Emerging Scholar Spotlight
Amanda Griffin is a doctoral candidate in Human Development and Family Studies at the Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) under the supervision of Dr. H. Harrington Cleveland. She is passionate about research that uses innovative designs, such as genetically informed, longitudinal, ecological momentary assessments (EMA), to answer nuanced questions that probe person-by-context transactions. She has investigated transactional processes by examining (1) genetic influences on adolescent peer relationships, and (2) influences of individual differences on the effects of adverse environmental experiences – from child maltreatment to homelessness – on adolescent development. Her work examines transactional processes by investigating the moderating and mediating effects of individual characteristics on environmental experiences (i.e., specific genes, peers, and adversity).
As an undergraduate psychology major at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, she exemplified the University motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), by volunteering as phone support for the Raft Crisis Hotline and as an Emergency Advocate for the Women’s Resource Center. Although she thought her future was going to be dedicated to counseling and emergency services, as an undergraduate researcher her interest in the adolescent development was fostered by Dr. Caitlin Faas and resulted in her applying to and pursing a PhD in Human Development and Family Studies.
At Penn State, Amanda was selected to be a NIDA Prevention and Methodology Pre-Doctoral Fellow in the Prevention Research and Methodology Center. Her training and coursework transformed her into a rigorous and innovative scientist. She has received training in multiple genetically informed designs to examine genetic influences on adolescent peer relationships. She has used molecular genetic candidate gene-by-environment interactions to examine the moderating effects of specific genes on the association between peer relationships and later adolescent alcohol use. Her work has demonstrated that specific genes play a role in adolescent peer relationships through the process of socialization and selection. She has used a twin and an adoption design to disentangle genetic and environmental influences on peer relationships and the skills needed to form peer relationships, such as effortful control and social competence.
In the past 2 years, she has expanded her program of research to include person-by-context transactions that examine individual differences in the effects of adverse experiences on adolescent development. While collaborating with Dr. Chad Shenk – an expert in child maltreatment – she helped identify etiological pathways to child maltreatment, as well as best practices for researchers, practitioners, and public policymakers conducting research on maltreated children. With the assistance of Dr. Cleveland, an expert in using EMA designs with high-risk populations, she collected daily dairy data via smart phones from homeless adolescents to investigate individual differences in how youth negotiate the effects of risk and protective factors. This is the first study to examine the daily lives of homeless adolescents and demonstrated that there are unique effects of daily peer and teacher interactions on daily academic achievement and wellbeing.
During her time as a doctoral student, attending lectures by visiting scholars, job talks, and graduate student lunches have been extremely influential on her professional development. These experiences provided opportunities for applied learning and guidance in how to present research, but this is also where she received invaluable advice on professional development and an opportunity to network in a more intimate setting. It is important to remember, however, that the endless opportunities to meet with visiting scholars needs to be balanced with protecting your time to do research and setting realistic goals for how much can be accomplished in a day, week, or month.
Please click here to view her CV.
Elisa thinks that the key to success is perseverance. It’s important to find something that you are passionate about and to surround yourself with people who inspire and support you. This will make all the difference.
Please click here to view her CV.
Katie Ehrlich is a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Policy Research and the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University. She completed her PhD in 2012 at the University of Maryland.
Ehrlich’s research interests lie at the intersection of developmental, clinical, and health psychology, but her research training actually began in a physics lab the summer after her freshman year in college at Washington and Lee University. She signed on to work with a team that was trying to synchronize chaotic semiconductor lasers. “I quickly learned that I loved working in a research lab, but not a physics research lab.” Ehrlich soon made her way to the psychology department, where she found research opportunities in a newly formed cognitive aging lab. In this lab, Ehrlich worked directly with Dr. Wythe Whiting, who taught her about research design, data collection, statistical analysis, and writing papers for publication.
Ehrlich knew that she wanted to continue her research training in graduate school, but she was unsure about what she wanted to study. She recalls a sort of “a-ha” moment when she first learned about attachment theory: “At the end of the day, the message of attachment theory is simple: A child needs an available and responsive caregiver who will be there when the going gets tough.” Ehrlich was especially interested in how a dependable parent might be helpful for navigating the challenges of adolescents’ peer relationships, so she applied to work with Dr. Jude Cassidy at the University of Maryland, who was studying this research question at the time.
In graduate school, Ehrlich focused on parent-adolescent conflict—a frequent experience for many adolescents, and one that can foster open communication and problem-solving skills or resentment and hostility, depending on how the conflicts are discussed and resolved. In several studies, Ehrlich and Cassidy examined connections between parent-adolescent conflict and adolescents’ peer relationships, risk-taking behavior, and mental health. Ehrlich was also interested in why parents and adolescents often can’t even agree on what they disagree about, and she has conducted several studies to examine why these informant discrepancies persist.
As Ehrlich was reading and learning about connections among family relationships, peer relationships, and mental health, she came across studies showing links between these social factors and immune function and physical health in adulthood. She was particularly fascinated by Dr. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser’s research at Ohio State University on marital conflict and inflammation, and she began to wonder how parent-child relationships might affect inflammatory processes in adolescents.
After completing her PhD, Ehrlich started a postdoc with Drs. Greg Miller, Edith Chen, and Emma Adam to explore how adolescents’ social experiences might “get under the skin” to affect immune and endocrine processes in ways that might have implications for later health. This unique training experience has given Ehrlich a new set of research skills. She can now draw blood and prepare the samples for later analysis. Further, she has learned a lot about inflammation and its important role in the immune system. For instance, the inflammatory response is critical for survival and plays an important role in recovery from acute infections and injuries. But the inflammatory response must also be carefully regulated because if sustained in an unchecked manner, inflammation can bring about tissue damage and contribute to chronic diseases.
Ehrlich and her colleagues have conducted several studies that have examined connections between social experiences and inflammation. In one study, they found that observations of hostile parent-adolescent interactions are associated with the downregulation of key anti-inflammatory signaling molecules and difficulties with breathing in children with asthma. In another study, they charted the trajectories of adolescents’ relationship stress and found that some adolescents (ranging from 15-19 years old) who experience high levels of chronic stress are at risk for increasing inflammatory processes over time. In future projects, Ehrlich plans to examine how attachment may serve as a protective factor against the heightened inflammatory consequences associated with established risk factors, such as socioeconomic disadvantage and stress.
