues outside the disciplines in which we were trained. There are many good examples in our department as noted earlier. Pertaining to publication, for example, several faculty have collaborated with researchers in medical fields and published in major health-related journals with high impact factors, including The Journal of the American Medical Association, Pediatrics, Annals of Internal Medicine, New England Journal of Medicine, and the American Journal of Public Health.

What are the strategies that the department has utilized in maintaining its top-rank position in the field?

One strategy is related to our hiring priorities. We hire the best people available through open searches, without constraints based on current research areas or rank. We also actively seek opportunities to hire targeted senior faculty who are superstars in the field. We are fortunate to have a very supportive dean who lets us conduct open searches and prefill lines with strong candidates and who does not rescind lines after unsuccessful searches. In addition, our faculty overwhelmingly support hiring the best people, regardless of area.

Another strategy is to self-reflect on our current research topics and to allow the department to evolve as scholarship and policy needs change. Over the years, there have been important shifts in research emphases as fields have either changed direction or ceased to exist with faculty retirement or leave.

Another effective strategy is to establish a mentoring system for junior faculty. Each nontenured junior faculty in the department is provided with a mentoring committee as soon as he/she arrives on campus. The committee consists of three tenured faculty whose research is in a similar area as that of the junior faculty. The committee provides honest and constructive written feedback to the mentee at the end of each year, which is then discussed with the mentee in person as well as reported to the general faculty. The feedback acknowledges the mentee’s achievements in research, teaching, and service and in the meantime helps the mentee identify any issues so they can be effectively addressed early on. Because of this supportive system and because we strive to hire the best people in the first place, our junior faculty have been extremely successful in their work. Many have come to be leading researchers in their respective fields. We have four APS Rising Stars, and many junior faculty have received young investigator awards from major organizations. In the past 15 years, we have not had a single case of denied tenure.

The Department of Human Development welcomes 4 faculty members with research interests that include network science, social media, epigenetics, ecology, conceptual development and cultural diversity, and social cognition.

William Hobbs

William Hobbs received his doctorate in political science from the University of California at San Diego and comes to Cornell from Northeastern University where he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Network Science Institute. At Cornell, he has a joint appointment in Human Development and the Department of Government. A central feature of Hobbs' research is the use of complex relational data to study "the social effects of government policies, on how small groups of people adapt to sudden changes in their lives, and on low-dimensional representation (data that has been processed to reduce the number of random variables) of social interaction and language." [Read Dr. Hobbs' CV to learn more about his research.] One of his recent publications involved an analysis of the effect of interacting on social media networks specifically, Facebook, and longevity. [Read more about the study in a story by CBS News.]


Marlen Gonzalez

Marlen Gonzalez arrived at Cornell this summer after completing the Charleston Consortium Internship Program, a joint endeavor of the Medical University of South Carolina and the Ralph H. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center. She received her doctorate from the University of Virginia (UVA), where she studied with Dr. James Coan and engaged in a truly diverse interdisciplinary research program, including, developmental psychology, neuroscience, epigenetics, evolutionary biology, and behavioral ecology. As a graduate student at UVA, Gonzalez was a LIFE Fellow from 2014-2017 which enabled her to study at UVA and at the International Max Planck Research School on the Life Course in Berlin. The central question guiding Dr. Gonzalez's research is "How do our developmental environments, and especially our social environments, shape our nervous system and biobehavioral strategies for coping in adulthood."


bethany ojalehto

Bethany ojalehto has returned to her academic roots in Human Development and the College of Human Ecology. She graduated with honors (she received the Zuckerman award for best senior thesis in HD) from Human Ecology in 2008 having majored in psychology and human rights with a certificate of African Studies and was a mentee of HD Chair, Qi Wang. Her undergraduate years were funded by a number of prestigious scholarships, including, The Nancy and Andrew Persily Scholarship, the Merrill Presidential Scholar, and the Cornell Presidential Research Scholar. Upon graduation, ojalehto received a U.S. Fulbright Research Grant to Kenya, Law and Psychology and studied cognitive development in a Kenyan refugee camp. She completed her masters and doctorate at Northwestern University under the mentorship of Drs. Douglas Medin, Sandra Waxman, and Rebecca Seligman. As a graduate student she received a Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Short-Term Fellowship for a study of “Cultural Models and Conceptual Development in a Ngöbe Community,” Panama. She was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship for her dissertation and continued her work as a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern. According to ojalehto, her research "explores how people conceptualize agency and ecologies, with a focus on cultural variation in social cognition and human-nature relationships." [Read more about Dr. ojalehto's research and outreach at website: http://sites.northwestern.edu/ojalehto/ and watch her presentation at the National Academy of Sciences Arthur M. Sackler Colloquium, Pressing Questions in the Study of Psychological and Behavioral Diversity].


