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Emerging Scholar Spotlight: Ryan Watson

September 2015

Dr. Ryan Watson is a developmental scientist focused on identifying protective factors for vulnerable youth around the world. Ryan received his Ph.D. from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona and received his B.A. from UCLA in Los Angeles, California. His program of research was shaped by his experiences working with Drs. Sandra Graham and Jaana Juvonen at UCLA where he focused on the experiences of ethnic minorities in Los Angeles schools. While he helped lead data collection on a study that investigated bias-based bullying, he noticed that many students were bullied due to their actual and perceived sexual orientation, whether they identified as LGBT or not. Ryan turned to an expert in the field, Dr. Stephen Russell at the University of Arizona, to help him further explore the experiences of sexual minorities in the contexts of families and schools.

While at the University of Arizona, Ryan was funded by a National Science Foundation Pre-doctoral fellowship, which allowed him to study the experiences of this LGBT youth across the world. He seeks to understand the best ways that scholars, families, and policymakers can support the needs of this vulnerable population. During his doctoral program, Ryan traveled across the world to take the next steps to battle against stigma, discrimination, and bullying. For example, he attended the SRA/EARA Summer School in Utrecht, the Netherlands to immerse himself in topics pertaining to adolescent development. The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide program and theResearch Council of Norway funded him to travel to Trondheim, Norway to collaborate with a leading scholar in adolescent psychopathology, Lars Wichstrøm at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Together, they used a database designed by Wichstrøm that traced the experiences of youth from 1992 to 2005. They compared these findings to a dataset that tracked more than 20,000 youth in the United States from 1994 to 2008, a project that became part of his dissertation.

Ryan is currently a post-doctorate fellow at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver; his supervisor is Elizabeth Saewyc. His position is made possible by a grant from the Canadian Institute of Health Research. He is a co-investigator on an NIH R-01 grant that explores multilevel protective factors for LGB youth in North America. He works to explore trends and patterns in health, emotional, and academic outcomes for sexual minorities in both the United States and Canada. Ryan continues to work with large data sets to understand disparities for subgroups of sexual minorities in academic institutions with enumerated anti-bullying policies and student clubs compared to schools that have minimal or no policies protecting sexual minorities.

In terms of advice for emerging scholars, Ryan’s experience in obtaining a post doctorate position was unique and might be applicable to future graduates. He was planning on stretching out his graduate career for five years to slowly develop his dissertation and delicately finesse its arguments and research questions.  However, in his fourth year he received a call for applications that described a Post Doctoral Fellow position that screamed his name. He knew Dr. Saewyc and knew it would be a perfect fit. But—there was a big problem: there was a requirement that all applicants held a Ph.D already. So he had to think outside of the box.

He inquired whether he could apply while he was still ABD. He was met with generous flexibility and was told he should apply anyway. In the end, the match was great between his program of research and the mission of the research centre. From this experience, he encourages Postdoc applicants to never feel limited or excluded from any opportunity. Many scholars are willing to work with peculiar or imperfect situations—all you have to do is ask! He was determined to pick a post doctorate position that fit his research interests but had something new to offer for his professional development.

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