Ehrlich has been fortunate to receive pre-doctoral and postdoctoral funding support through NIH’s National Research Service Award (NRSA) program. She strongly encourages other emerging scholars to apply for fellowships and grants to support their own research. Ehrlich is grateful for funding mechanisms like the NRSA because the fellowships allowed her to chart her own research path. The process of applying was beneficial in itself, she says, because it “gave me practice in selecting an important research question to study, designing a study, and writing a competitive proposal—tasks that will be required throughout my research career.” Ehrlich recommends working closely with your advisor to develop a competitive proposal. She also benefitted from the advice of other peers who had already gone through the application process and could help answer questions about application rules and requirements.
To learn more about Katie Ehrlich and view her CV, please visit her website.
Daphne van de Bongardt is a fourth-year PhD candidate at the Utrecht Centre for Child and Adolescent Studies of Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Before starting her PhD, she completed a bachelor’s degree in Socio-Cultural Sciences, a one-year academic master’s degree in Sociology, and a Educational Sciences. Throughout her multidisciplinary educational trajectory, she became increasingly interested and specialized in gender and sexuality research. Her three main topics of interest –adolescent sexual development, sexuality education, and LGB issues– are also reflected in her publication record.
Jama Shelton is the Director of the Forty to None Project at the True Colors Fund. Her primary research interests include: LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness, with a focus on transgender and gender non-conforming youth; understanding the ways heterosexism and cisgenderism shape organizational culture and practices and the impact on LGBTQ youth; and the development of youth appropriate methods for enumerating the population of youth experiencing homelessness. Jama takes a developmental approach to better understanding this population. “We don’t have an identified best practice for counting youth experiencing homelessness, and our best estimates of the population are based on studies from the late 1990s,” she says. “Like in so many other domains, we know that youth experiencing homelessness are not small adults experiencing homelessness. Our methods for enumerating the adult homeless population are not appropriate for enumerating the population of unaccompanied youth. A more accurate number is critical to planning and scaling a response to youth homelessness at the federal, state, and local levels.” Jama’s research bridges practice with policy to best serve the needs of LGBTQ youth, especially those with unstable housing.
Jama described her educational path as much “curvier” than many people she knows. She says, “I used to think of it as full of detours, but now I see how each part of the path was actually an important part of the journey.” Jama received an undergraduate degree in Theatre Arts, which led her to working creatively with LGBTQ youth on community arts projects that elevated their voices and educated the community about their needs and experiences. Inevitably during the creative process of developing pieces for performance, at least one young person would disclose a history of trauma or abuse – things Jama did not feel equipped to deal with as a young 20-something armed with a theatre degree, so she made the decision to pursue a degree in social work. After working as an MSW with LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness at a social service agency in NYC, Jama became increasingly frustrated with the systems that were ill-equipped to work with LGBTQ youth in affirming ways. She saw the young people in her program, especially transgender and gender non-conforming youth, encounter the same barriers over and over again. Jama wanted to shift the focus of her work to the macro level so that she could address systemic barriers to equal access and care for LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness. Her direct practice experiences motivated her to enroll in the Social Welfare PhD program at the CUNY Graduate Center. The structure of the program was ideal, enabling Jama to continue working at her agency, so that what she was learning directly informed her work with LGBTQ young people and vice versa.
Jama is currently the Forty to None Project Director at the True Colors Fund, whose mission is to end LGBT youth homelessness. They work towards this mission by focusing on systemic change efforts and translating those efforts into tools and resources for people who work with LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness. Jama says she could not have created a better position for herself! “I am working on so many projects, and am excited about every single one!”
For instance ,Jama is working on the technical assistance team for The LGBTQ Youth Homelessness Prevention Initiative, supported by an interagency team including federal partners from the U.S. Departments of Education, Health, Housing and Urban Development, and Juvenile Justice, as well as USICH. The initiative’s goal is to prevent homelessness among LGBTQ youth, and to intervene early when homelessness occurs for these youth. Two communities—Hamilton County (Cincinnati), Ohio; Harris County (Houston), Texas—are participating in this multi-year initiative. Ultimately, this initiative will further federal efforts to end youth homelessness by 2020.
Jama is currently piloting the “Inclusion Assessment Tool,” a tool for agencies to assess their current level of inclusive and affirming care for LGBTQ youth – everything from the physical space to the formal policies and programs offered to the informal procedures with the organization. Jama recently assisted with data collection for a national survey of homeless youth service providers and, in collaboration with the Williams Institute, the True Colors Fund will be updating their report, Serving Our Youth, about the experiences of homeless youth organizations in providing services to LGBTQ youth. In addition, Jama will help organize the first National Summit on LGBTQ youth homelessness (True Colors Fund’s Forty to None Summit) this Sept. 30th.
Critical to her work at the True Colors Fund is a focus on breaking down silos and building bridges between systems. “This shouldn’t be unique, but is when working in the non-profit sector,” Jama says. “Not providing direct services affords us the opportunity to focus on supporting those that do, and part of that is finding ways to build bridges, facilitate connections, and streamline work.”
In her own research, Jama is interested in ways to utilize technology for both research and training purposes. She is currently working on a grant application to fund a pilot study examining the use of social media to engage and retain youth experiencing homelessness in research. She uses qualitative methods to better understand the unique experiences of transgender and gender non-conforming young people. Though some of their experiences may mirror their LGB counterparts, Jama hopes to capture the nuance of some of their experiences through qualitative interviews. Jama is also interested in arts-based research methods with LGBTQ youth. For example, her dissertation utilized the visual method of mapping along with individual interviews, to better understand the experiences of transgender youth who were unstably housed.
Jama’s advice to other emerging scholars is to be open to new and varied opportunities. She never intended to work in the non-profit sector after completing her PhD. However, the position seemed like the best next step towards making systems more responsive to the needs of LGBT youth experiencing homelessness. In this position, Jama is able to continue using her research and policy analysis skills to make real change in the lives of the populations she cares most about. “Through collaborative relationships with university partners, I am able to continue honing my skills,” she says. “And I work as an adjunct, because I love to teach!”
