Dr. Hannah Schacter grew up in the Boston area and in a family where both parents were psychologists, so she was exposed to the field at an early age. She recalls being very interested in the idea of data and learning about other people. She states, “I remember being in fifth grade and taking surveys of things like people’s favorite ice cream flavor in my class.” As she got older, she developed an interest in working with children. She worked at summer camps and babysat, and it wasn’t until she attended college where she had the opportunity as a psychology major to merge her interests by studying child development and developmental psychology.
In this podcast, Dr. Schacter shares many experiences related to her academic and professional journey to help those interested in the field of psychology gain perspective, learn from her experiences, and how best to navigate the journey. Throughout our discussion, Dr. Schacter provides copious practical advice and even shares some moments that helped shape her interests, direction, and choices regarding which university to attend for her undergraduate and graduate career as well as how she conducted the process related to searching for graduate schools and programs.
Dr. Schacter is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Wayne State University and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute for Child & Family Development. She is also the Director of the Adolescent Relationships in Context Lab (ARC). Dr. Schacter started getting involved in research during her undergraduate career at Hamilton College in Clinton, NY. During our discussion, she explains why she travelled from the East Coast to the West Coast to attend UCLA for her graduate degrees (MA and PhD) in developmental psychology.
She also discusses how she found various opportunities as an undergraduate and graduate student as well as how she found her postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Southern California. For example, she shares how she became an undergraduate research intern at Yale University by applying for the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program through the National Science Foundation. Dr. Schacter explains the various ways of finding a postdoc fellowship. She explains one way of finding funding for postdoctoral researchers on the NSF website. In today’s environment, more and more academic institutions expect that you have postdoc experience before applying for a faculty position. She states, “I would say it has become increasingly common and I would also probably say it’s more common than not to have postdoc experience before entering a faculty position.”
Dr. Schacter shares her advice regarding how to best select your graduate school or program. She states, “I think so much of a PhD is really what you make of it” and “ I think it’s less about, you know, making the right choices and more about making a choice that feels like a strong fit.” She also points out that there is an interpersonal aspect of selecting your graduate program and mentor. She suggests that you ask yourself “is this someone you want to work closely with for, you know, 5-6 years? That’s, that’s an important factor as well. Do you get along? Do you feel like they’re going to be a supportive mentor?”
In response to my question regarding how to keep students motivated and passionate about their studies and their research, Dr. Schacter suggests immersing yourself in your work and surrounding yourself with other students, people, and mentors in the field. She also reminds us that some schools have Psi Chi, which is a society for students in psychology, and this can be used to help keep you focused and expand your knowledge and network.
Near the end of our discussion, she offers some additional advice for those interested in the field of psychology. She states, “I think talk to as many people as you can, especially, you know, if you’re, if you’re in undergrad and you have the opportunity to talk to your professors, talk to your classmates. Different people have different advice and different experiences. That’s what’s so great about a podcast like this is I’m sure you’re getting both some overlap in themes, but also really unique journeys that people have been on. And so, I think, I think the more people you talk to and hear their own stories, that’s a really powerful way of determining your own.”
Interests and Specializations
Dr. Hannah Schacter’s research areas focus on developmental psychology, adolescent development, and peer relationships. She is interested in how adolescents’ social relationships, their peer relationships, connect to both their mental and physical health.
Bachelor of Arts (BA), Summa Cum Laude, Psychology (2012); Hamilton College, Clinton, NY.
Master of Arts (MA), Developmental Psychology (2013); University of California, Los Angeles, CA.
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Developmental Psychology (2017); University of California, Los Angeles, CA.
Other Sources and Links of Interest
Welcome to the Master’s in Psychology Podcast, where psychology students can learn from psychologists, educators, and practitioners to better understand what they do, how they got there, and hear the advice they have for those interested in getting a graduate degree in psychology. I’m your host, Brad Schumacher, and today we welcome Dr. Hannah Schachter to the show. Dr. Schachter is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Wayne State University and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute for Child & Family Development. She is also the Director of the Adolescent Relationships in Context (ARC) Lab. Today, we will learn more about her academic and professional journey, more about her professorships at WSU, and discuss the ARC Lab. Dr. Schachter, welcome to our podcast.
Thank you. Thanks so much for having me.
Well, I appreciate you getting on and talking about your journey. I, I the fun part for me as I was telling you before we started is I get to learn more about your academic and professional journey. And so, our goal is to go through that first and then talk about how you ended up at WSU, a day in the life of you and your job. And then talk a little bit more about the lab and then obviously provide some advice to any students who are the least bit interested and aspiring to stay in the academic field in psychology. So, I noticed that you received your bachelor’s degree in psychology from Hamilton College in Clinton, NY. Tell me a little bit more about your undergraduate experiences and what exactly ignited your interest in psychology.
