Headshot of Kailey Lawson.

Kailey Lawson '17

Major: Cognitive Science and Philosophy
Profession: Graduate Student at UC Davis
Hometown: San Diego, CA

What are you doing now?

I’m in my third year of a social personality psychology Ph.D. program at UC Davis. As a grad student, I do research, take classes, serve as a teaching assistant and mentor undergraduate students. My research involves examining adolescent personality development and how adolescent personality predicts education and mental health outcomes in young adulthood. In particular, I focus on temperament and self-related constructs like self-esteem, narcissism and self-control. My research also incorporates issues of replicability and generalizability, with an emphasis on how psychological constructs are defined and measured across diverse groups. This is important because most psychology research has been conducted in a small subset of the population, so it’s unclear whether previous findings generalize to humanity more broadly.

In order examine these issues, I use data from populations that have been traditionally underrepresented in psychological research. For example, much of my research uses data from the California Families Project, an ongoing, 12-year longitudinal study of 674 Mexican-origin youth and their families that is directed by my graduate advisor. These kinds of data allow researchers to explore novel questions and examine whether well-established psychology findings replicate in diverse samples.

How did you get there?

I did research in a number of labs across The Claremont Colleges during my time at Pomona and these research experiences helped illuminate my path to graduate school. In particular, my work in Daniel Krauss’ forensic psychology lab at Claremont McKenna College (CMC) taught me the basics of psychology research and allowed me to attend my first conferences, which exposed me to a plethora of research ideas. My senior year at Pomona, I also worked as a research assistant at Patton State Hospital, a secure forensic psychiatric facility in San Bernardino, CA. Working with patients at Patton highlighted the importance of translational research that can help communities in need. It also demonstrated the importance of acknowledging the many influences on stable individual differences, which led to my current research program. For example, how do individual, family, school, neighborhood and cultural factors influence developmental trajectories across adolescent and beyond? Together, my experiences doing psychology research solidified my interest in getting a Ph.D. in psychology. With the help of my academic mentors, I was able to apply to graduate programs my senior year at Pomona and started at UC Davis a few months after graduating.

How did Pomona prepare you?

Countless aspects of Pomona prepared me for graduate school. In all of my classes, my professors introduced me to new material and taught me to engage critically with the content. In particular, my ID1 course with Professor Julie Tannenbaum – Medical Ethics – started me on a philosophical journey that taught me to both form and critique logical arguments. My psychology courses led me to find gaps in knowledge that influenced my research interests. Pomona also facilitated my learning outside of Claremont. The summer after my sophomore year, the Department of Cognitive Science funded an opportunity for me to study abroad in Trento, Italy with Harvard’s Mind, Brain, and Behavior program. Not only did I take courses I wouldn’t have been able to take at Pomona, this program also exposed me to the workings of a larger research university, which was critical knowledge during my transition to grad school. Outside of the classroom, my work in the Admissions Office gave me the opportunity to interact with prospective students on tours and during interviews, which made me particularly interested in the role that personality plays in the pursuit of education. Additionally, being a sponsor and a peer writing mentor provided an opportunity for me to develop skills to support and mentor students both in and out of the classroom. Finally, the community of students, faculty, and staff at Pomona provided me with social support that allowed me to thrive.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

In five years, I want to be starting out as an assistant professor. I would love to be able to provide my future students with the support and learning opportunities that my professors at Pomona gave me.

Any advice for prospective or current students?

  1. Knowing how to write will always come in handy (even if you’re just writing emails!), so take a few classes that will help you develop these skills.
  2. Make taking care of yourself non-negotiable. Plan this time in your schedule, just as you would for any other commitment.
  3. Foster relationships with folks who can support you during college and continue to cultivate these relationships after you graduate. Friends and mentors will last long after your time in Claremont.