In 2017, Lin Tan earned a doctorate in human development and a master’s in data analysis and applied statistics, both from Virginia Tech. Her advisor was Cindy Smith and she was a part of the child and adolescent development program. After graduation, Tan worked as an instructor at Virginia Tech for a year. She is now a postdoctoral research fellow in developmental psychology at the University of Michigan. There her research focuses on the role of family processes in children’s social-emotional development. She also explores how the cultural similarities and differences in emotional beliefs relate to parental socialization practices.

What is a postdoctoral fellowship, and how can it be beneficial?
A postdoctoral fellowship is a temporary position in which the fellow conducts research under the mentorship of a postdoctoral advisor, publishes the results of the scholarship, and acquires the experience and skills for the academic career. The fellowship allows the postdoc to focus on research without coursework and teaching obligations. The academic job market is very competitive nowadays, so getting a postdoc position can help graduate students better prepared for a tenure-track faculty position, especially at a research university. I taught full time for a year after graduation. While enjoying teaching, I realized that research was what I really wanted to pursue and a postdoc would be a nice steppingstone to an academic career for me.

What types of work do you do in the Child Development and Family Relationships Lab at the University of Michigan?
My work includes developing my own line of research and collaborating with my advisors and the graduate students to conduct data analyses. This is a full-time position that only focuses on doing research, which I really enjoy. My current projects include exploring the trajectory of children’s emotional understanding and its relation to children’s language ability.

What is the best part about your job?
The best part is that I can spend all my work time doing research-related activities. I also like collaborating with my two hard-working, dedicated advisors, who inspire and motivate me. Although I started here just in August 2018, I have already learned so much.

How did Virginia Tech prepare you for your career?
Virginia Tech helped in several major ways. First, the mentorship of my graduate advisor, Cindy Smith, helped me a lot. I started to work with Cindy from the very beginning of the program. The research experience with Cindy taught me every step in conducting high-quality developmental research. There were times where I was distracted and frustrated, and I tried to avoid writing. She was there to keep me focused. She also supported me greatly during my job search.

Second, the Department of Human Development and Family Science provided the opportunity to undertake research assistantships with different professors. I worked with Cindy, Isabel Bradburn, and professors from the Department of Engineering Education. During these assistantships, I was able to explore different research interests, sharpen my research and analytic skills, and learn from these great researchers.

Third, Virginia Tech provided dual-degree programs. I was really interested in statistics, which also was very important and can be directly used in my research. Taking advantage of the dual-degree program, I enrolled in the master’s program in statistics, where I learned so much.

What advice do you have for current graduate students in the Virginia Tech Department of Human Development and Family Science?
Start thinking about your career goal early and plan accordingly. If you want to be a professor, start publishing early. A course project can turn into a publication if you plan it and take it seriously. If you need advice and support, ask for it. Work very hard, but also work hard to maintain a work-life balance.

Interview by Casey McGregor