Yeah, I’d be happy to share more. So, I went to Hamilton College for those that don’t know, and many may not. It is a very small liberal arts school in upstate New York, so it’s about 1800 students total, which was actually even smaller than my high school was, so very different environment than somewhere like I am now as a professor. It’s a big public, research intensive university. When I came to Hamilton, I already knew I wanted to be a psychology major. Part of that was I, I grew up in a family of both parents being psychologists, so I was exposed to the field pretty early on I, at a fairly young age, just became really interested in the idea of data and learning about other people and kind of evaluating patterns. So, I remember being in fifth grade and taking surveys of things like people’s favorite ice cream flavor in my class. And you know, tallying up the totals and ranking. And so, I think that that very early on was an interest of mine. And then as I got a little bit older, I also developed an interest in working with children. So, I worked at summer camps. And, uh, babysat a bunch and it really wasn’t until I got to college and felt like I had the opportunity through a psychology major to sort of merge those interests when I got really interested in child development and developmental psychology. So at, at Hamilton initially I was just taking psychology classes kind of in the typical way that a psych major would, and then it’s it was one of these funny, you look back and you realize so much was shaped by what felt like, at the time, kind of a disaster scenario but I had signed up for an ECON class my first semester of college. I think because my roommate had, I didn’t really have that much interest in economics, but I took the course I got through my first exam and I completely bombed it. I did so horribly. And it was looking like if I continued in this class, it was already my first semester of college going to tank my GPA. I went to my academic advisor who was in the psychology department, and I said I don’t know what to do. And she basically told me if I wanted to drop the class, it wasn’t too late, but I would have to make up the credits. Could do so through these semesterly research credits, which over time would accumulate to be enough to make up the class. So, I started getting involved in research, and it was sort of like the rest was history after that.
Well, I did notice that and we’ll talk a little bit more about some of your experiences leading up to, you know, college and even through Graduate School. You know, one thing I noticed is you were in New York and then all of a sudden out of the blue, you decided, hey, I want to travel all the way across the United States and go to California. There are so many different schools in California that offer graduate degrees in psychology. So tell me your thought process about, well, how did you decide to go to UCLA for your graduate degree?
It’s an interesting process, right? Because it’s in some ways you have so many options. But then at the same time when you’re looking for PhD programs and you’re really trying to fit your specific research interests, not only with the school but a specific department and then a specific program. And then within that, a specific research mentor. So, for me, the decision was really guided by who I would potentially be working with. So when I was applying to graduate schools I was I was not, I was almost taking a bottom-up approach rather than looking at OK, let me look at all the universities and then see who’s in those departments. I was looking at who’s doing research, regardless of where they are, that fits with what I want to do as a graduate student and eventually you know, down the road in my career and then, you know from there, OK, what is the department like? What is the university like? What are the opportunities? So, uhm, I in college the the research that I got involved in with my my advice, my academic advisor focused a lot on children, social relationships and specifically aggression in kids’ relationships. So, looking at things like rumor spreading and gossip and exclusion and how how frequently that takes place, how it develops over time, how it might affect children’s mental health and so going into, apply to PhD programs, I knew that was a line of research I really wanted to continue and I also was particularly interested in adolescence as a developmental period. Given what we know about how important peer relationships become during those teenage years, and so. So, when I was trying to identify potential research mentors, Dr. Yaana Juvonen, who ultimately was my advisor at UCLA, was someone that was really a a leader in that, in that area, I was really interested in and excited by the research she was doing and so that that was right at the top of my list when I started applying to schools, given what I felt like was a really strong match in in research interests.
Well, it sounds like you were looking for people who could advise in the same area that you were interested in. I was just looking at your LinkedIn profile and when you go to your experiences, anything from all the way from 2005 you you were looking at and working at the Harris Early Childhood Lab as a volunteer researcher. Then you went into as a volunteer researcher in Kensinger Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab at Boston College. Research intern at Boston Healthcare System. And then when I continue looking at your interests, everything was in that child development, adolescent development area. So, it’s no wonder you kind of found yourself in that branch of psychology of developmental branch of psychology. So can you. You said that you when you were going for your graduate and you applied directly to the PhD program, so a lot of our guests asked, well, how did you decide if you were going to go the PhD route versus the PsyD route? Can you speak to that for a moment?
Yeah, I I encounter a lot of students with that same question. I think a lot of it comes down to ultimately what are you hoping to do with your degree and the the extent to which you’re interested in more clinical work versus research and or teaching. So, for me, I did go through a phase at some point as an under, as an early undergraduate, I thought you know, I want to be a therapist or I want to be a mental health counselor. And as I got more and more involved with research, I realized that that’s really where my passion and excitement was. And so, a PhD program was a really good fit for me because it provides intensive training in psychological research, and I had some opportunities to also teach as a teaching assistant and independently. That prepared me really well for sort of this academic path. Becoming a faculty member where I’d have my own lab leading my own research, teaching, whereas something like a PsyD offers a lot of opportunities for getting that hands-on clinical experience, clinical training, you know, working with patients that would prepare someone really well going into different healthcare settings or maybe establishing a private practice, things like that. So I think it it really comes down to where, where someone’s interests lie in terms of long term. And I think you know, either program has its own benefits and drawbacks and things that you have to kind of sacrifice for one versus the other, but it really comes down to, yeah, what what you envision for your long-term career goals?
