Michigan State University
Child and Adolescent Psychology
Dr. Desiree Qin is an associate professor at Michigan State University. Her research focuses on cultural adaptation of adolescents and emerging adults from immigrant/sojourner backgrounds, parenting, tiger moms, and children’s developmental outcomes across cultural contexts, and mental health of high achieving students.
What drew you to the field of psychology and your current research interests?
I grew up in a small village in Northern China and then moved to the provincial capital and completed my first MA degree there before coming to the US to pursue graduate degrees. I became interested in psychology when I was teaching high school students who failed their college entrance exam (the infamous “gao kao”) and noticed that they appeared very depressed in class. That was in the 1990s and psychology was a very new discipline in China then. Very few universities offered psychology or child development studies. After I came to the US, I majored in school psychology and then got my degree in Human Development and Psychology at Harvard Graduate School of Education. During graduate school I worked for my mentors Marcelo Suarez-Orozco and Carola Suarez-Orozco’s project the Longitudinal Immigrant Student Adaptation Project and became very interested in immigration, education, parenting and child and adolescent development. I think my personal experiences moving from place to place as a child and my research experiences in graduate school working closely with recently arrived immigrant families and children both contribute to my current research interests.
A doctoral degree in psychology can lead to a number of different careers. Can you tell us about how you chose your current career path?
I’m not a traditional psychologist. I came from a more interdisciplinary background in education and child development, with developmental psychology being an important part of my work. My interdisciplinary training gives me a broader perspective in culture and various ecological contexts that influence child development, which is central to my current research. I came from a family of teachers, so teaching and working at the school or university setting both felt natural to me after getting my graduate training. I also enjoy conducting research, so higher education seems to be a good fit for me. I love the opportunity to interact with students in my classes and in my research projects and be able to mentor and learn from them.
As you think back to your undergraduate days, what were some experiences that were helpful in bringing you to where you are today?
I was a very serious student in my undergraduate years in China, although at the time I did not know what I would do or where I would be. I read a lot of classic English and American literature, made friends with students and teachers from different parts of the world on campus, and taught English classes to students ranging from three years old to fifty or sixty year olds. All of these I believe helped make me who I am and influence the way I think, teach, and conduct research.
How do you think we can get more Asian Americans interested in psychology, starting at the undergraduate level?
In the Asian American community, there is a dire need to understand mental health challenges experienced by our children, families and community. Because traditionally in our Asian American families and community, we place more emphasis on educational achievement, Ivy League education, and professional success and we do not pay as much attention to mental health. A lot of children and adults in our community suffer from mental health challenges such as high levels of anxiety, stress, depression, especially among children and adolescents. This is one area where we can make an important contribution through research, clinical practice, and/or community outreach. In a lot of Asian countries, parents and teachers have now recognized the importance of paying attention to issues related to mental health and social development. There is a very big market. I see a very bright future for students pursuing degrees in psychology, education, child development, and family studies, on both sides of the Pacific.
What advice would you give any undergraduates who are thinking about majoring in psychology, or pursuing graduate school in psychology?
Be well trained as a psychologist, but also keep an open mind and learn from other disciplines such as anthropology, which has a longer history as a discipline examining the role of culture, which is central to us as an Asian American psychologist. Try to work with professors both in psych and other departments. Professors are always looking for highly motivated and competent undergraduate students to join their research team. Don’t be shy, just reach out.