University of Oregon
Dr. Gordon Hall is interested in the sociocultural contexts of psychopathology, cancer disparities, and Asian American psychology. His current projects include developing and evaluating socially valid treatments for depression among immigrants, understanding the effects of discrimination on mental health among Chinese international students, and identifying the basis of cancer screening disparities among Asian Americans. In addition to his work in the Department of Psychology, he is Associate Director of Research in the Center on Diversity and Community.
What drew you to the field of psychology and your current research interests?
An interest in social justice issues drew me to psychology. My mother and her family were incarcerated in an internment camp in Arizona during World War II because they were Japanese Americans. My parents were married in 1949 in the state of Washington but were not able to be married in most other states because interracial marriage was illegal at the time. These family experiences and the development of my identity as an Asian American shaped my research interests in cultural contexts of psychopathology and psychotherapy.
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?
During graduate school, I had hoped to have an academic career but a more realistic career goal seemed to be working as a psychologist at a community mental health center. While I was in graduate school, the federal government dismantled the community mental health system, which made a community mental health career less viable. During my predoctoral internship, I began to work with sex offenders and this developed into a job at a state hospital. Although this work did not involve Asian Americans, it helped me develop a productive research program, which was my ticket to a job as a psychology professor. I was later able to integrate my interests by studying cultural risk and protective factors associated with sexual aggression among Asian Americans. My interests and work have since shifted to cultural contexts of psychopathology and psychotherapy involving Asian Americans and other groups of color, which were my original interests in graduate school.
As you think back to your undergraduate days, what were some experiences that were helpful in bringing you to where you are today?
The undergraduate training that I received in psychology at the University of Washington (UW) was rigorous but acultural. This was good general preparation for graduate school and a career in psychology but not for the study of race, ethnicity, and culture. I had an opportunity to work in the lab of Dr. Stanley Sue, the father of Asian American psychology. However, the implicit message from my psychology courses was that a focus on race, ethnicity, and culture was political and peripheral to mainstream psychology, so I chose not to work with Dr. Sue. Fortunately, I was involved in an Asian American Christian community at the UW and in Seattle. I founded an Asian American Christian organization at the UW and these community experiences helped strengthen my ethnic identity, which has strongly influenced my career.
How do you think we can get more Asian Americans interested in psychology, starting at the undergraduate level?
I believe that Asian Americans can become more interested in psychology if courses that focus on race, ethnicity, and culture are offered. These include Asian American psychology, multicultural psychology, and culture and mental health. In addition, psychology professors who do not teach these courses need to integrate race, ethnicity, and culture into their courses to demonstrate that these are not political or peripheral issues. Most universities do not have faculty members whose work focuses on Asian Americans and rarely have more than one faculty member with these interests. An optimal way to attract more Asian Americans to psychology would be to have multiple faculty members in a psychology department who are interested in Asian Americans.
What advice would you give any undergraduates who are thinking about majoring in psychology, or pursuing graduate school in psychology?
My main advice to undergraduates interested in psychology is to learn strong research skills. The research base of psychology distinguishes it from other fields that focus on social behavior. A research background is the ticket to graduate school, even if one’s career ultimately does not involve conducting research. Also, the tools of research can be applied to different topics and populations, even if one’s research training doesn’t involve the particular topic and population of one’s primary interest. In addition to research training, finding a supportive mentor is important. A supportive mentor can open doors to career opportunities. Ideally, the mentor will share your interests but even if the mentor’s interests do not completely overlap with those of the mentee, having a mentor is better than not having one.