Rachel Hershberg is a Research Assistant Professor at the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development (IARYD) in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development at Tufts University. She began her work at Tufts as a post-doctoral fellow in June 2012.
Throughout her educational trajectory, Rachel has sought to better understand the positive development of diverse youth and families, with a particular focus on the strengths of migrant youth. She received her B.A. in Psychology and Middle Eastern Studies from Hampshire College. After college, Rachel served in Americorps, working at a refugee agency in Louisville, KY, where she grew up. At the agency, Rachel worked with youth and families from the Sudan, Liberia, Myanmar, the Congo, Turkey (among other nations), liaising with schools to coordinate services that met the unique strengths and challenges of refugee youth.
Following this experience, Rachel decided to pursue her Ph.D in Applied Developmental and Educational Psychology, as well as her Certificate in Human Rights and International Justice, at Boston College. Under the mentorship of Brinton Lykes, Rachel collaborated in participatory and action research projects with immigrant community organizations and families in the U.S. and in Guatemala. Through her research experiences, Rachel engaged with communities in the process of using research as a tool for social change, studying U.S. immigration and deportation policies and practices and their impacts on migrant and transnational families. Rachel focused in particular on understanding the resources youth and families leveraged to combat challenges related to the maladaptive practices involved in deportation, and transnational processes more generally. In her dissertation, Rachel detailed family processes for separated families, such as how families maintained connections during periods of prolonged separations. She also explored how critical awareness informed the positive development of these families and buffered some of the negative impacts associated with separation due to immigration and deportation. In her research with migrant youth, Rachel has found that children and adolescents reflect on the unfairness of the immigration system and its consequences for their families. “I observed that youth as young as ten years of age can articulate how their relatives’ experiences in the U.S. are related to structural inequalities that permeate both the immigration and criminal justice system,” she said.
Rachel came to the IARYD in 2012 to enhance her knowledge of positive youth development (PYD) and to explore potential connections between theories of PYD and critical consciousness development. Currently, Rachel is the Qualitative Project Director of several ongoing mixed-method research projects at the IARYD (Directed by Richard M. Lerner), including the Character and Merit Project and the Assessment of Character in Young Men. These projects are funded by the John Templeton Foundation and examine positive youth development in unique educational contexts in the U.S.
In this work, Rachel has retained her focus on the positive development of youth from diverse backgrounds. For example, within the ACT study, she is seeking to understand the role of critical consciousness in the positive development of young men from low-income backgrounds. Driven by her orientation toward social justice and human rights, Rachel uses community-based and qualitative methodologies to study systems of human development.
Rachel has taught graduate courses in qualitative methods as well as a practicum in Human Development, which was an applied/service learning course that explored social issues in the working world with undergraduate and master’s students, as part of their service-learning experiences. Rachel has also assisted with teaching seminars in human rights. Rachel enjoys mentoring students to help them identify their strengths and passions in the study of human development. Rachel’s work is about building bridges, whether between qualitative and quantitative methodologies, communities and institutions, or across disciplines. Her advice for emerging scholars is to seek out collaborative research opportunities. “Learn from scholars who are doing this work from different perspectives and with different knowledge bases,” she says, “and seek out more holistic partnerships.”
Luke Rapa is a third-year doctoral student at Michigan State University in the Educational Psychology and Educational Technology program. Before coming to MSU, Luke completed a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in English literature. “Literature has the capacity to speak to the human condition,” he said. While Luke enjoyed this aspect of studying literature – thinking about the development of characters, and the challenges and circumstances that reflect human experience – Luke is at home within the field of Psychology, which he feels is better aligned with his interests and talents.
Luke’s research focuses on the sociocultural and sociopolitical factors that influence learning and development. Luke is interested, for example, in learning about how marginalized peoples’ analyses of their social conditions can lead to subsequent action to change perceived inequalities. Towards this end, he has worked with Matthew Diemer, his advisor and an Associate Professor at MSU, to develop a measure of critical consciousness. This measure is currently under review.
In another project, Luke is currently investigating a model of pathways to academic achievement. The model involves the exploration of the relationships between contextual factors (teacher discrimination, classroom environment, and parental racial socialization) and individual factors (racial identity, academic self-competence, and valuing of school), and academic performance. Preliminary findings from this study indicate that teacher discrimination does not affect all students’ achievement motivation, indexed by academic self-competence and value, in the same way. For instance, among African American students in the sample, significant negative associations were seen between teacher discrimination and academic self-competence and valuing of school for students with higher parental racial socialization. On the other hand, no significant associations were found between teacher discrimination and academic self-competence and valuing of school for students with lower parental racial socialization.
Luke’s early work on socio-contextual predictors of achievement earned him a third-place award at the 2013 American Education Research Association Division D ‘In-Progress Research Gala’ and he has plans to return to AERA in 2014 to present the final results of his study. Luke admits that the findings from this research raise more questions than they answer about the nature of the relations among classroom context, parental socialization, and achievement for minority students. However, he hopes that his work helps educators and parents better understand what keeps kids motivated and engaged in school, as well as raises awareness about sociocultural variables that affect learning in the classroom.
While Luke is deeply engaged in his research, he is committed at the same time to the educational success of the undergraduate students in his own classroom. Luke teaches a course on the intersection of technology, learning, and leadership, where he and his students explore their roles as technology leaders in schools to ensure that the focus remains on learning and that learning is not eclipsed by technology.
To support his teaching and scholarship, Luke has received several fellowships throughout his graduate career. When asked about advice or “lessons learned”, Luke says he is reminded of some advice one of his professors gave: the number of successful funding applications corresponds directly with the number of applications submitted! Luke says to be prepared by knowing what your interests and goals are, so that you can quickly respond to funding opportunities, many of which have close deadlines.
Only in his third year as a Ph.D. student, Luke is able to articulate his program of research clearly and passionately. When asked about the future, he says he is working towards a career that allows him to continue teaching and conducting research, while spending more quality time with his wife, Sarah, and son, Jonah.
Click here for more information about Luke and access to his CV.
