March 2018 Spotlight, Bora Lee, Ph.D.

This month, we are delighted to introduce Dr. Bora Lee ( as our member in spotlight.  Dr. Lee is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Education at Korea University.

Her research focuses on adolescent and young adult development with a special focus on how people’s work-related goals and attitudes develop in context, including within families, schools, workplaces, and broader socio-cultural environments.








1) We asked scholars to describe one of the following: a) what drew you 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 you 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 your area?

A few of my research interests include gendered career choices, the influence of family origin on children and adolescents’ career development, and work-family issues among adults.  I identify myself as a life-span developmentalist focusing on individuals’ career development. In developing my own career identity, my graduate mentor Fred Vondracek played a significant role. Particularly, Fred’s book “Career development: a life-span developmental approach” that he published in 1986 with Richard Lerner and John Schulenberg had the greatest impact on how I view careers and career development. I follow his and other scholars’ views that career development starts early in childhood and continues into old age. My training at Penn State HDFS had also stimulated my thoughts regarding the contexts of career development. Particularly, I got interested in how families could work as contexts for children and adolescents’ career development. Research shows that parents play an important role in shaping children’s interests, work values, and attitudes toward work, and examining the parent-child processes that may affect children’s career development is one of my research interests.

2) A short paragraph describing a particular recent finding, current study, or recent publication and what makes you 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 recently conducted a pilot study to develop a measure for a study on gendered career choices. Part of the questionnaire consisted of a list of occupations and we let the respondents rate whether they perceived a given occupation as male-dominant, female-dominant, or equally divided between men and women. When we compared the perception ratings with the actual proportion of men and women working in the given occupation, we found that adults perceived gender-typical occupations as gender-typical (that is, they perceived female-dominant occupations as female-dominant and male-dominant occupations as male-dominant).  What was surprising to us was that those occupations that were perceived as having an equal divide between genders actually varied in terms of the proportion of men (women) (i.e., using the proportion of women as an index, it varied from 11 to 90). There is still more to explore on why we see this discrepancy between the perceived and actual rate of men/women working in a given occupation. However, we do see some parts of Korean society where people think that gender equality has been reached but is in fact far from equal. For example, when I ask people outside of my institution to guess what is the proportion of women faculty, they usually say 30-40%, but in reality, it is around 15%. The opposite is also possible, where people perceive certain jobs as gender-neutral while there are actually more women working in that job. I think there is a lot more research needed to understand the gender divide in various careers (both horizontally and vertically) and I would like to continue doing research in this area to get a better understanding of such issues.

3) Any upcoming talks or presentations we should know about?

I will be talking about gender development among children and adolescents at a small local conference organized by a non-profit organization. The conference is held to celebrate International Women’s Day (March 8th), and the overall theme is to enhance gender awareness in Korean society. The labor force in Korea is still horizontally and vertically gender-segregated, and Korea shows a relatively large gap between men’s labor force participation rate and that of women’s (73.9% vs. 52.1% for male and female, respectively).  Because gender develops very early in life, it would be meaningful to let the audience know how our behaviors can affect children’s gender development, which in turn can affect their career choices.

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