December 2015 Spotlight, Stephen Chen, Ph.D.

This month, we are delighted to introduce Stephen Chen, Ph.D. ( at Wellesley College. Dr. Chen received his undergraduate degree in psychology from Rutgers University. He spent several years working in Asia before returning to the United States, where he received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Chen completed his clinical internship and postdoctoral training at the University of California, San Francisco and San Francisco General Hospital, and joined the Wellesley College faculty in 2014.Dr. Chen’s research interests lie at the intersection of clinical, cultural, and developmental areas of psychology. The overarching aim of his research is to examine how cultural and family processes influence mental health and development across the lifespan. He explores this question primarily in under-represented, underserved, and at-risk populations.


Personal Spotlight

We asked scholars to describe one of the following: a) what drew them to do work on Asians, Asian American children and youth, or another topic that is important to you now? b) who was an important mentor to them in this work, or an influential particular study in the field or in a related field? c) any particular advice or tips to someone starting out in the field who is doing work in their area.

I often tell my students that I’m teaching the courses I wish I had taken as an undergraduate psychology major. None of my undergraduate covered topics of cultural psychology or Asian American mental health, so it wasn’t until I was well out of college that I started considering some of these questions.

I first became interested in research on Asian and Asian American families when I was working as a K-12 school counselor in China. As a counselor, my work was primarily applied – college counseling, academic interventions, and testing – but I kept coming back to the question of how sociocultural factors outside of the school context could be impacting my students’ development and mental health.

When I decided to move back to the United States for graduate school in clinical psychology, I was very fortunate to join Qing Zhou at U.C. Berkeley just as she was beginning a longitudinal study of Chinese American immigrant families. In many ways, I was woefully unprepared: I had only the vaguest idea of my research interests, and it had been more than ten years since I had taken a course in developmental psychology. As such, one of the first things Qing did was to lend me a (very large) volume of the Handbook of Child Psychology, with instructions to read both sections on temperament. At Berkeley, I also found myself surrounded by researchers who were deeply interested in different aspects of emotion – everything from emotion regulation, culture and emotion, to emotion and mental health. This early emphasis on the theoretical foundations of emotion and developmental psychopathology continues to shape my research approach today.

Research Spotlight

We also asked scholars to describe a particular recent finding, current study, or recent publication and what makes them excited about it.  Feel free to describe its importance from any one or more of these lenses: a) research contribution; b) our knowledge about Asian or Asian American populations; c) our knowledge about other understudied populations; d) practice or policy relevance.

Since starting at Wellesley, one of my major research initiatives has been to launch the Family Development Project, a longitudinal study of stress and well-being in Chinese American immigrant families. I’m particularly excited about this project for a few reasons. First, my collaborators on this project bring a truly diverse skill set to the table: the sociologist on our team is an expert in qualitative methods and grounded theory approaches, and my fellow psychologist is an expertise in physiological measures of stress. Second, we’re working with a fantastic community partner, Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center. As one of our project aims is to identify disparities in stress and well-being between families in Boston Chinatown and families in the suburbs of greater Boston, BCNC has been instrumental in helping us develop and refine our research questions with our Chinatown families, and has also served as our Chinatown research base. Finally, a key goal of our project is to broaden our understanding of transnational family separations in Chinese American families: a little-researched phenomenon in which U.S.-born children are sent back to Asia to be raised temporarily by other caregivers while both parents remain in the U.S. Our team is hoping to better understand factors influencing parents’ decision to separate from their children and to identify risk and protective factors influencing children’s adjustment following these transnational separations.

Experiences with Asian Caucus

SRCD has been my home academic organization since I was a graduate student, and the Asian Caucus has been like a family within that home. It was an honor to receive the Early Career Award from the Caucus earlier this year, and I look forward to continued involvement in the Caucus for many years to come.

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