May 2020 Spotlight, Cindy H. Liu, Ph.D.

This month, we are delighted to introduce Dr. Cindy Liu (CHLIU@BWH.HARVARD.EDU) as our member in spotlight. Cindy is currently an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School. Her areas of investigation include the measurement and mechanisms of psychosocial stress, cultural differences in socio-emotional development, and developmental and culturally based interventions that reduce mental health disparities.

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?

My experience as a Taiwanese American from Minnesota forged my interests in studying Asian Americans and psychology. I switched my major from chemistry to child psychology after taking my first psychology class at the University Minnesota, when I realized that you could make a career from studying the videos of babies. As I continued with my studies, I always wondered whether certain findings would hold true for Asian Americans. Back then, there were no Asian American studies courses, but I did what I could to uncover research studies as well as historical narratives that would answer my questions. Around this time, I remember dragging my dormmate to watch the Up documentary series that was playing on campus. It became clear that I was really into understanding how people ended up in life!

Given my curiosity in these areas, it made a lot of sense that I became a clinical and developmental psychologist who conducts research on the well-being of Asian American families. This curiosity has also led me to engage in multidisciplinary research. Being in Boston and at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, I’ve had the privilege of working with collaborators from different backgrounds. I’m fascinated by our efforts to meet common goals despite the differences in training backgrounds and have seen firsthand how psychologists can play a unique role. I find that my most fruitful collaborations are the ones where 1) our expectations about responsibilities are well defined and within our specific areas of expertise, and 2) our relationships as people (not just researchers) become valued equally if not more over the purposes or products of the collaboration. It makes for a meaningful, supportive, (and not to mention fun!) experience.

2) Could you describe a particular recent finding, current study, or recent publication and what makes you excited about it. 

My research focuses on identifying, measuring, and studying stress experiences across development, particularly around transitions in life. I have a longstanding interest in studying parents and infants during the perinatal period and an emerging interest on the stress and mental health experiences among adolescent and college age youth through secondary data analysis. My Boston-based studies have primarily focused on Chinese immigrant families, involving the Family Development Project (https://www.familydevelopmentproject.com/), a collaborative effort comprising of several studies, and a data collection to understand the psychosocial experiences of Chinese immigrant women receiving OB services from Boston Chinatown. Our initial findings have brought attention to needs within these communities. This includes the phenomenon of transnational separation between Chinese immigrant parents and their infants, an understudied population that has led our group to investigate parental decisions and child perceptions of the separation experience.

Our recent work on U.S. college students also shows that Asian American students relative to Whites are less likely to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder despite endorsing greater suicidality. These together highlight the unique experiences faced Asian Americans, with further investigations revealing the extent to which Asian Americans exhibit resilience in challenging moments. These two particular areas of my work also received media attention, which I have found can play a role in advocacy.

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

I met my current postdoctoral fellow and current collaborators through caucus opportunities, including the reception at the biennial conference and through serving on the awards committee. I’m grateful to be part of the caucus!

Having multiple mentors and/or people from whom you can seek advice is critically important throughout one’s career. I have sought mentors during critical transitions in my career and the guidance I needed did not come from one person, but from many people, and those from different career stages. 

4) Any news about your Lab?

I may also be hiring a bachelors/masters level full time research assistant in my lab starting summer/fall of 2020. Stay tuned for a posting!

5) A preferred weblink

https://www.drcrlab.com/

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