California State University – Northridge
Child & Adolescent Development
Dr. Virginia Huynh is an associate professor at CSUN. Her research focuses on understanding social and cultural factors—such as discrimination and ethnic socialization—that influence the academic, psychological, and physical well-being of ethnic minority and immigrant children and adolescents.
What drew you to the field of psychology and your current interests (e.g., Asian American issues, discrimination, ethnic socialization, etc.)?
I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and went to predominantly white schools. It became clear to me early on that even though I was born in America, people did not think of me as American. My experiences made me interested in children’s experiences of ethnicity and race in America. Learning about how parents talk to their children about race led to my interest in children’s experiences of discrimination.
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 didn’t know much about other career paths because my doctoral program prepared me to be an academic. With that said, I was drawn to becoming a professor because I had incredible mentors who helped me navigate my way through college as a first generation college student. As a professor, I have the opportunity to mentor students like me.
As you think back to your undergraduate days, what were some experiences that were helpful in bringing you to where you are today?
Get to know your professors early on, and visit often so they can write you strong letters of recommendation. Related, always apply for opportunities, especially during the summer. My freshman year I participated in APA’s summer science institute and learned about different areas of psychology. My sophomore year I received a research fellowship to study the Asian American population in Portland, Oregon. I spent the summer of my junior year participating in UCLA’s Summer Program for Undergraduate Research, a 10-week paid program to participate in research. Finally, I spent the summer of my senior year as an intern in DC working for SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. Because I went to a small liberal arts college, I didn’t have many research opportunities, so seeking out these summer experiences made me a competitive applicant for doctoral programs.
How do you think we can get more Asian Americans interested in psychology, starting at the undergraduate level?
Asian American students may be facing pressure from their parents to chose hard science majors or majors that promise prestigious careers or high salaries. Exposure to important research by Asian American leaders help debunk the myth that psychology is a “soft science”. To that end, invite speakers to your campus that includes lunch or coffee for students to meet with researchers. Consider holding workshops to help students talk to their parents about why psychology is important, and that it isn’t just about talking to people with problems.
What advice would you give any undergraduates who are thinking about majoring in psychology, or pursuing graduate school in psychology.
Read a lot of research articles and talk to your professors. Graduate students and TAs also are great resources!