Think back when you actually applied for graduate schools. Do you remember how many you applied to and and did it really come down to that mentor and that program that made you decide on UCLA? Speak to that for a second.
It did, I I ended up applying to I want to say it was around 7 or 8 programs, and I was very fortunate that I was accepted to most programs I had applied to so I felt like I had options. At the end of the day, again, it’s like you’re sometimes weighing these different costs and benefits and UCLA and working with with my advisor there was sort of the one place where I really didn’t see costs. Maybe, aside from literally the cost of living in Los Angeles, I didn’t see, you know, there were just there was so, you know, it’s a fantastic school. I saw really amazing opportunities in, in the lab that I joined. I was, you know, 21 years old and excited about the idea of living in California. Like, when was I gonna do that again? And so so it ended up just for me feeling like there there was, there was so much to offer. There were certainly other places I I applied and was accepted where I, I think so much of a PhD is really what you make of it. And so, although I don’t regret anything about my experience, I I do think there there are other places I could have ended up and I probably would have had a fantastic experience also. So, I think it’s less about, you know, making the right choice and more about making a choice that feels like a strong fit. And and and you know other people sometimes are balancing other personal needs where you can’t just pick up and move to California. And so, I think there’s a lot to consider there too, although I would say when choosing initially where to apply, that research fit, that fit with the mentor, not just even research wise, but also interpersonally, is this someone you want to work closely with for, you know, 5-6 years? That’s, that’s an important factor as well. Do you get along? Do you feel like they’re going to be a supportive mentor?
That’s a good point. And the other thing that comes to my mind while you’re describing that, you know, you’re 20-21 years old, having to move from one East Coast to the West Coast, it sounded like an exciting, you know, excited for that. But some people might not want to do that because they’re so far away from, you know, their parents and their friends and and their home, basically. So, do you recall your feeling when you were deciding whether or not I should go to UCLA or other ones. And I think you already mentioned how exciting it would be to live in California.
Yeah, I, I think there was probably a little bit of apprehension in terms of going somewhere totally new. I really didn’t know anyone over there. My family is on the East Coast like I had friends out there. In some ways, I think because I went straight from undergrad, it perhaps made it a little bit easier because I had just finished college. And so, I knew I was already parting ways with all of my close friends from College in terms of we all lived in different places already and you know, I did have some friends back in. I grew up in the Boston area, so I did have some friends who I knew were going back there. But it kind of felt like regardless of what I did, it was a bit of a fresh start, so why not, you know, do that somewhere it’s sunny all year. It it felt less daunting knowing that I was going to have to make a big academic and social transition, no matter what I did, and so I think that that made it a little bit easier and I also felt like starting Graduate School because you’re in a cohort of of classmates who are in the same boat as you, they’re all starting in program as well. You almost have this built in social network that now being I I would say my move from California to Michigan was probably more daunting for me because as an adult, I think it’s almost more challenging. I mean, not that I wasn’t an adult at 21, but you know. It’s a a lot of people are kind of still finding themselves and you’re put into the situation with a lot of people who are you’re kind of commiserating over the stresses of grad school you’re experiencing a new city together, so, you know, very few people that I was close with in Graduate School were from Los Angeles. And so I think we all, we all really bonded because of that.
Well, it sounds like it and you brought up a good point. You do have those colleagues, cohorts that are in that program with you in the same boat and you actually help each other get through the program support socially as well as academically. So, you know, here’s one question that I have is what advice would you give to aspiring psychology students who are just starting their academic journey? Any advice for them? It could be daunting to them. Hey, how do I decide which branch? How do I decide which school? Any general advice for those psychology students who are just starting their academic career in psychology?
Yeah, I think a lot of it is experimenting and trying different things. I think there is sometimes is this feeling that there is so much pressure to figure out exactly what you want to do really early on. But I think it’s OK. If anything, it’s it’s useful to have experiences that aren’t great or that you realize I really don’t like that or I’m not interested in that. So, I see it almost as a win win for students as they start exploring. Maybe they want to get involved in a research lab as an undergraduate. And they’re not sure which lab should I join. I’m not sure what I’m interested in and the way I see it is either you join one that ends up being a really great fit and you find it the research interesting and it’s it’s an area maybe you want to continue in or you join one and you realize, wow, I really don’t like this, you know, area of research or inquiry. I don’t want to do this, but that’s an important lesson. That helps you narrow down. OK, that’s out. Maybe I’ll try this. So, I think really thinking of everything as a learning experience and not not necessarily a mistake if you if you do something and you realize you don’t like it. But I do think the more you can get involved and we can talk more about what that might look like, but the more you can get involved in actual ongoing research to determine is that a path you like? Or perhaps things like if you think you might wanna go more clinical, you’re interested in mental health and maybe counseling or therapy. You know, doing something like an internship in a in a, a some sort of mental health setting can be useful. But the more that you can get your feet wet, I think that’s really when you immerse yourself, you get the best understanding of is this something I could see myself doing long term.
