By Sumera Dang
Professor Elizabeth Kim began her undergraduate experience as confused as most students. She was unsure of her life path and was constantly contemplating a psychology major versus an English major. Kim then decided to take a semester at her college where she planned her schedule in such a way that it had an equal number of psychology and English courses, hoping that this would allow her to make her decision. By the end of that semester, she was sure. Kim chose psychology and is now one of the professors in Emory’s Psychology Department.
Professor Kim teaches Psych 111 at Emory and has been a part of the faculty for approximately a year and half.
Kim was exposed to the research side of psychology when she began working with a graduate student on a study during her undergraduate years. During this study, she noticed parenting techniques and parent-child relationships in general. This ignited her interest in parent-child psychology.
Soon, Kim began her independent research with a professor during her honors program. This research revolved around studying seventh and eighth grade students and their relationships with their parents. These students and their parents were bought into a lab where they discussed their common conflicts with each other and how they managed them.
“From there, I knew I liked psych,” Kim said. “I knew I liked research and I knew I wanted to pursue something in this area of developmental psychology. I was quite intrigued by the relationships of parents and children.”
At the University of Illinois, Kim spent her graduate school years studying development psychology. She was particularly interested in how parents were involved in their children’s learning and their effect on a child’s motivation and encouragement.
She worked on several projects in this area which focused on the way in which parents perceive their child and their beliefs. She also studied how parents are involved in a child’s learning, whether it be working with children on difficult tasks or helping them stay motivated during challenging situations. These projects explored the parent child relationships and how positive methods of involvement can be promoted for parents.
“I continued that thought out of grad school, when I took a post-doctoral position. It was an exciting opportunity because I had really been focused on understanding these processes between parents and kids and promoting their motivation and achievement, but in my postdoc I worked with a professor who saw interventions that actually worked in a real life scenario. These were specifically interventions concerning children’s behavior that worked with parents and teachers,” Kim said.
This study greatly explored how one can best make the home and school environments continuous for children in order to promote their healthy functioning in terms of their behaviors and achievements. Since Kim worked on the research side of things, it was great experience for her to have live conversations and be able to work with parents and schoolteachers to benefit kids, she said.
During these years, one of the most influential individuals in Kim’s life was her postdoctoral advisor. Kim describes her as a fabulous mentor who provided guidance in research but also as a sort of role model as she, too, was a productive scholar who managed her work and home life seamlessly.
Along with this advisor, Kim’s family has been her constant support system. Both her parents were social workers: her father worked with child welfare issues, and her mother worked for the wellbeing of older adults. Her parents thus, often brought home a lot of emphasis on helping people in general and promoting people thriving. This somewhere influenced Kim’s interests and choices later in her life.
One of the things that has broadened Kim’s perspective has been her transition from college to a post- doctoral degree. While she always focused on gaining knowledge on procedures and studies of psychology and merely thought of these ideas as processes, she said she was enlightened to realize the influence and integration of these processes in daily life.
“It changed my perspective. It broadened the way I thought about parent and child interaction and learning. So now, when I come across a new finding I definitely think of it in a more multifaceted way,” she said.
This field of development psychology has also aided Kim’s life outside the field of education in many ways. Kim has a daughter and, as a parent, she attempts to incorporate all her learning into her lifestyle. As a professor, she teaches various things related to the milestones and other psychological experiences in a child’s life, and consequently is very conscious of her own daughter developments.
Kim is currently engaged in two interrelated studies, which are a meta-analysis spanning through vast psychological literature focusing on the influence of parents on children’s outcomes. She is also continuing to teach an introductory psychology course at Emory, which she claims is enjoyable for her, as she gets to see certain students being exposed to certain ideas in psychology for the very first time.
“Emory faulty and students have been wonderful to work with. I’m impressed by how engaged and enthusiastic these children have been, and, for me, that is really exciting because I, as an individual, find psychology really exciting and its fun to share similar interests with students,” Kim said.
— By Sumera Dang, Contributing Writer