Elizabeth P. Shulman
Conventional wisdom that risk-taking increases during adolescence and then tapers off in early adulthood is substantiated by research across a range of disciplines. The reasons for this age-graded pattern are still unclear: we observe that adolescents are engaging in more dangerous behaviors even as their abilities to reason about consequences are improving. As psychologists continue to debate the underlying mechanisms of risky decision-making processes during adolescence, one emerging scholar stands out for her work on reconciling theories of adolescent decision-making. Elizabeth Shulman, who received her Ph.D. in Psychology and Social Behavior at the University of California, Irvine, is bringing advances in developmental neuroscience to bear on the issue. Her dissertation, titled, Deciding in the Dark: Developmental Differences between Adolescents and Adults in Unconscious Decision-Making, explores non-conscious decision-making processes across the adolescent period.
Dr. Shulman is interested in risky decision-making as a normative part of adolescent development, and also studies psychological and policy issues dealing with one extreme form of risk-taking – delinquency. Moreover, she is interested in the biological- and social-development factors that influence adolescent risk judgment and decision-making. To accommodate her many talents and the broad reaches of her scholarship, Elizabeth is a Postdoctoral Fellow at two institutions. She holds one position at the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, where she works with Angela Duckworth; and another in the Department of Psychology at Temple University, with Laurence Steinberg.
Working across both institutions has given Dr. Shulman a more multifaceted understanding of adolescence. While much of her original work focused on adolescents’ psychosocial deficits, she has come to appreciate the second decade as a period of promise. She is motivated to learn more about how researchers can leverage the plasticity and flexibility of adolescents’ brains and beliefs to optimize their developmental trajectories.
Elizabeth discovered her love for statistics in graduate school, where she minored in Quantitative Methods. She addresses many of her research questions using longitudinal data analysis methods. When asked how she stays current on data analytic techniques, she recommends two strategies. First, always be practicing! Second, Elizabeth finds that best way to learn something is to teach it, so she recommends finding ways to share knowledge with others. For example, in grad school she founded a “Stats and Snacks” peer tutoring group, where students could share what they were learning and pick up new methods.
Dr. Shulman emphasized that in all aspects of academic work, it is important to remember to be generous with one’s time and knowledge. This sort of collaboration is a win-win, she says: not only does it give you the opportunity to exchange ideas with fellow researchers, but it also pushes you to clarify information and articulate ideas, thereby advancing your own understanding of the material.
What stands out most about Elizabeth’s CV is the number of funding awards she has received over the course of her career. Put in the time to seek out funding, Elizabeth says, especially for small grants that are not well-publicized. More importantly, though, she says that the art of explaining one’s research question and why it is important should be practiced and refined throughout one’s career. The ability to explain one’s research to any audience, and to help them understand its relevance to their goals, is critical not only for persuading funders but also for helping practitioners and policy-makers translate one’s research into effective policies and programs.
Dr. Shulman is happy to see research on risky decision-making filtering into policy, for example through changes in laws related to age limits on driver’s licenses and the treatment of youthful offenders. Elizabeth believes that innovative research is particularly needed in the area of decision-making: because so much risk taking is done reactively or “in the dark”, education alone is not enough to help youth avoid risky behaviors that could lead to undesirable outcomes.
In the future, Elizabeth hopes to obtain a faculty position at a research university so she can continue to investigate developmental change in non-conscious aspects of decision-making and the influence of biological and social factors on adolescents’ and young adults’ choices.
For more on Dr. Shulman’s findings, look for her most recent article on age differences in intuitive risk judgment (Shulman & Cauffman, 2013) in Developmental Psychology.
Vanja Lazarevic is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Psychology at the Refugee Trauma and Resilience Center in the Department of Psychiatry at Boston Children’s Hospital. Her primary research interests relate to the health and well-being of immigrant youth and families: Vanja’s dissertation work at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign focused on the effects of language brokering on parent-child relationships in immigrant families from Eastern Europe. As an undergraduate Psychology major, Vanja was not familiar with Human Development and Family Studies, but discovered that her scholarly interests were best explored in the context of developmental theory and methods.
Dr. Lazarevic is an exemplary emerging scholar and leader in the study of adolescent development. In graduate school, she received numerous teaching awards and research fellowships. In 2008, she co-founded the Eastern European Focus Group within the National Council on Family Relations. More recently, she was the editorial assistant to the lead guest editor, Dr. Marcela Raffaelli, on the Special Issue of the Journal of Research on Adolescence, “Adolescents in the Majority World”. This special issue highlights research pertinent to the lives of adolescents in “majority world nations”, that is, youth representing Asia, Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean.
While the training, mentorship, and education at the University of Illinois has prepared her well for the current position, Vanja is looking forward to learning new research methods and gaining additional experience as a post doc. For example, community participatory research is a new approach for her. Community leaders at each site will assist the research team in building relationships with the community members and with potential participants by offering feedback on interview protocol, research methods, and recruitment. In addition, cultural brokers will provide guidance on translating the research into practical tools that can be used by educators and other practitioners to help them better understand the unique experiences of refugees.
In her current position, Vanja is working on a research project with refugee youth from Somalia. This longitudinal, multi-site research study, directed by Dr. Heidi Ellis (PI), investigates how the refugee experiences lead to diverse outcomes. Many of the youth involved in the study share similar refugee experiences, yet some become involved in destructive behaviors, such as gang violence and delinquency, while others move toward more resilient outcomes, such as civic engagement and positive mental health. The research takes a community participatory perspective, which includes working with Somali community leaders to ensure the community is part of the research. The research team involved in the project has been working with the Somali refugee population in Boston for over 10 years, and has established a trustworthy relationship with the community.
For Vanja, the process of translating the research into practice is especially interesting. The research team at the Refugee Trauma and Resilience Center recently developed a toolkit that trains practitioners who work with refugees about issues of war-related trauma and mental health. The training helps individuals working with refugee youth to become familiar with experiences of refugee populations. The long-term goal of the research program is to develop similar toolkits and other training opportunities for each community involved in the project.