I like how you summarized that, don’t view it as mistakes or correct choices, just experiences. And not only you know the research areas, but just going and being involved in lab and and being able to do some research that would help you understand. Do I like doing research and if you don’t then then you found something out and that helps you redirect your path a little bit. So, I like that summary. Were there any other experiences that come to mind or opportunities that undergrads can actually take advantage of to help them decide, hey, is Graduate School, right, you know, right for me? You already mentioned one, lab, research doing any analytical stuff, any research in that area, or or labs anything else that comes to mind for people deciding whether or not I should stay within the academic field or I should go the clinical or go outside of the academic field?
I guess this is related to research labs, but it’s a slightly different avenue of getting that experience. One thing that I personally encountered as an undergraduate was because I was at a very small undergraduate only institution that had research going on, but not a lot and not at the same level or breadth as somewhere like UCLA or Wayne State is that I didn’t really have any exposure. I was getting, you know, into around my third year of undergrad and I realized I haven’t really seen what it’s like in a research-intensive academic environment. You know, I haven’t really interacted much with graduate students. I had a little bit of that when I kind of volunteered locally as a high school student. But there are opportunities out there, oftentimes funded through institutions like National Science Foundation, where undergraduates can apply for summer research opportunities, and these are often not at their own institution and are frequently really geared towards students that may not have access or direct easy access to those kinds of research experiences at their own schools. So, one of these through National Science Foundation is called the, the REU program, Research Experience for Undergraduates, and that’s something I ended up doing after my junior, the summer after my junior year of college, and that was at Yale University. So as part of that it was a multi week program where you go, you’re living. I lived in, you know, in New Haven and every day you’re spending time basically interning in a couple of different research labs. And so that was an an amazing experience in terms of seeing what it’s like at a more research-intensive university. I was mentored by a graduate student there. There was professional development involved where all of us were, you know, studying for the GRE together and working on our application statements for Graduate School. So, I think really taking advantage of applying for opportunities like that, I recommend if people aren’t already on Twitter, I feel like I see so many advertisements for programs like this more and more that I know I’m always trying to retweet them to get them out to undergrads who might be interested. But I think that that kind of opportunity just again getting that immersive experience if especially if it’s not as readily available at your your home institution.
And you were mentioning your NSF Research Experience for Undergraduate, or REU program. You did that at Yale, as you said, and you were a research assistant in the Olson Social Cognitive Development Lab & the Santos Comparative Cognition Lab at Yale University. And that lasted a little over 3 months. So from there you you have a variety of experiences as well. And then I’m going to kind of jump toward the end. You actually did an. You were an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Southern California in the Department of Psychology. So, tell us how you found this fellowship and how one might increase their chances of finding an opportunity like this. I mean, back when I was going through school, we didn’t have as much of the social media you had to, you know, it’s who you knew. It’s going to conferences, local, regional, national conferences and making contacts and letting them know, hey, I am interested in this area. Do you have any opportunities? So, tell us how you found this NSF postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Southern California in that Department of Psychology.
So, this is a a unique kind of fellowship because it’s it’s actually not specifically affiliated with US with University of Southern California. It’s a fellowship provided by National Science Foundation that you can apply for, and you choose where you would want to be and who you would hypothetically be working with, which is what the appeal was for me because I was able to specifically hone in on this, is a researcher who is doing exciting work that I think if I had the opportunity to train with it would really expand my research repertoire and you can choose where you want that to be. So, it gives you almost a, if you get it, a level of control over where you’re going to do your postdoc, and for those in our aren’t as familiar with what a postdoc is, it’s typically a, you know, can be anything from one year to multiyear opportunity after or training experience after you get your PhD, but before you would go into something like a faculty position or whatever your your next steps are maybe outside of academia, but it’s an opportunity to continue publishing your work, to get new training in a maybe a slightly different but complementary research area, learn new methods. So when I was in my fifth year of Graduate School and I was planning to finish that year, I was applying to academic jobs, but also recognized the, you know, the the competition of that and wanted to also give, you know, myself the potential opportunity to to do something like a postdoc fellowship. I think one of the challenges of a postdoc is that it typically is just a couple of years, and it’s a sort of limbo period and so in some ways, depending on your life stage and your personal life, it can be really hard to think about the idea of am I gonna relocate again for maybe two years and then pick up and do it again when I eventually get a faculty position? So, for me it was, I felt really fortunate to find Dr. Gayla Margolin, who was my my mentor for for that experience right in LA, where I already was. So, so that was another appeal of being able to apply for that was proposing to continue my training at a different institution with a different mentor, but not necessarily having to uproot my my life for a very short period of time.
