Student Notebook

Expanding Horizons: Research on Underrepresented Groups

Working women. Older adults. Individuals with visual impairments. Ethnic minorities. I don’t recall ever identifying any one of these groups and specifically thinking that I would do research with them. However, I do remember feeling that something was missing in what I was reading in my psychology textbooks. I think few people today would actually argue that the pool of psychological knowledge accurately reflects all people. Through my current and future research, I hope to make a small contribution to the effort to focus attention on, and expand knowledge of, underrepresented groups in the sciences.

What type of research do you conduct?
As an undergraduate at Barnard College in New York City, I double majored in anthropology and psychology because I was interested in both the socio-cultural contexts in which people live as well as the science behind individual differences. While at Barnard, I worked in Barbara Woike’s research lab on studies investigating personality and emotion. I also completed my honors thesis, in which I investigated conflict between work and relationship motives in young women, under her mentorship. After college, I worked at the Lighthouse International Research Institute with Verena Cimarolli and Kathrin Boerner, where I researched coping strategies used by older adults to deal with vision loss over time, issues of social support, and the impact of vision loss on life goals and relationships.

Now, in the Clinical Psychology PhD program at UCLA, I am pursuing two lines of research: First, I am studying how working women cope with balancing work and family, specifically how they deal with work-related stress in the family context, with Rena Repetti. Second, I am studying culture, emotion, and psychosocial adjustment processes in ethnic minorities with Anna Lau.

What is the inspiration for your research?
I haven’t been particularly strategic in how I’ve approached my research topics. I’ve just pursued what I’ve genuinely been fascinated with and sought out the best opportunities to pursue those interests. For example, after gaining broad research experience in the personality research lab in college, I focused my honors thesis on the particular topic of work-relationship conflict in young women, which was something that I had a more specific interest in and access to, having attended a women’s college. Similarly, at the Lighthouse International Research Institute, I was interested in issues of coping, adjustment, and social support. I gained experience in this type of research in the context of vision loss, and am now able to apply that experience and knowledge to researching coping processes used by working women, which is an extension of my undergraduate research. Furthermore, my anthropology background and interest in culture has now formally shaped itself as an interest in psychosocial adjustment processes in ethnic minorities.

Looking back, I see that the running line through my research has been a focus on coping, adjustment, and relationships. Because I’ve been interested in the experiences of underrepresented groups, I’ve been able to focus my research on these groups, whether it be working women, ethnic minorities, or individuals with disabilities. I’ve also benefited from having supportive and open-minded mentors who were willing to work with me on these research questions.

What suggestions do you have for students?
I’ve encouraged other students to study what they want and not worry so much about how strategic or logistically practical those choices are. Of course, it may be prudent to occasionally give a bit of thought to one’s future. However, if you are studying what genuinely fascinates you, the body of knowledge and the skills that you gain can never be anything less than a wonderful addition to your growth as a person and as a scientist.

Research on underrepresented groups often requires that we get a little more inventive in seeking research opportunities. When I was applying for a research job after college, I never dreamed of looking to a community agency for solid scientific training on underrepresented groups, and was instead only looking at the same large research institutions that everybody knows. Surprisingly, I found that community agencies, such as Lighthouse International, often do have very productive research departments that actively pursue the scientific study of the special populations they serve. Recently, I discovered that the Girl Scouts of America, who are best known for being a social organization, have a very active and well-funded research division in girls’ and young women’s development. My purpose in mentioning this is to make the point that doing research with underrepresented groups may require you to look beyond the typical scientific institutions to find great research experiences and opportunities.

How can other students get involved?
If you want to do research on underrepresented groups, it’s important to get plugged into a network of like-minded scientists and students. Not only can this be a great formal resource, but it can also be a really self-affirming source of social support. Due to the nature of the work that we do, we often find ourselves in the research world minority, so it is beneficial to be in networks where our interests and approaches are not only esteemed, but also challenged by others who are in the know.

A great and simple way for undergraduate and graduate students alike to do this is to join APSSC’s RiSE-UP (Research on Socially and Economically Underrepresented Populations) committee. RiSE-UP contains six subcommittees (aging, individuals with disabilities, ethnic minorities, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender individuals, women’s issues, and working class individuals) devoted to enhancing awareness of the need for research by and about members of underrepresented populations. Being an active member of RiSE-UP has provided me with information about funding, research opportunities, and access to stimulating conversation with other like-minded students. The RiSE-UP website at http://www.psychologicalscience.org/apssc/riseup/ holds a wealth of information about organizations that support research on underrepresented groups, funding opportunities for such research, as well as the annual RiSE-UP Research Award competition. If you want to or are conducting research on underrepresented groups, I urge you to consider joining RiSE-UP as a great way to get connected and I applaud you for your important endeavors!


Observer Vol.20, No.1 January, 2007

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