Department of Psychology
Dr. Vaishali Raval is an associate professor at Miami University. Her research focuses on familial emotion communication and child health outcomes in international populations as well as ethnic minority groups in the United States. Click here to read more about Dr. Raval.
What drew you to the field of psychology and your current research interests?
A combination of psychology courses and personal experiences of living in two distinct cultures led me to majoring in psychology and eventually to my research interests that center on culture and contexts of mental health and development. As an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto taking courses in developmental and abnormal psychology, I often wondered how the theories and research I was learning about fit with (or did not fit with) my observations of human behavior and familial interactions while growing up in a metropolitan city in India. My graduate studies at the University of Windsor provided me with a conceptual framework to understand why and when my observations of human behavior in the cultural context of India did not fit with the research generated primarily in North America. In particular, three graduate level courses– cultural psychology, developmental psychopathology, and qualitative methods — challenged me to think about and study human development in a different way. The developmental psychopathology framework made sense to me given the focus on contexts of development, trajectories of development, and constructs such as multifinality that allowed for the possibility of multiple outcomes associated with similar risk factors. Learning about emic approaches to understanding people within a context and the value of mixed-methods in cultural research further added to my research toolkit. During my postdoc at the University of Chicago, I learned the value of interdisciplinary work, particularly the nuanced ways to conceptualize culture and person from the perspectives of cultural and medical anthropology.
An interest in psychology can lead to a number of different careers. Can you tell us about how you chose your current career path?
During my undergraduate studies I was exposed to the breadth of psychological science, and I I enjoyed learning about abnormal, developmental, and social psychology, as well as animal behavior, brain, and cognitive science. I was most intrigued by the study of people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors particularly as they experienced mental health difficulties, and I felt that understanding and intervening with these difficulties early on in life is likely going to be most effective, which led me to a PhD program in clinical developmental psychology.
As you think back to your undergraduate days, what were some experiences that were helpful in bringing you to where you are today?
The psychology specialist program at University of Toronto that I was a part of had a strong emphasis on teaching students to think and work like scientists. I learned to look for, and evaluate evidence supporting or disconfirming statements, and to begin to write concisely and effectively in a scientific manner. For over two years, I was a research assistant in a lab that investigated mother-infant attachment relationships and child functioning longitudinally, and this experience has been instrumental in how I approach research conceptually, and how I direct my research lab practically on a day-to-day basis. I was also closely involved with the Psychology Students’ Association, and it allowed me to learn about broader issues that the field of psychology can be involved with (i.e., legislature, providing information to the public about topics ranging from parenting to natural disasters).
How do you think we can get more Asian Americans interested in psychology, starting at the undergraduate level?
We need more Asian Americans in psychology so we can develop a psychological science that is comprehensive and studies human behavior in all of its diversity. Having more Asian American psychologists in the academic sphere would allow more and well-informed research pertaining to Asian Americans and having more Asian American psychologists in applied fields (i.e., mental health) would help us deliver more culturally-informed services. I think we can encourage more Asian Americans to become interested in psychology by providing information about this science and the diverse career paths available, by discussing with them why Asian Americans are needed in this field, and by providing them with role models and mentors in this field.
What advice would you give any undergraduates who are thinking about majoring in psychology, or pursuing graduate school in psychology?
I would say that psychology is an exciting field, a discipline that allows you to go in many different directions. I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities that you have at your academic institution to get involved with research, mentoring, advocacy, and service learning. Get involved with national and international professional organizations and begin to create a professional network. Use what you learn in psychology to help make sense of the world around you and also allow yourself to question the applicability of the research you read about to diverse populations based on your life experiences, and use your experiences to inform your research.