January 2016 Spotlight, Su Yeong Kim, Ph.D.

This month, we are delighted to introduce Su Yeong Kim, Ph.D. (sykim@prc.utexas.edu) at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Kim received her Ph.D. degree from Human Development at the University of California, Davis. She studies the intersection of family and cultural contexts in understanding the development of children of immigrants in the United States, with a focus on children of Chinese and Mexico-origin. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.



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.

My interest in culture and child development dates back to my first developmental psychology class as an undergraduate student at the University of Southern California. At the time, I was majoring in Business Administration. It was a “safe” major, because my parents owned a small business, but I did not feel challenged. So, with encouragement from a friend, I signed up for an introductory psychology class, and then a developmental psychology class, which changed my life. The textbook for this course, Development of Children, referenced many important cross-cultural studies on child development, which sparked my interest in pursuing graduate work in the topic. Soon after, I signed up for an upper division class on the socio-emotional development of children. I had the great fortune of starting my graduate studies the same year that Stanley Sue moved his National Research on Asian American Mental Health to the University of California, Davis. While there, I diligently attended the seminars and was introduced to some of the important ideas that inform my research program today. One such idea is the Asian American achievement/adjustment paradox, distilled from findings indicating that Asian Americans are highly functioning academically, but experience socio-emotional problems.

Ruth K. Chao’s 1994 Child Development paper was a catalyst in helping me define my research interests. I came across this article when I was conducting a literature review for my psychology undergraduate honors thesis. It helped me see how culture-specific processes are important for understanding the development of Asian American children. This highly influential piece is still my favorite study, and continues to inform my current program of research.

My advice to someone starting out in the field would be to read broadly. When I started graduate school, twenty years ago, the field was in a state where culture and biology/genetics simply didn’t mix. One set of scholars studied culture, and another set of scholars in an opposite camp studied biology and genetics. We are now seeing exciting research examining the interplay of culture and biology. I wish I had paid more attention to the study of biology and development when I started out in the field, so that I would not be having to play catch-up on those studies now that I see my own research moving in this direction.

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.

I am very excited about a recent paper published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence. I have a three-wave longitudinal study of Chinese American families that I have followed for eight years; the study participants were sampled in middle school, high school, and as young adults. Co-authored with Yijie Wang, Yishan Shen, and Yang Hou, this paper demonstrates three distinct patterns of adjustment for Chinese American adolescents: well-adjusted, poorly-adjusted, and paradox. The well-adjusted group showed high achievement and low psychological distress, the poorly-adjusted group exhibited poor achievement and moderate distress, and the paradox group exhibited relatively high achievement and high distress. We found that adolescents with supportive parents were more likely to stay well-adjusted, and those with “tiger” parents were more likely to stay in the paradox group over time. The study highlights the critical role of parenting in early adolescence.

Another paper I am excited about is the 2014 Annual Review of Psychology for the Asian American Journal of Psychology. This paper was published in December 2015. We coded over 4,366 articles dealing with topics relevant to Asian American psychology in order to arrive at 316 articles that met the inclusion criteria. The review highlights the prominence of health related topics in the field, and the dearth of longitudinal, developmental studies on Asian American children. Hopefully, when such a review is conducted again in the years to come, we will see a shift toward more research in this understudied area.

Several co-authored papers using my longitudinal dataset of Chinese American families also deserve mention. Yishan Shen’sChild Development paper demonstrates the interplay of socioeconomic status and acculturation in shaping the intergenerational transmission of educational attitudes, and the different mechanisms through which mothers and fathers influence adolescents’ academic outcomes in Chinese Americans. Yang Hou’s Child Development paper uses actor-partner interdependence modeling to demonstrate the interdependence of Chinese American family members and the spillover effects of parental discriminatory experiences on children’s development.

My collaboration with Dr. Linda Juang has also been particularly fruitful. Linda led the effort in developing a racial socialization scale for Asian Americans, soon to be published in Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology.

Experiences with Asian Caucus

My doctoral advisor, Xiaojia Ge, was a founding member of the Asian Caucus. As a doctoral student at the University of California, Davis, I heard him talk about the great work the Asian Caucus was doing; the Caucus always reminds me of him and his legacy.

Last year, I had the honor of chairing the awards committee for the Asian Caucus. I was energized by the number of eager volunteers who helped form the awards committee with me. I was amazed by the breadth and depth of the scholarship on Asian and Asian American children and families by Caucus members. It is truly an exciting time to study Asian and Asian American children today. I am inspired and motivated by the talent and scholarship of my fellow Caucus members.

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