Vanja’s advice to Emerging Scholars is to always be proactive. She recommends that students and early-career researchers shouldn’t just settle into their current research, but should explore various areas for involvement, including teaching and leadership roles. “Be hungry for opportunities and knowledge,” she said, “Be constantly seeking as many different opportunities as you have time for!” Vanja said that networking is extremely important, as is being open to new ideas and opportunities. In the future, she plans to pursue a position as a faculty member at a research university. However, she says that she is excited about her current position which will expose her to new experiences, and she is looking forward to where her current path will take her.
Sara Vasilenko is a post-doctoral fellow at The Pennsylvania State University. Primarily, her research interests center on sexual behavior and mental health in adolescence. Sara earned her doctorate in Human Development and Family Studies, also from Penn State, and her recent career has brought a new, interdisciplinary focus to her work. She holds a unique joint position, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in both the Prevention Research Center and the Methodology Center. The joint position allows Sara to combine her two areas of concentration: the individual development of adolescents’ sexual behaviors, and research methods for analyzing longitudinal data.
Sara’s interests in adolescent sexual development began with a concern for gender differences and women’s health issues; in particular, gender differences in standards for sexual behaviors, as well as differences between males and females in experiencing the consequences of sexual behaviors. To the extent that research could identify circumstances in which sexual experiences might be more positive, Sara believed that she could impact mental health outcomes for young women.
Sara says her interest in methodology was totally by chance. Originally an English major as an undergraduate at Kalamazoo College in Michigan, she never expected that she would have a career as a developmental methodologist. “Experience with different methods of data analysis can impact the questions you ask and conclusions you draw,” Sara said. She pursued her doctorate in developmental science, and her current methodological interests relate to using intensive longitudinal data to better understand different contexts of sexual behaviors throughout the course of adolescent relationships.
Sara’s latest project involves an application of time-varying effect modeling (TVEM) with data on young adult sexual behaviors. TVEM allows the researcher to estimate the time-varying associations between two variables at different points along a continuous timeline. For example, the amount of time a woman is in a relationship is associated with condom use, and thus predictors of condom use may vary at different points in the relationship. Sara hopes that modeling these relations will inform efforts to promote positive sexual development among young people. She recognizes the difficulty in influencing the sexual health of adolescents, due to the controversy that can exist around sexual health education and the potential gap between research and practice. Nevertheless, Sara is primarily concerned with gaining accurate information about positive and negative experiences of sex among young people, and in disseminating that information to practitioners who will use it to frame sexual health programming. With respect to this latter goal, Sara says that it is important for researchers to learn how to discuss their work in lay terms.
In the future, Sara hopes to find a faculty position where she may continue her research in human development and hopefully teach, as well. She hopes to see the direction of the field of human development moving toward more of an emphasis on combined substantive and methodological training, recognizing the importance of interdisciplinary work and bringing multiple perspectives to one’s research. Sara’s advice to Emerging Scholars is to be proactive about your career by reaching out to others in the field and networking as much as possible. She says that sometimes, getting what you want from your professional development is just a matter of asking!
Kirsten Gilbert is a 4th Year Clinical Psychology Graduate Student at Yale University, primarily advised by Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema and also affiliated with the Positive Emotion & Psychopathology Lab under Dr. June Gruber. She received a bachelor’s degree in Human Biology from Stanford University, and a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Yale University.
Much of the research examining emotion regulation in children and adolescents focuses on negative emotion regulation and a lack of cognitive control to down-regulate heightened negative emotion. Kirsten explains that to better understand why adolescence is the lifetime peak period for the onset of psychopathology, we need to examine ways adolescents can adaptively regulate both negative and positive emotion, rather than simply focusing on the negative.
Kirsten’s exciting program of research examines how positive emotion regulation in particular may be adaptive for adolescents and also how its dysregulation may lead to clinical pathology. For example, her current work examines the role of positive emotion in stress recovery in adolescent females. In this experimental study, participants are induced with different emotional states after a lab stressor. Kirsten hypothesizes that adolescents who are induced into a positive emotional state after a stressor will both subjectively and physiologically recover faster compared with adolescents who experience a neutral or sad emotional state following the stressor.
Kirsten is particularly interested in understanding different strategies that target and increase positive emotion in adolescents, such as mindfulness and physical activity, as well as how negative and positive emotion regulation interact in these processes. She enjoys running, swimming, and teaching spinning classes in her free time as ways to increase her own positive emotion.
As an alumna of the EARA/SRA Summer Schools, Kirsten notes that her engagement in SRA has provided a foundation from which to better understand and incorporate a developmental approach to her study of adolescent clinical psychology.
For a full review of Kirsten’s accomplishments thus far, please access her C.V. by clicking here. Reach Kirsten by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gilbert, K. E. (in press). The neglected role of positive emotion in psychopathology. Clinical Psychology Review.
Gilbert, K. E., Kalmar, J. H., Womer, F. W., Markovich, P. J., Pittman, B., Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Blumberg, H. P. (2011). Impulsivity in adolescent bipolar disorder. Acta Neuropsychiatrica, 23, 57-61.
Joormann, J., Gilbert, K., & Gotlib, I.H. (2010). Emotion identification in girls at high risk for depression. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 51(5) 575-582.
Post Doctoral Research Associate
University of Virginia
Christopher Hafen received his bachelor’s degree from San José State University, and then went on to receive both his Master’s degree and PhD from Florida Atlantic University under the guidance of Dr. Brett Laursen.
Adolescence is a period highlighted by relationship changes, and Christopher is particularly interested in understanding the function and development of close relationships in adolescence, and the ways in which context and individual differences drive changes in close relationships over time. For example, some of his recent research examines the relationship difficulties of disagreeable youth, using longitudinal multi-method data to show that being disagreeable in interactions with friends at age 14 predicts not only poorer relationships with friends at age 16 but also poorer romantic relationships at age 21. He notes that these findings highlight not only the considerable difficulties these youth have with relationships, but also the ways in which patterns formed with friends follow individuals into future relationships.
Bridging the gap between research and practice can be challenging, and his recent work with an educational intervention (www.mtpsecondary.net) has shaped a new interest in understanding the broader contexts that best support adolescent development and learning. He currently coordinates an ongoing randomized control trial that is testing the intervention’s effectiveness at improving teacher-student interactions and thus student outcomes.
