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Undergraduate Student Opportunities:

IMG_0303(1)Our undergraduate research assistants group is a very important element to our lab. Students gain hands on experience in collecting, coding, and analyzing data on our research projects. Advanced students also collaborate to create new measures and coding systems. We also work with our students in assisting them develop post-graduate plans.

Unfortunately, we are currently fully staffed with research assistants.  Check this website in the future for our postings of research openings for undergraduate students.

For Prospective Graduate Students:

The questions that I study concern how early relationships influence social and personality development. How do parent-child relationships guide young children’s understanding of themselves, other people, and how to live in a social world? What are the relational processes that have these influences? How do the effects of close relationships change with development in children’s conceptual capacities? To study questions like these, my research focuses on the growth of emotional understanding and emotion regulation, conscience development, and the growth of self-understanding. You can read elsewhere on this website details of some of the specific projects that are currently underway.

Studying early social and personality development requires conceptual breadth. My students and I integrate ideas on early cognitive development, attachment theory, and developmental psychopathology, and borrow from current work on molecular and behavioral genetics, behavioral ecology, and cultural psychology. To illustrate, some of our research on young children’s conceptions of emotion and conscience has the broader goal of clarifying the development of the “internal working models” hypothesized by attachment researchers to arise from secure or insecure parent-child relationships. Research in this field is important for its applications to typical development and risk for social and emotional dysfunction.

A second theme to my work is applying developmental science to public policy issues concerning children and families. I have written on divorce and custody decisions, child abuse prevention, and grandparent visitation rights, and I consult extensively with policy, business, and practitioner groups concerning early childhood investments, the foundations of school readiness, early childhood mental health policy, and other topics. I believe that it is important for developmental scientists to be active in communicating their work so it finds constructive applications in programs and policies affecting children and their families. We discuss these applications in our lab group meetings, although most of our work together is devoted to developing scientific skills.

Most of us who are interested in developmental study are committed to its applications to improving the lives of children. Many of us also personally enjoy working with children and the opportunities to learn more about their growth. A Ph.D. in developmental psychology is fundamentally a research degree because science provides the foundations for these applications. Over the course of your program of study in my department, you will acquire the conceptual and technical skills required to become an outstanding developmental scientist. In your years in my lab, we will work together on projects that will help you develop and refine those skills. Learning to teach undergraduate classes, taking seminars, participating in area “brown bag” meetings, and other activities are important parts of the graduate experience, but becoming a scientist is central.

My philosophy of graduate education emphasizes helping you develop your research interests from the beginning of your program. I anticipate that students who work with me share many of my interests and will pursue related research directions. I also expect that you will contribute to other projects in the lab. But from the beginning, we will work together to help you identify and develop the interests that will be at the core of your own, eventually independent, program of research. Doing so helps you become an independent scientist who is well-prepared to embark on an academic career, and your ideas will also contribute to the future directions of our lab group.

Viewed in this light, your graduate career is one of the most important investments you make toward your future as a scientist. Although at the beginning it resembles an undergraduate education with its curricular emphasis, very soon the focus of your graduate career shifts to research, and coursework becomes much less important. Your energy and commitment to becoming an outstanding scientist are the best predictors of your eventual success in graduate study.

My goal is to contribute to your success. I enjoy the discoveries of new research and collaborating on new studies. I also enjoy teaching at all levels, have earned several teaching awards, and enjoy helping instructors become more inspiring and effective teachers. My work with national research and policy groups, editorial activities, and extensive writing projects create opportunities for the students who work with me. Just as important is the collaborative atmosphere of our lab group. I believe strongly in the benefits of collaboration, and the students in my group work together, share ideas, and often find thoughtful and creative bridges between their work. We have regular lab group meetings in comfortable venues that encourage conversation and laughter.

The Social and Emotional Development Lab that I direct is spacious, well equipped, and active. All of my students have personal space in the lab with computers equipped with internet capability that provides access to the UC Davis library system. In addition to multiple observation rooms connected to a central digital recording area, and workstations for graduate student study as well as data coding and analysis, we have a workroom with a professional library and other resources. Funding for students and for student projects is reliable.

I am always happy to talk about my work with students who may be interested in coming to UC Davis for graduate study. Feel free to contact me at rathompson@ucdavis.edu, and to learn more about the Department of Psychology click here.

— Ross Thompson