Lin Bian

Lin Bian will join the Department of Human Development in January 2019 as the Evalyn Edwards Milman Assistant Professor. She is currently completing a postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Ellen Markman at Stanford University. Dr. Bian received her doctorate in developmental psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2017 under the mentorship of Drs. Andrei Cimpian and Renée Baillargeon. Her research examines the development of social cognition, with an emphasis on children’s reasoning about social groups. In this vein, she has pursued two major lines of research: One line of work focuses on the acquisition and consequences of stereo- types about social groups for children’s interests and motivation. The other line of work focuses on infants’ and toddlers’ sociomoral expectations, especially as how they apply to behaviors within vs. across group boundaries. [Watch the NBC News video about Dr. Bian's research, Psychologist Breaks Ground with Gender Bias Study].

 

Lin Bian will join the Department of Human Development in January 2019 as the Evalyn Edwards Milman Assistant Professor. Watch the NBC News video to learn more about her research on the acquisition and consequences of gender stereotypes about intellectual ability.

The magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) facility in MVR.

One of the central goals in the establishment of the Cornell Magnetic Resonance Imaging Facility (CMRIF) has been to help foster innovative technology development among faculty from diverse disciplines, including animal science.

Valerie Reyna, Director of the CMRIF and the Human Neuroscience Institute

Valerie Reyna, Director of the CMRIF explains the importance of the facility to the Cornell research community, “This versatile tool makes it possible to observe the brain in action, creating opportunities for scientific innovation to improve the human condition. It will be an asset in attracting and retaining excellent faculty, enriching the educational experience for our students.”

Philippa Johnson

Philippa Johnson of the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine is a researcher who exemplifies the type of investigator the CMRIF has aimed to attract. She has been engaged in an MRI study of the cat's brain and spinal cord at the CMRIF. It is a challenge to generate high-quality scans of small animals. Watch her video to find out more about the specialized coil she purchased and how it has helped her research.

 

Valerie Reyna

Holly Prigerson

Valerie Reyna is collaborating with Holly Prigerson of Cornell Weill Medical College on an intercampus palliative care project as part of the recently established Academic Integration Initiative which fosters research between the Cornell Ithaca and the Cornell Weill New York City campuses. Dr. Prigerson has been researching factors that hinder communications between patients and physicians about end-of-life decisions. In the course of her research, Prigerson discovered Dr. Reyna's fuzzy trace theory (FTT) and was eager to find a way to collaborate (read more in the downloadable article below). According to Reyna, an important principle of FTT is the "gist principle" which is a type of mental representation that "captures the bottom-line meaning of information, and it is a subjective interpretation of information based on emotion, education, culture, experience, worldview, and level of development" and can be applied to improve doctor-patient understanding and treatment options (click on the title of Dr. Reyna's paper, "A Theory of Medical Decision Making and Health: Fuzzy Trace Theory" to read more about FTT).

'Mortal Matters' by Anne Machalinski, Weill Cornell Medicine Magazine - Summer 2018.

Published on Jun 29, 2018

APS President Suparna Rajaram invited four distinguished psychological scientists to speak about memory from cognitive, neuroscientific, cultural, and developmental approaches as part of the Presidential Symposium at the 30th Annual APS Convention in San Francisco, May 25, 2018. Watch Qi Wang's presentation, "Studying Memory Development in Cultural Context: A Multi-Level Analysis Approach".

FEATURES

Qi Wang Retraces Her Path to Memory Research

Qi Wang, an Association for Psychological Science (APS) Fellow esteemed for her scientific contributions on culture and autobiographical memory, reflects on her career path in an interview with Suparna Rajaram, the President of APS.

