University of Minnesota
Dr. Moin Syed is an associate professor at the University of Minnesota. His research focuses on how adolescents and young adults from diverse ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds weave together their multiple identities to lead healthy, productive, and purposeful lives.
What drew you to the field of psychology and your current research interests?
Like many undergraduate students, I was initially drawn to psychology because I liked helping people and I thought I was good at it. Once I was exposed to the broad field of psychological research (i.e., beyond therapy) I realized that issues I had struggled with my whole life could be turned into interesting research questions that had broad societal implications. Growing up I was one of the few ethnic minorities in my school, and came from a relatively lower SES background, so I was always tuned in to issues of marginalized identity dynamics. I did not originally set out to research these topics, but they captured my attention and imagination when the opportunity was presented to me, so here I am.
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 chose to pursue an academic position because I love the work. In my early twenties a friend told me “everybody hates their job.” I had a very negative reaction to that sentiment, and vowed to find a job and career that I truly enjoy. Initially my love was derived from the acquisition and discovery of knowledge. Over the years, my love has shifted towards mentoring students and helping them find their own passions (but of course I still love knowledge!).
As you think back to your undergraduate days, what were some experiences that were helpful in bringing you to where you are today?
The first sentence to my graduate application essay read, “Most people are surprised when I tell them that getting kicked out of college was the best thing that ever happened to me.” It was true then, and it remains to be true today. After getting kicked out, I took some time off and reoriented my life, learning how to be comfortable with my self, to pursue my passions, and to trust my own sense of agency. The lessons I learned during that period continue to guide my life in many ways.
How do you think we can get more Asian Americans interested in psychology, starting at the undergraduate level?
We need to communicate to students that psychology is more than therapy, and that psychology has a lot to contribute to the lives of ethnic minorities. Asian Americans have a long, and often unacknowledged, history of activism and engagement with social justice. It is important that students realize that psychology is relevant to these interests.
Also, a lot of Asian American students I talk to say they are interested in psychology, but know that their parents will not approve (this was my own experience). It is a mistake to tell these students that they should “do what they want to, not what their parents say,” but at the same time we can provide these students with tools that may allow them to pursue their interests. Much of the disapproval of psychology as a subject comes from mistaken ideas of what psychology is all about (i.e., it is only therapy), which I find to be a failing of our discipline.
What advice would you give any undergraduates who are thinking about majoring in psychology, or pursuing graduate school in psychology?
Know what you are getting into. Collect information, talk to people, be informed!