Well, it sounds like you were fortunate because you were still in the same area. You didn’t have to move for that. But the reason I was asking that question is a lot of listeners don’t realize the post doc fellowship, you know process or procedure and back in the day, you know from talking to a lot of my guests is, you know, early on it was almost expected after you finished your PhD, you just go automatically apply for faculty positions if you wanted to stay in the academic world and, and in the, in the academic field, I should say. Nowadays, more and more faculty positions are almost requiring or suggesting that you have that post doc experience. What has, what have, what have you kind of learned going through that experience? Is that still the case or tell me your thoughts on that.
Yes, I would say it has become increasingly common and I would also probably say it’s more common than not to have postdoc experience before entering a faculty position. It wasn’t something I initially was set on my head in my head of. I want to do a postdoc in. In retrospect, though, I’m very glad that I did. The other thing I’ll mention is that there are to to what you were saying before about sort of the networking aspect of of a post doc. There are definitely different avenues for getting a post doc. One is what I talked about, which is you apply for some sort of external fellowship and you propose a research plan, a mentoring plan, who you’re going to work with and where. There are also advertised post docs in the same way that a faculty position might be advertised. So, you might see it on, you know, on a job website. So and so is hiring a post-doctoral fellow for two years at this institution to work on XYZ projects. And then sometimes you you do still see that networking aspect where maybe a student, a graduate student is at a conference, they mentioned that they’reifnishing up their dissertation and someone you know, an established faculty member says Ohh, I’m going to be looking for a postdoc next year. You know, you should consider working with me, so there’s different ways of getting there and different ways that the post doc itself plays out in terms of are you teaching at all, or are you just doing research, things like that.
You know that’s a good, very good overview and now you already mentioned this, you went from New York, California and then you went right in the middle, you went to Detroit, MI and and now you’re at Wayne State University and you’ve been there since 2019. How did you end up at WSU and did you apply to other faculty positions and same kind of questions, why did you end up going to WSU?
Yes, I certainly applied to other positions. I was advised you need to cast a very wide net. You know you want to obviously consider where would I actually move and and consider living and and Wayne State was definitely on that list. But I did. I applied widely the thing that I really. I mean, there’s a number of things that I I was really excited about at Wayne State, some of the the ones that really stand out to me is one, Wayne State is it’s a large public, research-intensive university and it really has a strong urban mission with a great emphasis on community engagement and a real massive researchers who are interested in connecting psychology and health, which is really where I saw my research heading. You know, I study adolescent development, but I’m I’m particularly interested in how adolescents’ social relationships, their peer relationships, connect to both their mental and physical health. And so, I saw a lot of opportunities for potential collaboration and really felt like the kind of work I was doing would be, would be valued there and and again appreciated the, you know, just in terms of geographic location, the, the cultural richness and diversity of being somewhere like Detroit. And for me, in my personal life, being closer to family was certainly a a draw. It was despite the things I loved about California, it was tough being all the way across the country for that many years. So, so I I really felt a connection to the university’s mission to the work that was being done there. Collaborative opportunities and then personally thought that it was, you know, geographically a good fit for me as well.
Well, it sounds like it and I did see in here that you might be reviewing graduate applications and you might be accepting a graduate student for the fall of 2023. So, here’s a minute or two to talk about that, and if anybody is listening or watching this podcast, maybe they’ll learn something and maybe they’ll apply. So, tell us a little bit about that opportunity, if that’s going to be still available in the Fall.
Yes, so, we review applications every year for graduate students. And so there’ll be a new cycle this fall. Usually applications are due by December 1st and there’s always more information on our psychology website. But yes, I will be reviewing applications. I am in our developmental science area. So, you know there’s different areas within the psychology department and I’m specifically a faculty member within the developmental area, and so folks who are interested in specifically adolescent development, adolescent social development, and health, definitely feel free to learn more about our our research and the kind of work we’re doing. We have a lab website that details more of our ongoing projects, but when I, you know when I review app like because a lot of the time we, you, you hear students ask like what are what are people looking for, what are you and again it comes back to that fit. So certainly you want to see that students have good grades and they’ve had research experience and they know kind of what they’re getting into but it’s also finding that match between, you know, what are we doing in the lab, what is the kind of research we’re interested in and what is the student’s aspirations in terms of their research interests.