Membership at the Society for Research of Adolescence has also played an important role in his career development, through opportunities such as the 2009 SRA/EARA Summer School at the University of British Columbia, in which he participated as an emerging scholar. He notes that this event provided a unique opportunity to form relationships to be carried throughout his career.
Hafen, C. A., DeLay, D., & Laursen, B. (2012). Transformations in friend relationships across the transition into adolescence. In B. Laursen & W. A. Collins (Eds.), Relationship Pathways: From Adolescence to Young Adulthood (pp. 69-90). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Hafen, C. A., Laursen, B., Kerr, M., Stattin, H., & Burk, W. J. (2011). Stable friends, unstable friends, and homophily: Similarity breeds constancy. Personality and Individual Differences, 51, 607-612. Laursen, B., & Hafen, C. A. (2010). Future directions in the study of close relationships: Conflict is bad (except when it's not). Social Development, 19, 858-872.
Hafen, C. A., & Laursen, B. (2009). More problems and less support: Early adolescentadjustment forecast changes in perceived support from parents. Journal of Family Psychology, 23, 192 - 203.
Taveeshi Gupta is a 4th year doctoral student in the Developmental Program at the Department of Applied Psychology at New York University. She received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology from University of Delhi. Traversing national and cultural boundaries is a major feature of Taveeshi’s exciting program of research.
Undaunted by challenges, Taveeshi leads a three-year, longitudinal, mixed-methods research study of adolescents and their families being conducted in New Delhi, India. Taveeshi recruits participants, trains volunteer data collectors, and collects data in New Delhi. She goes to great lengths to accommodate families’ needs, even if it means driving from one end of the city to the other or doing four interviews in one day! Taveeshi does all of this while balancing course work and research projects at NYU.
Her combined experiences in New York and India offer incredible learning opportunities. According to Taveeshi, “I get to travel to another country and see first-hand the cultural variations in adolescent development. This is particularly important as the field of developmental psychology is slowly expanding theories of adolescent development to incorporate the experiences of children across the world. Studying in New York gives me the advantage of being part of research projects in NYC that explore immigrant adolescent experiences and combining that with the project in India, I am able to understand the need for expanding existing theories and creating new ones.”
Taveeshi’s dissertation work is part of the study she is integrally involved in conducting. She is interested in the way parents socialize gender stereotypes in young adolescents, especially in urban, international contexts. Her dissertation will focus on parents and peers as agents of gender socialization, and she is exploring the mechanisms underlying gender socialization in the Indian context where traditional (or stereotyped) beliefs surrounding gender are highly valued. A unique aspect of her project is the mixed methodology. She is conducting ethnographies to use multiple lenses to understand social class differences in gender socialization processes in a rapidly changing context. Using a combination of quantitative and qualitative information is important for giving depth and context to understanding gender socialization. For example, Taveeshi is learning the ways that gender socialization messages are communicated explicitly and implicitly in families.
In addition, Taveeshi Gupta is involved in several other research projects. She works on a qualitative project with Dr. Niobe Way to explore the ways in which middle and high school urban boys’ friendships reflect the large male gender stereotypes. Taveeshi also is a project director for the New York City Academic and Social Engagement Study (NYCASES) under Dr. Selcuk Sirin. This study aims to understand the demographic factors that contribute to academic, social and emotional outcomes for urban high school adolescents. Moreover, Taveeshi takes an active role in mentoring students in New York as well as India.
Taveeshi’s CV can be accessed by clicking here. Reach Taveeshi by emailing email@example.com. Meet Taveeshi at one of her two poster presentations in Vancouver on Thursday March 8th at 1:45pm and 3:15pm.
Sara Johnson is a doctoral candidate in Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Connecticut. Innovative substantive and methodology research interests as well as a passion for applying research set Sara apart and put her in this month’s spotlight.
Her substantive research interests lie in identity development during adolescence and emerging adulthood, with a particular focus on implications for the design and evaluation of prevention and positive youth development programming. Sara studies how identity develops through volunteer experiences as well as "identity interventions." She is interested in the extent to which identity development mediates or moderates intervention outcomes, and she argues that theories of identity maintenance and change can be applied to program design and evaluation to better understand the processes through which prevention and interventions work. These represent some of the questions she is addressing in her dissertation, which examines emerging adult college students participating in semester-long community service programs through the University of Connecticut’s Office of Community Outreach.
Sara did not originally intend to focus on quantitative methods, but after taking several courses, she became convinced of the far-reaching implications that methods have for program design and evaluation. Her strategy in graduate school has been to take every quantitative and qualitative methods course available, which has resulted in a certificate in Quantitative Methods in University of Connecticut’s psychology department. Sara enjoys teaching about methods and working with colleagues on methodologically-oriented research questions.
Her methodological interests are at the field’s cutting-edge: she is interested in person-centered quantitative methods (mixture modeling), and combining these person-centered methods with in-depth interviews to create mixed methods designs. Sara is also interested in methods for analyzing nested and dyadic data – types of data often encountered in evaluating prevention and intervention programs.
In fact, Sara Johnson is enthusiastically committed to applying her research, even in methods, to real-world issues. Sara says, “Even though my substantive and methodological interests can seem far removed from the day-to-day things that happen in programs and activities, I am extremely committed to making sure that my research is applicable to and relevant for practitioners and program providers.” She has authored numerous reports for state and community agencies to share information on the design and evaluation of positive youth development programs. Sara has also committed to providing in-depth information to her University’s Office of Community Outreach about students’ experiences in programs as she partners with them to do her dissertation research.
In addition to research, Sara has engaged in teaching, mentoring, and service. She was also selected to attend the 2011 EARA/SRA Summer School in Tucson, Arizona. Sara Johnson will be graduating in May 2012 and is seeking a postdoctoral fellowship. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to view her CV.
Jan Šerek is a social psychology doctoral student and research fellow in the Institute for Research on Children, Youth, and Family at Masaryk University in the Czech Republic. Jan expects to complete his Ph.D. in 2012. His educational background includes degrees in philosophy, psychology, and political science. In investigating civic beliefs and behaviors during late adolescence, Jan takes an interdisciplinary and developmental perspective.
