Society for the Study of Human Development

June 2020 Researcher’s Window: Dr. Desiree Baolian Qin

Taking a closer look at research and experiences of SSHD members

~Researcher’s Window~

This month we are getting better acquainted with the research of Desiree Baolian Qin, Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Michigan State University.

1. What drew you to do work in human development?

I grew up in a small village in Northern China and then moved to the provincial capital and completed my MA degree in English Linguistics there before coming to the US to pursue graduate degrees in education and human development. I first became interested in human development when I was teaching high school students who failed their college entrance exam ( “gao kao”) and noticed that they appeared very depressed in class. That was in the 1990s, and psychology was a very new discipline in China. Very few universities offered psychology or human development studies. After I came to the US, I majored in School Psychology at University of Massachusetts Boston and then got my degree in Human Development and Psychology at Harvard Grad School of Education. In graduate school, I worked for my mentors, Marcelo Suarez-Orozco and Carola Suarez-Orozco’s project, the Longitudinal Immigrant Student Adaptation Project. I think my personal experiences and my research experiences in graduate school working closely with recently arrived immigrant families and children both contribute to my current research interests on culture, parenting and adolescent development.


2. Did you have a mentor or researcher who had substantial influence on your path or on your work?

I had two great mentors in grad school, Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, an anthropologist, and Carola Suarez-Orozco, a cultural psychologist. This interdisciplinary training gives me a broader perspective in culture and various ecological contexts that influence human development, which is central to my work.


3.  You have a range of important work, select 1-2 findings that you feel are key contributions to human development and describe those in brief.

When I started my research on Asian American students, most research focused on their model minority status and superior educational achievement. My work on psychosocial challenges experienced by Asian American adolescents highlighted a new pattern in child development, an achievement/adjustment paradox, i.e., while Asian American students tend to have higher educational outcomes as compared to students of other ethnic-racial backgrounds, they also tend to report lower levels of mental health outcomes. In my mixed-method research project, at a prestigious high school in a Northeastern US metropolis, I found tremendous levels of pressure, stress, and struggles experienced by students and their families, Asians and non-Asians alike. My work shifts the model of educational and psychosocial developmental outcomes go hand in hand in children’s developmental trajectories and provides both evidence and explanation for this achievement/adjustment paradox when it does occur.Similarly, earlier research on Asian American families tended to focus on the contributions they have made to their children’s exceptional educational outcomes. My work highlighted the challenges experienced by immigrant parents and their children behind the façade of perfect Asian American families. My findings, drawing on mostly qualitative longitudinal data, uncovered important and understudied issues and struggle in parent-child relations resulting from developmental, immigration-related, and cultural reasons in Asian American families, e.g., emotional alienation, parent-child conflicts, communication challenges. My findings also point to negative effects of “tiger parenting”. Through the use of rigorous qualitative data from longitudinal, in-depth interviews, my findings have highlighted many nuanced, complex family processes overlooked in quantitative work on immigrant and minority families.Our most recent project focuses on academic and psychosocial adaptation of Chinese undergraduate students.


4.  Your one wish for the study of human development

That we would pay more attention to the central role of culture and not automatically apply models and measures developed in the US or other Western countries onto studies of other populations around the globe. 


5.  A mentoring statement or quote you find most meaningful or life-changing. 

“I tell my students, 'When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.” ~  Toni Morrison


About the researcher

Dr. Desiree Baolian Qin is Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Michigan State University. After completing her doctorate degree at Harvard Graduate School of Education, she conducted postdoctoral research at New York University and Teachers College. Her research, funded by the William T Grant Foundation and the Spencer Foundation, focuses on understanding how immigration, culture, gender, and ecological contexts, especially family, impact adolescent and emerging adult development. Drawing on mostly qualitative, longitudinal data, Dr. Qin’s research has highlighted many nuanced, complex family processes that have been overlooked in quantitative work on immigrant families, especially struggle in parent-child relations, e.g., emotional alienation, parent-child conflicts, communication challenges, and parent-child separation. Her findings also point to negative effects of “tiger parenting” in child/adolescent development. Dr. Qin’s most recent project examines academic and psychosocial adaptation challenges of Chinese international students. She enjoys meditation, traveling with her family, and reading and writing (in Chinese and English) about wellbeing and healing. 

Edited and launched by Deborah J. Johnson & Yoko Yamamoto, SSHD Publicity Committee

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