So, you mentioned the lab, so I mentioned earlier the adolescent, let’s find it here. It’s the Adolescent Relationships in Context lab. So, the ARC lab. So, tell us a little bit more about the ARC lab, it’s mission, your goals, some of the recent research that you’re looking at just to let people know and and you know one thing that I I mentioned almost on all of my podcasts is, you know, if you want to and we already mentioned it earlier is if you want to you know gain some experience, find out if you do want to do research, get out and, and volunteer or work with the lab that actually is doing ongoing research and that will give you a lot of experience. So, tell us a little bit more about here is the ARC Lab.
Yeah. So, I established the lab when I started at Wayne State back in the fall of 2019. And our overall thing arching goals as kind of the name of the lab implies is really to study adolescence relationships and considering the broader context in which those relationships exist. So, we know adolescents go to school, they live in families, you know, and understanding how those different social forces really interact to shape adolescents’ relationships with others, particularly their peers, as well as their health, so one of one of our major areas of inquiry is understanding how both positive and negative peer experiences during adolescence can promote versus undermine adolescence health outcomes. So, on the positive side, how can we think about friendships as being these assets to teens? When and why do they serve really a a mental health promoting function and then on the flip side, when we think about negative experiences, what does it mean in terms of consequences for both mental and physical health for adolescents who can’t make friends who struggle with their peers, who get bullied, who are discriminated against. So that’s really our our main interest is kind of understanding if, when, and how peer relationships have an impact on adolescents development over time.
So, I did notice some of the you know on the website you have some of the recent research, you also can find out what you’re doing when you go to Google Scholar one of your most recent ones, The power dynamics of friendship: between-and within-person associations among friend dominance, self-esteem, and adolescent internalizing systems. Can you think of recent research finding or theory in psychology that you guys have been studying that’s particularly fascinating or groundbreaking and explain its impact on the field, you know, think of a recent research study that you and your your lab has done. Share that with us real briefly.
Yeah, I mean, I’ll, I’ll actually talk about the one that you just mentioned because it’s it’s come out really recently and it’s for me, it’s kind of a a passion project that I’ve, it’s something I’ve wanted to study for a really long time and never really had the opportunity until we we decided to design our own study so we could actually evaluate it and that’s this idea that when we think about friendships and adolescents, a lot of the time that word conjures up very positive connotations. We think of friends as. As offering many benefits for our our mental well-being and even things like academic outcomes and physical health, and at the same time, we know that not all friendships by default are positive, there are certainly adolescents who have friendships that may not meet all of their needs. Or that they stay in for other reasons, whether it’s they don’t really have other options or, you know, wanting to be friends with kids who are popular, even if they aren’t the best quality friends. And so, in that study we, we started to really think about the role of power in friendships. There’s been research looking at power in the context of things like romantic relationships or within sort of broad peer groups. So, does what does it mean to have power, be popular? But there really hasn’t been anything looking at power within friendships. What does it mean to be a friend who always gets bossed around, told what to do? You never get to make the decisions in the friendship, wouldn’t that be very kind of autonomy limiting. Take a toll on on your your well-being and so that’s something we investigated in this study was we we carried out a multi-year project, it’s actually still going on now. We started it when adolescents were in 9th grade and it was sort of in the the depth of the COVID pandemic. So that’s a whole another element of it. But we tracked over time, every few months, who were they friends with and how much did they consider those friends to engage in these kind of domineering behaviors that really limited their own independence or agency in the friendship and then look to see if that varied with their levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms. And so, we found this consistent pattern where adolescents who felt like my friends, they they call the shots, they decide what we do. It’s all they’re kind of in charge. Those teens were experiencing greater feelings of anxiety and depression over the course of multiple years, so I think it really certainly does not, is not to say that friendships are a bad thing. We would never suggest that, but to really think about the nuances of friendship and we have to be thinking not just if they exist, but also what, what the specific features of those friendships are and and how they might meet or undermine adolescent’s needs at that developmental period.
And that is a a significant period because you are trying to find yourself and figure out who you are and you’re doing that through these interactions, these friendships and so that’s interesting. And then I wonder if you have looked at or will look at, you know, people who are outgoing versus those who are more inward and how they handle that type of relationship as well. So, one other thing that I did notice is that you are also an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute for Child & Family Development. So, tell us a little bit more about this institute.
Yes. So, this is an institute affiliated with Wayne State. We actually just celebrated 100-year anniversary. So MPSI, Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute, so long title.
I saw that.