In researching the formation of adolescents’ civic views and engagement, Šerek’s work goes beyond the obvious to consider the role of “non-civic” developmental experiences. He argues that family and school environments share features similar to a civic context, and that cognitive schemata developed in family and school can influence adolescents' perception of civic life, and, in turn, affect their civic behavior. In collaboration with Lenka Lacinova and Petr Macek, he has a paper on this topic that will appear in the Journal of Adolescence’s special issue on civic development early next year. The article is based on Jan’s dissertation research.
Besides his dissertation, Jan works on several other research projects. For example, he collaborates on a multinational research study funded by the European Union to focus on psychological processes through which social factors influence young people’s civic and political engagement. His team represents the Czech Republic in the project and is focusing in particular on the experiences of ethnic minority youth. Additionally, he is involved with a project that examines historical changes in adolescents’ societal views during the Czech Republic’s transition to democracy.
Jan Šerek became interested in civic engagement based on his personal experience of local involvement, but also because, as he puts it, “I am strongly convinced that there are some groups in our society that are not heard enough. This applies to ethnic minorities, poor people, and people with low education. Civic engagement can be the only way for these groups to defend their rights and to achieve better lives. I hope that research on civic engagement can identify barriers and resources, encountered by these people, and, eventually, help them to better
represent their needs and opinions.”
Šerek’s teaching experiences also capture his interdisciplinary spirit: he has taught courses in political psychology, social psychology, developmental psychology, as well as psychology for economists. As an outstanding scholar, Jan has received the Dean’s Award for the Best Doctoral Student in his department as well as a national award for the best undergraduate research paper in psychology. Jan was also selected to attend the 2011 EARA/SRA Summer School in Tucson, Arizona.
Jan can be reached at email@example.com. Click here to access his CV.
Karen Bluth is a doctoral candidate in Child and Family Studies Department from the University of Tennessee. Her research interests are focused on the practice of mindfulness during the adolescent developmental years. Karen’s interest in mindfulness research is rooted in her own life-long practice, which she began during her teenage years. She states, “Mindfulness encompasses the experience of being attentive and accepting of that which is occurring in one’s moment-to- moment experience.” Moreover, mindfulness incorporates the principles of “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 1994, p.4).
Karen’s interest in studying the adolescent developmental period stems, in part, from her extensive teaching career. Prior to beginning graduate school, she spent over fifteen years as a teacher, and seven of those years were spent working with middle school students. Karen hopes to apply her expertise in mindfulness to understanding the potential role that mindfulness can play in easing the transition through this challenging developmental period. In particular, Karen’s dissertation explores the potential mediating role of self-compassion in the relationship between mindfulness and emotional well-being outcomes among adolescents.
One of the ways Karen has distinguished herself from others in her department has been her willingness and ability to network with mindfulness researchers outside of the University of Tennessee. Karen describes herself as only one of two lone mindfulness researcher at her university, but remarks that there are a “lot of people who are the lone mindfulness researchers at their universities. So if they can do it, I can do it.” In 2009, Karen began emailing mindfulness researchers in order to get connected with those who are interested in her area of research and to find out about conferences and other learning opportunities. From those initial email contacts, Karen has participated twice in the Mind and Life Summer Research Institute, which is a week-long intensive seminar workshop focused on bringing together mindfulness researchers, neuroscience researchers, and practitioners to learn about the application of mindfulness in a variety of contexts and discuss cutting edge research in the field. She has also attended an international conference, as well as 10 day workshop, sponsored by the Center for Mindfulness. All of these workshops and conferences enabled Karen to meet and begin professional relationships with senior scholars in her field. To her credit, Karen has kept in touch with many of these scholars and has even organized a symposium in which she asked more established mindfulness researchers to present their work.
Karen recently published an article in a prominent peer-reviewed journal for mindfulness-based research (see below for citation). This study explored the associations between parent mindfulness, parent effort, and adolescent internalizing and externalizing symptoms. Additionally, in the last few months Karen has also been involved in a study investigating a qualitative picture-narrative methodology, to explore how adolescents in marginalized populations perceive their sense of self. Karen states, “If this methodology proves effective, I will be using it to investigate the interface between mindfulness practice and adolescents’ emerging sense of identity.”
In addition to her research, Karen has been an active member of the Society of Research on Adolescence, and was selected to participate in the 2011 EARA-SRA Summer School in Tucson, Arizona. She has also served as an ad-hoc manuscript reviewer for the journals Mindfulness and Early Education and Development. When asked about her future career goals, Karen states that she hopes to get a job investigating the potential impact of mindfulness practice on relationships within the family system, such as between parents and children as youth transition into adolescence and the adulthood years. She is particularly curious to discover whether mindfulness-based practice by parents and adolescents can significantly improve relationships within this dyad. Lastly, Karen hopes to utilize findings from her research to implement mindfulness-based intervention programs for adolescents and families. Reflecting back on her experiences thus far as a graduate student Karen says, “I knew there was a lot of mindfulness research going on at a lot of places. So I just made the best out of the situation. If you have really strong interests, make the most out of your situation. Seek people outside your university.”
Bluth, K. & Wahler, R. G. (2011). Does effort matter in mindful parenting? Mindfulness, 2, 175-178.
Josafá da Cunha
Ph.D. Candidate in Education at the Federal University of Paraná, Brazil
Peer victimization is a serious issue in Brazilian schools, which is why Josafá Cunha decided to pursue research examining the role of teacher and peer relationships in school adjustment. Specifically, his dissertation uses a multilevel design and data from teachers and students to better understand the degree to which peer victimization and academic adjustment is influenced by the quality of the student-teacher relationship, while also examining specific strategies adopted by teachers to address peer victimization. Josafá already has several peer-reviewed publications in this area as well as numerous conference presentations that showcase his research.
Josafá da Cunha is an up-and-coming Brazilian scholar who is already perfecting the art of international collaborations. On several occasions, he has gained new colleagues from networking experiences at conferences. For example, Josafá met Dr. William Bukowski (Concordia University) at an ISSBD Workshop in Brazil and later was paired with him as part of the 2008 SRA Biennial Meeting International Young Scholars Program. These interactions led to pursuit of a grant awarded by the Canadian Government in the Emerging Leaders in the Americas Program, an opportunity that Josafá found at www.scholarships.gc.ca. This fellowship allowed him to travel to Montreal to attend courses, collaborate with Dr. Bukowski and his research lab, and experience life in a new culture.
