Q&A with Developmental Psychologist, Lara Mayeux
Q: What is your current position?
I'm an academic developmental psychologist and an associate professor in the department of Psychology at the University of Oklahoma.
Q: What is developmental psychology?
Developmental psychologists are interested in how we change and grow over time. Some developmental psychologists focus on very young children, infants or those in early childhood, but there are developmental psychologists who even study the elderly and the changes that occur as we age.
I think that focus on change is really what sets us apart from other fields in psychology.
Q: What made you interested in this field?
I have a sister, and she and I are very, very different. It always struck me as really amazing how, with the same parents and the same family structure, and all these similar experiences, we were so different. We have very different temperaments and personalities, and that always struck me as fascinating.
Q: What kind of preparation does someone pursuing this career need?
A good background in basic psychological methods at the undergraduate level is vital.
Students, understandably, are usually much more interested in taking the content courses: things like social psychology and abnormal psychology. But, they also need to take their statistics,behavioral research, and research methods courses to really get a grasp of how this field works.
Q: What traits are required for this field?
I think that individuals who are patient and persistent will do better in a research field because one thing we know about research is that it's a slow moving train.
[Research] is not something that you get results [from] right away and being able to work slowly towards a a bigger goal is pretty much necessary. If you're somebody who's interested in quick results, it can be a very, very frustrating field.
Q: What surprised you about your work?
One of the biggest surprises as I started this career has been how much of a salesperson I need to be about what I do.
When I go out to a school and talk to principals or when I go talk to parents, they might understand that the research is important and sounds interesting, but there's no immediate trust of me.
There's no assumption of protection of their children, students or school.
I've had to learn to communicate really effectively and to educate people not just about the importance of the research that we do as psychologists, but also about the protections in place for participants.
Q: What kind of changes have there been in developmental psychology in the last few years?
More traditional developmental psychology has focused on infants, children, and teens. There was this assumption that once you turned 18 or 21, you were developed and done.
There hasn't been a lot of focus on change during adulthood, and that's really starting to shift.
There have also been a lot of technological advances, which allow developmental researchers to study much more interesting things. We have much better brain imaging technology, for example, that allows researchers to add a physiological component to the research that they do.
Q: What do you see for the future of developmental psychology?
I think there will be a lot more interdisciplinary research. Most researchers are trained in a specific area: developmental, social, cognitive, etc. And, we typically conduct research in our own pretty narrow field of expertise, but what we know is that that's not the way humans develop. There's a real need for research across disciplines.
The cognitive developmentalist and the social developmentalist need to talk to each other, and that is starting to happen more frequently.
Q: What are some of your research interests/results?
I study peer relationships among children ranging from the age of three up through high school age. Some of my research looks at "popularity."
We look at people who are very socially dominant and visible and have a high level of social power. A lot of my research is aimed at investigating what these kids are like.
The kids who are popular and who know they're popular - the kids who have a lot of social power and seem to get that - are much more aggressive than the kids who are popular and maybe not so aware of how much power they have over their peers.
There's this interesting social causative component in which it's not just about status. It's about status and being aware of that status that leads to some decisions about using aggression that we wouldn't want kids to make.
Q: What do you enjoy about your job?
I love the teaching aspect of what I do.
I love psychology and I love to talk, so teaching psychology is a good combination for me.
I really have enjoyed teaching both the undergraduate and graduate level. I really enjoy watching other people get interested and excited about what I love.
And I love the research process, too. I think it's a treasure hunt.
Q: Any other recommendations for aspiring developmental psychologists?
One of the bigger pieces of advice that any student who's thinking of going to grad school should hear is make sure you're going to grad school in an area that you like.
Sometimes it's hard to know exactly what you want to do, and you might change your mind a few times. That's okay, but the thought of students joining a program for five or six years and studying something that they're really only maybe mildly interested in is sad.
That's going be a long five or six years and could feel very frustrating, so I think that there's a little bit of background homework you have to do before you apply.