But MPSI is what we call it. It was established back in 1920, so really exciting, but it’s essentially as the as the name kind of signifies it’s an institute focused on understanding child and family development, but it really hosts a broad research, there’s, there’s sort of a research focus and there’s also a huge community engagement and outreach component. So, people in the institute range from faculty in psychology to faculty in social work to the School of Medicine. So, it’s really this interdisciplinary community and doing work that serves families as well as kids all the way from infancy up through adolescence and early adulthood, one of the roles, so as an affiliate of the the Institute, one of the roles that I have right now that’s that’s really exciting and timely cuz it’s coming up, is that Merrill Palmer every year hosts something called the Giant Step for Teen Conference. And so, this is a a big event that invites Detroit-based high school students to come together on this day, and it’s essentially an opportunity to meet kids they’ve never met before and share their unique experiences, shared challenges, commonalities and also celebrate differences. And so it’s, you know, events like that I think really speak to the that outreach and community connection component not only of Merrill Palmer, but as Wayne State as a whole. So, it’s it’s a really I’m I’m very I’m very lucky to be a part of it.
Well, it sounds like it and you know you you basically have. I highlighted 3 things, you know, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology. And then also that Adjunct Assistant Professor in MPSI and then the Lab. And so, as a teacher and mentor to many students, what strategies or resources would you recommend that students use to stay motivated and remain you know their their passion for psychology throughout their studies cause here you are undergrad going into grad school, maybe how how do you keep them motivated and focused and and passionate about their studies.
I think part of it is finding that niche of what really excites you, what, what area and maybe it’s through taking your classes or you do join a research lab and you find something that really kind of ignites you and gets you excited and interested in, you know, carrying your pursuits through whether it’s just an undergrad or beyond. I think it’s also finding others, whether it’s classmates. Or mentors or faculty. You know, professors who share common interests? Because I think it’s so much more fun and exciting and motivating when you find the people that share those interests with you. So, you know, in psychology, for example, some schools have like Psi Chi, which is a, you know, a society for students in psychology. Sometimes there are different sort of clubs or groups that do. Like I’m thinking in our department, we have a group of psychology tutors who are sort of pure mentors. So, I think finding those opportunities to build community within your academic institution, maybe within your specific area of interest offers that that peer support and kind of camaraderie that that at least I find to be a really motivating part of doing what I do is getting to share it with other people.
The other thing that came to my mind while you’re describing that is, you know, long ago or or in the past, I should say, I shouldn’t say long ago, but in the past it it almost seemed like people in the academic field were doing research just to do research in the academic field and it wasn’t really applied to the real world. I’m sensing through talking to my guests over and over, more and more institutions and universities want you to be able to do applied research that you can apply to the real world. So, talk to me a little bit about that. And then is there, are there any thoughts on how you might? You know how you how you would believe that academic institutions might help ensure that the psychology curricula remain relevant and and provide students, you know, with that those necessary skills to do that applied research.
Yeah, I think there’s certainly an increasing emphasis on on not just doing research for the sake of research and our own knowledge, but also then taking that a step further and translating it in ways that can be beneficial for whether it’s at the individual level, like improving personal well-being or all the way up to policy changes, you know educational changes. And so, I know, again, that’s something that Wayne State, in particularly, really excited me about going there and something I see reflected now that I am there is is a strong emphasis and interest in that, that translational component of research. I think in in helping students learn about that and ensure that that’s really baked into our education. I think some of that is just in thinking about how we teach psychology and not only teaching kind of classic studies and findings, but then showing how has that been applied or has it been applied? And teaching student skills on how to translate knowledge. So, I think one thing that can happen when you spend many, many years doing scientific research is you get really good at communicating science to other scientists, and you get worse and worse at communicating science to people who may not be as familiar with it. So, I know even with my graduate students, really, I encourage not only working on things like academic papers where you publish it in an academic journal. But also thinking about how can you write for broader audiences? You know, we write newsletters to to local high schools recapping our study findings and the way that you do that is very different than how you might communicate to you know another another student or faculty member in your department. So, I think those are skills that we can really be encouraging students to to learn and practice early on to ensure that we’re keeping that that line of communication open.
So, Dr. Schacter, in your opinion, what are some of the most precious pressing issues or research areas in the branch or area of developmental psychology?
I think one big one would be really starting to better understand factors that contribute to health disparities among among youth, from groups with different marginalized social identities So, I’m thinking, you know in the field when I’m looking at research on bullying, I think there’s more and more. We have a lot of evidence, for example, that sexual minority, gender minorities, LGBTQ youth are are experiencing higher rates of bullying, higher rates of mental health problems, and thinking more about how can we understand appropriate intervention approaches for addressing those sorts of disparities, both at the the kind of more proximal level among individuals, but also thinking about how schools can support, you know, student development across diverse range of identities. I think the other factor that I know drives a lot of my own work that is a a bigger theme in developmental psychology, more generally, is we we know a lot more now than we used to about kind of how things change over time in general for people. So how you know we can look at depression tends to increase in adolescence or anxiety tends to increase or this and. But now really getting a better sense of that’s not true for everyone. And what predicts those different changes? Or why one kid, you know, gets bullied and is totally fine and another gets bullied and shows severe mental health issues. So really trying to tease apart now. OK, this is what the trends are in general, but what can we what can explain sort of why there’s so much variability as well?
