University of California – Berkeley
Dr. Qing Zhou is an associate professor at the University of California – Berkeley. Her research can be broadly defined as understanding the developmental pathways towards behavioral problems and competence in childhood and adolescence.
What drew you to the field of psychology and your current interests?
I chose psychology as a major for my undergraduate study “by accident”. When I was a high school senior in China, we had to select a major for undergraduate study and the colleges we wanted to go before we took the national college entrance exam (thus not even knowing whether my grade would be good enough). And it was almost impossible to change your major once you are in college. So basically, we had to select our future career at the end of high school. Like most of my fellow students in China, I selected my top major (which I believe was finance?) based on my parents’ suggestions. I put “psychology” as my third major because it sounded new (I did not even know what psychology is) and my parents didn’t care much about my third choice anyway. In the end, I did not get my first or second choice – I was admitted to the Applied Psychology major at Beijing Normal University. When I got the news, I was both excited (that I can go to college in Beijing!) and anxious (not knowing what I’m going to do in the future!!!).
My first two years of undergraduate study at BNU were busy with classes. Psychology is a B.S. major in China so we had to take many math and statistics courses (which definitely helped me in the long run), as well as introductory courses in main fields of psychology (clinical, developmental, social….). However, I was still at a mist about what kind of career I can have with a degree in psychology. At that time (1990’s), psychology was still a new discipline in China. Only 2-3 universities had an academic department of psychology and there were only a handful of labs/research groups conducting psychology research (most of them were focused on cognitive psychology).
As you think back to your undergraduate days, what were some experiences that were helpful in bringing you to where you are today?
A transitional experience occurred in my third year of college when I started helping with some research projects conducted by Professor Qi Dong and his graduate students at the Institute of Developmental Science at BNU. Dr. Dong is a developmental psychologist trained at BNU and he spent a couple of years as a visiting scholar at several U.S. research institutes (including the Institute of Human Development at UC-Berkeley). He is a very energetic researcher and had numerous research projects going on (his lab was the busiest!), including some cross-cultural collaborative projects with researchers in North America (e.g., Michael Pratt, Joseph Campos, and Carolyn Saarni). Because my English was pretty good as a Chinese undergraduate, I was assigned to work on the collaborative projects with English-speaking researchers. I was lucky to work on a cross-cultural study on parenting and preschoolers’ moral and prosocial development led by Dr. Michael Pratt at Wilfrid Laurier, in which I conducted interviews and lab observations with Chinese parents and children. I became very interested in socio-emotional development and parenting in Chinese families. However, at that time, “socio-emotional development” was not a focus of developmental research in China, and similarly, Chinese parents and educators were much more concerned about children’s intellectual competence and academic achievement than emotional wellbeing. There were few scholarly publications on socio-emotional development available in Chinese, but I was able to access some research publications in English through my work on the collaborative projects. I read Dr. Saarni’s book on emotional competence and translated it into Chinese for a workshop she gave to Chinese teachers in Beijing. Dr. Pratt introduced me some articles on prosocial and moral development, which included the work of Nancy Eisenberg (who eventually became my Ph.D. advisor). I really wanted to study socio-emotional development in Chinese children to help parents and educators better teach and guide young children on “person” skills such as emotion regulation, getting along with others, and prosocial behaviors. At the end of my undergraduate study, my mentors encouraged me to apply for graduate programs in the U.S. to pursue my interest. So my research and academic journey began….
How do you think we can get more Asian Americans interested in psychology, starting at the undergraduate level?
I think psychology is not a popular major for Asian American students because psychology as a scientific discipline and career path is unfamiliar to Asian students and their families. There are also fewer Asian graduate students, faculty, and practitioners in psychology, and so Asian American students lack the role models/mentors/guides who can lead them into the field and guide them at every step. It is great that AAPA is creating more networking opportunities for Asian American students.
What advice would you give any undergraduates who are thinking about majoring in psychology, or pursuing graduate school in psychology?
1. Work in a research team/lab of faculty mentors and graduate students.
2. Interact with research participants (e.g., parents, children, teachers,…) in both the laboratory and naturalistic settings (e.g., it was very informative for me to observe children in classrooms, interview parents and observe parent-child interactions at homes).
3. Connect with graduate students who can serve as “role models”: During my undergraduate years, I became friends with a couple of graduate students in psychology who intended to take the “research track” (grad school, postdoc, faculty position). I basically just followed their paths. They gave me tons of advice, guidance, and tips at every step (from graduate school application to job application).
4. Read the research literature: While direct interactions with and observations of children and parents got me interested in studying child development and family socialization, reading the research literature (journal articles and books) gave me more concrete ideas on how to tackle real-world problems in psychology studies.