University of California – Los Angeles
Joanna Kim is a doctoral student in Clinical Psychology at UCLA. She completed a B.A. in Psychology at Wellesley College and spent time in China and at NYU before beginning her doctoral studies.
Could you tell us about your time between undergraduate and graduate school? How did these experiences help to prepare you for graduate study?
Like most people, I took the time between undergrad and grad school to work in a research lab. Unlike others, though, I spent the first two years post-BA on the Wellesley-Yenching Fellowship in Nanjing, China. I returned stateside to work as a research assistant at NYU looking at Asian American mental health needs from a service-provider perspective and the feasibility of an online depression-prevention program. This had a significant community-based participatory research component which was great to help me learn about how to reach the community and encourage involvement. I also was able to assist with a qualitative study of contemporary Chinese mothers’ parenting strategies and experiences living in Nanjing. This was especially awesome given that I had just spent two years in Nanjing myself.
During this time, I also coordinated clinical trials and neuroimaging studies of patients with suicidial ideation and/or treatment-resistant depression. I worked on TMS, deep TMS, ketamine, and other trials that were often the last resort for people how have been suffering from depression and other disorders for much of their lives. This opened my eyes to what it’s like to work in a clinical research lab and I gained foundational clinical skills.
Most people do the two-year RAship route before applying for graduate school. Many also apply for graduate school during undergrad so as to start their degree right away. I don’t regret my time abroad. I’m a little older can some of the students, but I got so much great experience, I traveled, I met some of my closest friends, I had fun along the way, and I still got to where I wanted.
How do you think we can get more Asian Americans interested in psychology, starting at the undergraduate level?
Though it varies by region and generation status, my sense from my own upbringing and those of my friends is that many Asian/Asian American parents and families stress job stability. There’s also a sense that the only way for upward mobility is through strong academics and traditionally favored occupations such as law, engineering, and medicine. But, there’s no reason that psychology can’t be a good stable path for Asian Americans. We need more people to know that psychology is a great major for those who want to pursue it as a career and also for those who are curious and not necessarily want to work in that field. There are so many different fields within psychology that we often don’t know about, there are also many different jobs that people can pursue within psychology. I know when I was an undergrad I was uninitiated about all the different types and options available to me and awareness earlier on would have been wonderfully helpful.