January 2020 Spotlight, Yannan Gao, Ph.D. Student

This month, we are delighted to introduce Yannan Gao (yannang@uci.edu) as our member in spotlight. Yannan is currently a doctoral student in the School of Education at University of California, Irvine. She is interested in the development of adolescents’ career choices. She investigates the way in which adolescents’ career aspiration (e.g. jobs adolescents like to have in adulthood) and career choice (e.g. major in college) change over time, including individual difference of this process. Yannan is also interested in interventions to promote students’ learning experience in college classrooms, such as the utility value intervention in STEM courses. 

1)  What drew you to do work on Asians, Asian American children and youth, or another topic that is important to you now? who was an important mentor to you in this work, or an influential particular study in the field or in a related field?

In middle school, I wondered why some of my friends lowered their educational or career dreams despite they had the potential to pursue them. I became interested in Psychology at the same time and attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a Psychology major. At UW-Madison, I was fortunate to meet Dr. Charles Snowdon, who encouraged me to participate in psychological research. Then I worked in the Language and Cognition Lab led by Dr. MacDonald Maryellen and Dr. Mark Seidenberg, and the experience triggered my interest in cognitive processes and more importantly, in a career in research. I also joined Dr. Markus Brauer’s lab to test field interventions for reducing racial stereotypes and discriminations. His research exemplified how psychological research connects to real-world issues. I found Dr. Judith Harackiewicz’s work on utility value interventions perfectly combines my interest in the cognitive and social aspects of psychological processes, so I did my Honors thesis under her mentorship. In the process, I learned more about Dr. Jacquelynne Eccles’s Expectancy-Value Theory. The way it describes how achievement choices develop in a social context fascinated me, so I applied to the University of California, Irvine for my Ph.D. program and fortunately became her student. I am deeply grateful to be guided and supported by my mentors along the way, both my professors and researchers I closely work with such as Drs. Yaling Hsiao, Stacy Priniski, Anna-Lena Dicke and Nayssan Safavian.

2) A short paragraph describing a particular recent finding, current study, or recent publication and what makes you excited about it. 

In my recent study, I aimed to understand why adolescents lower their dreams by examining the development of college-associated career aspirations (i.e. jobs that require a bachelor’s degree versus those that don’t) in adolescence. It was an interesting finding to me that educational values, instead of academic confidence, in early adolescence can protect a decline of aspirations several years later. This paper was published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior lately. I will further explore the decision process through which individuals change their career choices, by conducting mixed-method studies in my dissertation. The sample is very diverse in terms of its sociocultural characteristics, so I look forward to the data collection and analyses.

3) Any thoughts about your experiences with the Asian Caucus.

When I read my Intro Psych textbook as a college freshman, I searched for familiar last names in the citations. I wasn’t able to find many at that time. Likewise, there were not many fellow Asian students in my classrooms. It did not discourage me, but I felt excited to find out the Asian Caucus of SRCD. To me, the presence of the community of Asian scholars and the studies on Asian population can nudge the audience, “hey, don’t forget about the heterogeneity of human psychological processes!” It is my honor and pleasure to join the Outreach and Communication Subcommittee of the Caucus. I look forward to working with the team to facilitate the communication among researchers and the expansion of the community.

4) Any upcoming talks or presentations?

I will present my paper “Looking into Gateway: Expectancy-Value Profiles Predict Undergraduates’ Intent to Persist in Physics after Introductory Course” at the 2020 AERA Annual meeting in San Francisco, CA in April. I will also present my poster “Same Item, Different Eyes: Measuring Independent and Interdependent Affordances among Physics and Chemistry Undergraduates” at the 2020 SPSP convention in New Orleans, LA in February.

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