Emerging Scholar Spotlight

March 2021

Dr. Li Niu is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She received her PhD in Applied Developmental Psychology from Fordham University in 2020. Before that, she received a Master’s degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania and another Master’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies from Purdue University. Dr. Niu’s research focuses on adolescence as a sensitive developmental period in which social and environmental factors play a critical role in shaping life-long health and wellbeing. She studies the influence of social and environmental contexts on adolescent wellbeing and health trajectories.

Dr. Niu developed her interest in environmental factors and adolescent health when she was a graduate student at Purdue University. Working with Dr. Doran French, an expert in the field of peer group relationships, she studied peer group popularity in relation to social and behavioral outcomes using data from an adolescent cohort study in China. She began to see that adolescents’ social environment could have a significant effect on their behaviors and health. After she graduated from Purdue, she went to Fordham University to work with Dr. Lindsay Hoyt, who has a unique interdisciplinary research background working at the intersection of developmental psychology and public health. In the youth Development, Diversity, and Disparities (3D) Lab, she worked with Dr. Hoyt and Dr. Mark Pachucki, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, on a project that aimed to use an innovative social network approach to study the effect of peer networks and pubertal timing on adolescent health behaviors and long-term cardiometabolic health outcomes. In her dissertation, she studied the impact of neighborhood socioeconomic, social, and physical characteristics (e.g., poverty, crime, parks) on adolescent cardiometabolic and sexual health. During this time, she also did a research internship at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. Working with an interdisciplinary team of pediatricians, epidemiologists, and social scientists, she studied how profiles of childhood maltreatment are linked to trajectories of sexual risk behaviors among low-income adolescents in New York City.

As a postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Niu continues her interdisciplinary research working with Dr. Perry Sheffield, a pediatrician and health services researcher, and Dr. Bian Liu, an environmental epidemiologist, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She is expanding her work to study how environmental exposures, such as ambient temperature and air pollution, affect children and adolescents, and ways in which neighborhood characteristics influence their vulnerability to climate changes. Ultimately, Dr. Niu would like to use her research to inform social and environmental policies to promote adolescent health and equity.

Advice for emerging scholars

  • Present your research and seek feedback. Present your work at department seminars, in lab meetings, or even to your lab mate. Presenting can be scary, but it gets easier as you practice. Presenting is a great way to network and get feedback at the same time. It may also lead to other opportunities further down the line: collaborations, mentorship, and even friendship.
  • Rest and re-energize yourself. Treat yourself to one nice thing every day. It can be as simple as a walk in the park, savoring an ice cream, or doing a three-minute meditation. You will have a refreshed mind when you come back to work.


  • Niu, L., Brown, J. L., Hoyt, L. T., Salandy, A., Nucci-Sack, A., Shankar, V., Burk, D. R., Schlecht, N. F., & Diaz, A. D. (2021). Profiles of childhood maltreatment: Associations with sexual risk behavior during adolescence in a sample of racial/ethnic minority girls. Child Development. doi.org/10.1111/cdev.13498
  • Niu, L., Hoyt, L. T., Salandy, A., Nucci-Sack, A., Shankar, V., Strickler, H., . . . Diaz, A. (2020). The interaction between pubertal timing and childhood maltreatment on the risk of human papillomavirus infection among adolescent girls and young women. Preventive Medicine, 106126. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2020.106126.
  • Niu, L., Hoyt, L. T., & Pachucki, M. C. (2018). Context matters: Adolescent neighborhood and school influences on young adult body mass index. Journal of Adolescent Health, 64(3), 405-410. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2018.09.024.
  • Hoyt, L. T., Niu, L., Pachucki, M. C., & Chaku, N. (2020). Timing of puberty in boys and girls: Implications for population health. Social Science & Medicine-Population Health, 10, 100549. doi: 10.1016/j.ssmph.2020.100549
  • Niu, L., Jin, S., Li, L., & French, D. C. (2015). Popularity and social preference in Chinese adolescents: Associations with social and behavioral adjustment. Social Development. doi:10.1111/sode.12172