My first year of college, I ended up in an introductory psychology course by chance. I remember thinking that psychology sounded pretty interesting and that it might be a fun elective to complement my major courses--at the time I was planning to be a political science and mass communications double major. However, once I started learning about psychology, I was hooked. It was so fascinating to learn about the fundamentals of human behavior and to understand more about the ways we perceive the world. After my introductory course, I immediately signed up for two additional psychology courses the next semester. I loved learning about all of the different areas in psychology. I think the idea of studying abnormal psychology first drew me in, but then I learned about how vast the field of psychology is. When I was looking for graduate programs, I stumbled upon these "applied development" programs. I had never heard of applied developmental psychology before, but as I explored this field (and GMU's website in particular!) I felt that I had found the right fit for me. Applied developmental psychology is all about using knowledge and research to inform best practices and support human development.
I really enjoy my program because it allows me to bridge my interests in developmental psychology and education. Though I didn't study education at the undergraduate level, I've always had interests in education since many people in my family are educators. My program has given me a really great background in understanding human development, and I'm able to apply this knowledge to children's development within schools specifically. I also love that the research we do is so clearly applicable to various developmental issues.
My research focuses broadly on questions about early development and skills that promote positive developmental outcomes. I am particularly interested in applied research that has the potential to inform developmentally appropriate practices for children and families and allow us to better understand the contexts in which children develop. I am currently working on several projects related to early childhood and elementary school policy/practice. One set of projects examines the predictors and outcomes associated with grade retention in elementary school. These studies explore how children who experience altered school trajectories, which removes children from a learning context with same-age peers and is often stigmatized, are associated with later achievement outcomes. I also explore children’s transition to kindergarten. One such project explores whether academic outcomes for children who delay kindergarten entry differ from those who are retained in kindergarten, after accounting for important selection effects (the characteristics such as age, gender, ethnicity, early school readiness skills that distinguish retained and delayed-entry students).
Outside of being a graduate student, I love training for triathlons! I spend a lot of time swimming, biking, and running. I'm always happiest when I have a race to train for. It's a really great way to make sure I maintain a good work-life balance.
The great thing about my program is that graduates have a lot of options, so I find myself searching through a lot of possibilities. However, during my time at Mason I've really come to enjoy teaching and advising undergraduate students. My current plan is to hopefully get a job at a smaller, teaching-focused institution where I can develop great mentorship relationships with my students and involve them in my research.
Get involved with research and develop good relationships with your professors! Having some background in research, even if it is unrelated to the topic you eventually pursue in graduate school, is really valuable. Further, having good relationships with your professors is not only helpful because you'll have a mentor, but they'll also be able to write you strong recommendation letters for graduate school.