You know, you described a lot of different roles. You have multiple jobs, wear multiple hats. What do you love most about your job?
I love that my job is essentially to think and come up with new ideas. I love that I’m able to on a day-to-day basis, ask questions that interest me and then go out and try to actually answer them. And that that’s, you know, such a central part of my work and then the other part that I love is that I get to share an area, you know, a discipline that I love with students. I teach introductory psychology at Wayne State, so I sometimes and the first exposure students are getting to this field and that’s so exciting to me that I get to show them what I care so much about and sort of watch them sometimes love it, sometimes hate it, but either way, watch them get that that exposure.
Well, I did do a little research on what students think of you as well, and you’re getting five out of five on ratemyprofessors.com and so a lot of good feedback there. And I did see your intro to psych and developmental psychology as well. And so, kind of tell us what a typical day looks like for you as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Wayne State University.
I guess one of the things I love about my job is that I feel like there’s never a typical day, but I think some of the main activities on on, you know, any given week that I’ll be doing is during the academic year, I spend some of some of the day, you know, working on teaching related preparation. So, I’m actually teaching my classes primarily online right now and so I’ll be working on things like getting all of my lecture slides uploaded, I record videos each week to introduce the students to materials, so I’ll spend some time on that responding to student emails, things like that. So that’s sort of the teaching bucket. I spend a lot of time meeting with my own graduate and undergraduate students as well talking about their ongoing research projects, studies that are going on in the lab, and then I spend time working on my own research. Some days, that means I’m opening up a statistical software and running analyses. Some days it means I’m writing up a paper where I have to review past, uh, past literature. And right at my own findings and some days it’s reading other people’s work. So, one part of my job is doing peer review. People submit their papers to journals, I read them as an anonymous reviewer and provide feedback. So that’s also kind of in a typical week, something I spend time on.
Well, it sounds like it’s a good variety, keeps you busy and it it’s not the same old everyday situation. So, I remember when I was teaching it was the same thing. You know, you it depends on where you were and if you prepping for class. If you’re doing research, if you’re doing reading for your research. So, near the end of most of our podcasts, we ask some fun questions to our guests. So, the first one I usually ask and start off with is tell us something unique about yourself.
Something unique about me, it’s it may be bordering on embarrassing, but I am a die hard fan of the show Survivor. I absolutely love it I’ve watched every single season I’ve been in fantasy leagues where you choose your players that you think are going to win and track them throughout the season so that is that is my guilty interesting fact. I absolutely love it.
Well, that’s fun.
44 seasons strong.
What is your favorite term, principle, or theory and why?
My favorite principle within developmental psychology, I actually kind of hinted at it before, but I didn’t use the term. It’s referred to as multifinality. It’s the idea that people can go through the same experience but show many different outcomes, and that’s really always fascinated me and driven a lot of the research I do understanding how can how can people go through the same thing, but experience it and show very different effects.
Interesting. What’s one of the most important things that you’ve learned in life? It can be inside of academic or outside of academic anything…one of the most important things you’ve learned in your life so far.
I think, to trust your gut. I think overthinking as someone who overthinks a lot and then looks back and said I knew I had a certain feeling about that. I think trusting your gut and remembering that like I said before, even mistakes oftentimes end up taking you down a road that you never knew you, you would and, and may not regret.
Do you have any other advice for those interested in the field of psychology?
I think talk to as many people as you can, especially, you know, if you’re, if you’re in undergrad and you have the opportunity to talk to your professors, talk to your classmates. Different people have different advice and different experiences. That’s what’s so great about a podcast like this is I’m sure you’re getting both some overlap in themes, but also really unique journeys that people have been on. And so, I think I think the more people you talk to and hear their own stories, that’s a really powerful way of determining your own.
We talked about your recent trip earlier, but I’m going to ask this, so if you had the time and money to complete one project, or go on one trip, what would you do?
My husband and I years ago hiked part of the Camino de Santiago Trail in Spain, and I want to go and do the entire thing. If I had the, if I had the time and and childcare for that long.
How long would it take you if you did do that?
OK. I know that I’m going to share the screen one last time here and I’ll I’ll share all of your social media websites as well but I found this one irresistible. I had to share this. I know that you mentioned that you had to bring a 1 1/2 year old on a recent trip. So, there is a perfect picture of…I didn’t catch the name.
Maddie, that is Maddie.
Maddie, there you go. So, there’s Maddie, and then I will also share your Twitter. And then your LinkedIn social media websites as well. So, I wanted to say thank you once more. Is there anything else that you’d like to bring up or discuss on this podcast?
I think we hit everything and I apologize if you hear leaf blowing outside at the end here.
No problem, no problem. Again, Hannah, thanks again for sharing your story and your advice with us.
Thank you for having me.