Another illustration of Josafá’s international networking skills is a paper recently accepted to the Journal of LGBT Youth on the topic of promoting schools without homophobia. His co-authors are Dr. Jonathan Santo (University of Nebraska in Omaha) whom he met at the ISSBD workshop in Brazil as well as Dr. Stephen Russell (University of Arizona) whom Josafá connected with at the 2008 SRA Biennial Meeting.
Josafá is integrally immersed in the activities of SRA and ISSBD and has taken on leadership roles in both of these societies. He serves on the Emerging Scholars Committee and Membership Committees of SRA and is E-Newsletter Editor and collaborates with the Early Career Committee of ISSBD. Josafá’s enthusiasm for building and promoting opportunities for emerging scholars around the world is inspiring. Among other reasons, Josafá says, service to academic societies is important for building relationships, learning new skills, and gaining “the unique opportunity to help shape the initiatives that will influence the future of the field.”
You can contact Josafá da Cunha at firstname.lastname@example.org and access his CV by clicking here:http://lattes.cnpq.br/59081174
Doctoral Candidate in Developmental Psychology with a minor in Culture, Brain, and Development
University of California, Los Angeles,
Time magazine, which she described as “an incredible honor and a very humbling experience.” She had the opportunity to discuss her research finding that higher rates of self-reported discrimination among Latino and Asian American youth were associated with worse daily mood, GPA, self esteem, and physical symptoms (e.g., headaches, stomach aches).
In addition to her research, Ms. Huynh has been an active member of the Society of Research on Adolescence since 2006. In 2009, she was selected as one of the participants of the EARA-SRA Summer School in Vancouver. When asked about her research goals, Ms. Huhnh states, “Ultimately, I hope my research can help immigrants, refugees, and their children become well-adjusted members of society by raising awareness to the complex ways in which differential treatment can affect development.”
Jonathan B. Santo
Associate Professor of Psychology
University of Nebraska at Omaha
Jonathan B. Santo is a recent graduate from Concordia University, Montreal. His interest centers around the role of context in shaping human development. As a graduate student, his work examined the differences and similarities in the friendships and self-esteem of early adolescents in Montreal, Canada and Bogota, Colombia. In his current position, as associate professor in the Psychology Department of the University of Nebraska in Omaha - UNO, his research focuses on cross-cultural differences in identity development through close peer relationships among adolescents from five different countries.
While a graduate student, Jonathan B. Santo has contributed to the research community by his engagement in a number of activities, including editorial responsibilities in journals such as the McGill Journal of Medicine (Senior Editor, 2004-2006), International Journal of Behavioral Development (Managing Editor, 2001-2009), and the Brazilian Journal Interação em Psicologia (English Editor, 2007-Present). Jonathan is also an ad-hoc reviewer for a number of other professional journals.
Attending events tailored to foster the collaboration among emerging scholars internationally, such as the ISSBD Workshop in Brazil, 2007, has enabled him to expand his professional network and set the path for future collaborations. Now, in his appointment at the UNO, he became the co-editor of the Journal of Latin American Studies (JOLLAS) and is conducting a cross-cultural study that involves youth from five different countries.
When asked about finding a position in tough economic times, his suggestion for job seekers is in terms of goodness of fit: “Hiring committees are going to be asking themselves how well an applicant will fit in their program/department/college, etc. As such, the biggest recommendation I have for job seekers is to learn as much as possible about the departments they are applying to and carefully craft their applications to suit that niche.”
Jonathan B. Santo can be contacted at email@example.com.
Russell Toomey, M.A.
Doctoral Candidate in Family Studies and Human Development
University of Arizona
Russell Toomey’s research interests center on the examination of contextual influences in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) adolescents. Specifically, he is interested in how peer relationships and the school environment influence psychosocial well-being and academic achievement in the context of the prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination experienced by this population. Russell has primarily focused on studying processes that explain the disparate risks experienced by LGBT adolescents, as exemplified in his recent article in Developmental Psychology. Most crucially, the findings presented in this article show that anti-LGBT bullying in school largely accounts for young adult psychosocial adjustment – an important finding given the recent attention to anti-LGBT bullying related suicides among adolescents. Toomey’s work has also been published in the Journal of Homosexuality, and he is a co-author on publications in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Social Science and Medicine, the Handbook of Research on Civic Engagement in Youth, and the forthcoming Handbook of Developmental Research Methods.
In addition to his research, Russell is an active member of the larger research community. He serves as the Emerging Scholar Representative to the Finance Committee of SRA and is the Student / New Professional Representative for the Feminism and Family Studies Section of the National Council on Family Relations. In 2009, he was selected as one of the participants of the EARA-SRA Summer School in Vancouver, allowing him to create international collaborations with other emerging scholars. In 2010, he served as a Junior Mentor for the Young Scholars Program at SRA’s Biennial Meeting. In the near future, he hopes to continue to form new collaborations, mentor upcoming scholars, and launch his career as a research scientist and educator.
When asked about his research interests, Russell said, “I am passionate about research because I believe that when synergistic links among research findings, practice, and policy are created, then progress can be made to improve the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adolescents. The research that my collaborators and I conduct has direct implications for strategies that schools and family members can use to create safer and more accepting environments for these youth.”
Email Russell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Toomey, R. B., Ryan, C., Diaz, R., Card, N. A., & Russell, S. T. (2010). Gender nonconforming lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth: School victimization and young adult psychosocial adjustment. Developmental Psychology.
Russell, S. T., & Toomey, R. B. (2010). Men’s sexual orientation and suicide: Evidence for developmental risk. Social Science and Medicine.
McGuire, J. K., Anderson, C. R., Toomey, R. B., & Russell, S. T. (2010). School climate for transgender youth: A mixed method investigation of student experiences and school responses. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39, 1175-1188.
Toomey, R. B., & Richardson, R. A. (2009). Perceived sibling relationships of sexual minority youth. Journal of Homosexuality, 56, 849-860.