Author: Jennifer Charlicki
Institution: University of Alberta
Dr. Nancy Galambos is a developmental psychologist and professor in the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Alberta. Much of her recent research is centered around the changes that occur in various social and developmental aspects of our lives in adolescence, early adulthood, and onwards (Vargas Lascano, Galambos, Krahn, & Lachman, 2015; Galambos, Fang, Krahn, Johnson, & Lachman, 2015; Johnson, Galambos, & Krahn, 2015).
At what point in your life did you decide you wanted to be a developmental psychologist?
Not until graduate school. I went to Penn State University to do my PhD in a specialty called human development intervention. The idea was to learn how to design, implement, and evaluate intervention programs that could help people in a community. This specialty was based in a larger graduate program called human development and family studies. The human development intervention area dissolved shortly after I arrived, but at the same time, research on child and adolescent development were really hot topics and foci for research in human development and family studies. Because I was situated there and got involved in research on children and adolescents I became a developmental psychologist.
What drove you towards developmental psychology, despite all the possible branches of research psychology?
Like many undergraduates I was interested in being a clinical psychologist. But I had a mentor professor in university who believed that resources devoted to one-on-one clinical psychology could be better used by training non-professionals in the same counseling skills that clinicians use. The idea is that you could reach a lot more people if 'regular people' (e.g., hair stylists, who spend hours listening to their clients) were taught helping skills. Researchers at Penn State were looking at training non-professionals in the human development intervention program at Penn State.
Can you describe your academic journey towards becoming a developmental psychologist?
I received an undergraduate degree in psychology at Penn State University New York at Cortland; then I went on to receive a Master of Science and PhD in human development and family studies at Penn State University.
What is your workplace setting (i.e. Universities, fieldwork)?
I work at the University of Alberta, psychology department.
What are some challenges about working as a developmental psychologist?
The same as any academic in a research-intensive university. Balancing our teaching and undergrad and grad students with getting grants, publishing research, sitting on university committees and trying to have time for a personal life.
What is the focus of your current research?
I am involved in a longitudinal study that followed Edmonton high school seniors 7 times from the age of 18 to age 43 (age 18, 19, 20, 22, 25, 32, and 43)! So my colleagues and students and I work as a team to investigate whether we can predict well-being, family, and career outcomes in midlife (age 43) by looking at behaviors, experiences, and feelings as they occurred in the late teens to mid-20s and into the 30s. We can trace various outcomes back to things like earlier levels of depressive symptoms or self-esteem; and parents' education and the education the participant acquired.
What has been your most surprising finding?
That happiness increases from age 18 into the 30s and stays up there in the 40s. Many studies, which are cross-sectional and not longitudinal, convinced many social scientists that there is a u-bend in happiness - where midlife would be the low point. Late teens and early 20s were the low points in our study, but to our knowledge ours was the first to be able to look at happiness in the same sample across 25 years.
What does a typical workday look like?
Get to work and check emails first thing and then periodically throughout the day. Much of our work is done through email communication, including writing up papers. If I am teaching that day I review my notes and get prepared to teach; if I am teaching the next day I am working on updating my PowerPoint slides and getting them uploaded on the course website. There will be formal or informal meetings with students and colleagues to advance the students' research as well as our own. I might attend a presentation by a colleague or visitor, or go to a committee meeting in another part of the university. I am also treasurer for an international research society so I spend a lot of time answering emails, checking accounts, and taking care of treasury business. The workday is actually very demanding because many people want our time, from students in our classes asking questions about class; to former students requesting letters of recommendation; to grad students needing help with their theses and dissertations; to trying to find time to write and converse, etc.
What qualities do you think someone needs to have in order to be successful in this career path?
First and foremost, to be any kind of academic requires a love for doing research, teaching, and writing. There has to be dedication because it requires a lot of time and sacrifice (not much time for engaging in hobbies or relaxing). The ability to take rejection is a big one - because we might spend a lot of time writing a grant proposal (i.e., weeks) or a paper (sometimes years from start to finish), only to get rejected. Physical and mental stamina are pretty important (we often work weekends or late at night), as are people skills. It's easy to get burned out because there's always more exciting research and teaching one could be doing. No one tells you when to stop! But it's important to remember the perks: lots of interaction with interesting people, some flexibility in arranging the work day, a good salary if successful, opportunities to travel the world to present papers, the ability to influence the next generation, and independence in choosing the research you want to do (we are mostly our own bosses).
- Vargas Lascano, D. I., Galambos, N. L., Krahn, H. J., & Lachman, M. E. (2015). Growth in perceived control across 25 years from the late teens to midlife: The role of personal and parents' education.Developmental Psychology, 51, 124-135.
- Galambos, N. L., Fang, S., Krahn, H. J., Johnson, M. D., & Lachman, M. E. (2015). Up, not down: The age curve in happiness from early adulthood to midlife in two longitudinal studies. Developmental Psychology, 51, 1664-1671.
- Johnson, M.S., Galambos, N, L., & Krahn, H. J. (2015). Self-esteem trajectories across 25 years and midlife intimate relations. Personal Relationships, 22, 635-646.