 


Special Issue on Women in Science 

Wendy Williams, founder, and director of the Cornell Institute for Women in Science (CIWS) has edited a special edition of a journal on evidence-based research about factors that affect the academic and professional lives of women in STEM fields. In her editorial of Underrepresentation of Women in Science: International and Cross-Disciplinary Evidence and Debate, Williams provides a framework for understanding some of the issues and viewpoints that surround the debate of women in science.


Mothers Instill Eco-Awareness

Gary Evans and colleagues are the first to show that parenting can have long-term effects on pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors in adulthood. This has important implications for education and public policy.

 


Long-Term Depression Risk for Girls Who Start Puberty Early

In his blog, The Methods Man, F. Perry Wilson MD, commends the quality of Jane Mendle's research on how early puberty may lead to depression in adulthood. Her results have important implications for depression screening recommendations of girls in early puberty.

 


Too Young to Plead

In a recent paper, Valerie Reyna and Rebecca Helm reported that adolescents are more likely than adults to plea guilty to crimes they have not committed. They argue that the decision-making processes involved with plea-bargaining are developmentally immature in adolescents and they are vulnerable to pleading to a lesser charge even if innocent.

 


Mapping Emotion in the Brain

Daniel Casasanto and graduate student Geoffrey Brookshire propose an exciting new theory that, contrary to the prevailing view that different emotions are localized in specific areas of the brain, emotions are “smeared over both hemispheres” depending on an individual’s handedness.

 


The Accents We Trust

Katherine Kinzler studies the development of social cognition, with particular emphasis on exploring infants’ and children’s attention to the language and accent with which others speak as a marker of group membership. A recent article by the BBC explores her research and its implications for empathy, cultural learning, and trust.

 


 

Excerpted from APS ObserverThe Memories of Memory Researchers

by Suparna Rajaram

In this Presidential Column, it is my pleasure to bring to you my Q&A with four internationally renowned psychological scientists who will speak at the Presidential Symposium I will host during the 30th APS Annual Convention on May 25, 2018, in San Francisco. These eminent scientists — APS Past President and William James Fellow Henry L. (Roddy) Roediger, III, APS Board Member Dorthe Berntsen, APS Fellow Qi Wang, and psychological scientist Charan Ranganath — have fundamentally shaped our understanding of human memory through a wide range of perspectives, techniques, and groundbreaking discoveries. I was struck by the varied paths they have taken in their lives and education, the challenges they have faced, and the ingenuity they have brought, time and again, to scaling new heights. I was also inspired by their singular love for science, their dedication to our discipline, and their overall leadership.  I hope that students and early investigators reading these interviews will enjoy the infectious optimism and strength evident in their answers and the priceless advice the speakers have offered based on their vast experience. –APS President Suparna Rajaram

Qi Wang, Chair of Human Development

What piqued your interest in the general area of your research?

Here is a description of how I came to study autobiographical memory and culture, from my book The Autobiographical Self in Time and Culture (2013):

“About fifteen years ago, in mid 1990s, when I went to graduate school in the Psychology Department at Harvard, I had no idea of what autobiographical memory was. Although I had attended the best university in China and had gained a Bachelor’s degree in psychology, the term meant second to nothing to me. At that time, the study of autobiographical memory in Western psychology had grown into a dynamic, interdisciplinary field with exciting discoveries, theoretical debates, controversial issues, and intriguing phenomena. It had drawn researchers from diverse disciplines with such varied interests in human memory in natural contexts, in life histories and narrative self-making, and in the practical implications of memory in clinical, legal, and everyday settings. Autobiographical memory was not a subject of research in China then, however. Neither was autobiography an eminent genre in Chinese literature. I was amazed by the large sections of autobiographies and memories in the Cambridge bookstores, a scene foreign and somewhat bizarre to me. What is the driving force behind the cultural difference in the popularity of autobiographical memory in research and autobiography in pop culture more generally? This question has motivated my research ever since.”

Can you share with us a little about your educational path, and whether/how it led you to pursue research in psychological science?

Both my parents were engineers before their retirement. So my pursuit in psychology was informed by early exposure outside home. When I was 11, I was admitted into a boarding school that was one of the top-ranked middle-high schools in our province. The school was very far away from where we lived. So I stayed with my aunt’s family for about a year before a dorm-bed spot opened up (That was back in the early 1980s when China was still in economic devastation). My aunt was a psychology professor at a teacher’s college. It was through her that I first learned about psychology. I read many books in general and developmental psychology from my aunt’s collection.

