Dr. Katie McLaughlin is an Assistant Professor of Psychology and the Principal Investigator of the UW Stress and Development Laboratory. She received two PhDs from Yale University in 2008—one in psychology and one in epidemiology and public health. She and her lab members now research how environmental experiences, such as trauma, violence, and poverty, influence the way that children develop across a number of domains, including emotional, cognitive, and brain development. One of her current projects focuses on brain development of children and adolescents who experience violence in their homes. Another follows the development of Romanian orphans from infancy through adolescence, researching how their circumstances affect executive functions such as memory and cognitive control.
What aspects of Dr. McLaughlin’s career does she most enjoy? “I appreciate mentoring students and sparking their interest in research. Teaching students new research methods and then watching them generate their own ideas is very rewarding.”
In an interview with UW ADVANCE, we asked Dr. McLaughlin to share about the impact of her research and advice for female scientists.
Q&A: Professional messages and advice for female scientists
Q: What message(s) would you like people to take away from your work?
A: The central message is that the environments in which children are raised have incredibly powerful impacts on their development, which can have both positive and negative implications. For kids who are raised in negative early environments, the positive message is that the brain remains plastic through much of childhood and adolescence. This plasticity provides powerful opportunities for interventions to prevent some of the long-term negative outcomes that we see arise. Human neuroscience methods offer powerful tools not only for understanding how environments might place children at risk for adverse health outcomes, but also for thinking about strategies to promote resilience in kids who have had early negative experiences.
Q: What advice do you have for women pursuing careers in science?
A: Be persistent and don’t give up, especially at an early age. Women can often feel intimidated very early on, even before they start graduate school, and think, “it’s very tough to get a job” or “the tenure clock is going to run alongside my biological clock—will I be able to do it? Will I be able to balance things?” and they count themselves out too early. They decide to do something they see as potentially less challenging or more practically feasible. My advice would be to stick it out. Be confident in your abilities and trust that the details will work out. I see very intelligent women all around me making their scientific dreams work even though it seems like a daunting process. Follow your dreams and pursue your interests. Don’t worry about the logistics and feasibility too early in your process.