Naturally, when I was later admitted to Peking University (or Beijing University), I chose to be a psychology major.

Did you take any detours along the journey to where you are today, and if so, how would you describe the significance of these markers?  

Although I set my foot in psychology at a fairly young age (primarily due to my aunt’s influence), I took some major detours before arriving to where I am today.

At the time when I graduated from college, in 1989, China was undergoing historical transformations in every aspect of the society — economically, politically, and culturally. Many new career opportunities emerged that my generation who grew up in Communist China had never heard of. They attracted many young and adventurous people and I was one of them. I had worked in foreign-invested hotels (a brand new concept at the time), in public relations and sales (where my psychology training was somewhat useful), and I had worked for a major French company in Beijing, doing administrative work.

Six years post-graduate, I found myself missing psychology and wanted to get back to my “roots.” So I started applying to graduate programs in Europe and the United States, which eventually led me to Harvard.  (A side story: My original plan was to study developmental psychology at University of Geneva, where Jean Piaget had taught. I was admitted into the program and in fact went there, but then found out that my French was inadequate for me to begin the graduate work right away).

The detours were well worth it: They made me realize what I wanted for my career and where my intellectual strengths were. They allowed me to stay focused during my graduate study and remain motivated. I formally enrolled in the psychology PhD program at Harvard in 1996 and received my degree in 2000. I then joined the faculty in Human Development at Cornell.

What have been the most exciting parts of your scientific career?

The pursuit itself is the most exciting part: coming up with interesting and original ideas, brain-storming with students and collaborators, persevering in the data-collection process, writing and thinking through writing. These are all exciting parts of the scientific endeavor.

Did you face any obstacles in pursuing your scientific projects?  

Nothing unusual. Working with a small and transient community to recruit children and families, especially ethnic minority families, and trying to follow them longitudinally, has been perhaps the biggest challenge in our projects.

How have you balanced research demands with teaching and administrative responsibilities?

I took the role of department chair this past July. I have come to appreciate the complexity of the job. Most of the work is done behind the scene. However, it is truly rewarding to lead a dynamic department with brilliant colleagues and outstanding students, and to work closely with the faculty to implement critical changes to build on and extend the Department’s scholarly excellence and to maintain and improve its leadership in research, teaching, and outreach.

To balance research with my teaching and chair responsibilities, I set aside time (two mornings each week) for writing. I also try to do what the Chinese call 见缝插针 — meaning literally sticking in a pin wherever there’s room — to make use of every bit of time, with the goal of writing one paragraph a day.

I have an active lab of graduate and undergraduate students, with many ongoing projects at various stages. We hold a weekly lab meeting to discuss the projects and address any issues. We also use the time to talk about new ideas.

I make sure to remain accessible over emails to students in my lab and my class, and make myself available whenever an emergency meeting is required.

What/who have been major influences in your academic career?

So many! My aunt through whom I had the first exposure to psychology. My graduate school advisors Michelle Leichtman and Shep White who helped me set my career path. There are then many informal mentors with whom I have had the fortune to work or collaborate, including Steve Ceci, Michael Ross, Robyn Fivush, Martin Conway, David Pillemer, Carole Peterson, among others.

What’s been your guiding compass in your academic career?

Focus on the process, not the outcome. This makes the scientific pursuit more exciting and enjoyable, and makes obstacles and temporary failures (e.g., rejections from journals) less interruptive or upsetting. This compass also allows me to see what would be usually considered to be an outcome (e.g., tenure) as part of the process, and thus not to get stressed about it.

What advice do you have for handling rejections from journals?

There can be frustration, but never give up. If you truly believe in your work, revise and improve the paper based on reviewer feedback and submit it elsewhere.

Careful preparation is key: Submit a paper as if it were the final version that no further changes could be made. This is out of respect for the journals, the reviewers, and our profession.

What advice, in general, would you give budding scientists around the world?

Stay attuned to the field and be mindful of the everyday life, in the process of developing exciting ideas that are theory driven, evidence based, and of real-world relevance. Focus on and enjoy the process of your scientific pursuit.

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