Early Career Psychologist Interview
Spotlight on early career psychologists (ECP)
By Helen Milojevich, PhD
Gary Germo, PhD, has been an assistant professor in the Department of Human Services at California State University, Fullerton, since the fall of 2012. In his role at Fullerton, he splits his time between conducting research on foster care youth, teaching undergraduate courses on such topics as child maltreatment, and completing a variety of administrative and service tasks (e.g., mentoring undergraduate and graduate students, working on task forces to address the needs of transgender students on campus).
Germo's current research examines risk and resiliency in foster care youth. His work addresses such questions as: “what promotes positive adaptation among at-risk youth,” and “what processes are associated with parents' successful navigation of family strain.” He is particularly interested in how social relationships can promote adjustment during times of risk and adversity. His research draws on several theoretical perspectives including attachment theory, family systems theory, risk and resiliency, and stress and coping. Further, drawing on the ecological model of human development, his is interested in the role of social relationships in relation to both psychosocial and physiological adjustment among community samples of families and at-risk youth. Overall, he has found that, despite the hardships and adversities experienced by youth in foster care, these children often demonstrate a depth of resiliency and have a range of strengths that can be leveraged to improve their long-term outcomes.
Germo graduated with a PhD in developmental psychology from the University of California, Irvine, in 2008. His path to his PhD was not perhaps a straight one, but one to which many in academia can relate. Germo's interest in research first began during his undergraduate studies at the University of California, Irvine. After leaving a previous career path, he had initially enrolled at UC Irvine as a junior transfer with the goal of becoming a family therapist. While at UC Irvine, though, Germo began working in several psychology laboratories as a research assistant. It was during his time as a research assistant that his academic interests shifted from direct care to a more research-centered focus. On the advice of several faculty at UC Irvine, Germo decided to apply to PhD programs in developmental psychology. Looking back on his own path into academia, Germo advises undergraduates to keep an open mind when considering career options. Moreover, he suggests that undergraduates explore a variety of options. Like him, they may find that the path that they have chosen is not actually the best fit. Being flexible and willing to change directions can lead to much more fulfilling and successful outcomes.
Following graduate school, Germo began teaching at UC Irvine in the Department of Psychology and Social Behavior as an adjunct lecturer. He then spent a year as a visiting professor in the Department of Psychology at Wesleyan University, where he taught adolescent psychology and research methods and design. Shortly after his time at Wesleyan he was appointed to an assistant professor position at CSU Fullerton. In regard to the job market and finding a place in academia, Germo reflects that the “job market is tough” and those who are passed up for jobs should not take it personally. Now that he has been on the other side of job searches in his role as assistant professor, Germo says that he realizes how much more involved and complex the process is than he realized when he was applying. There are so many factors that applicants cannot see or are not aware of, and much of the final hiring decision may come down to factors beyond an applicant's control. Instead, when facing the job market, Germo suggests that applicants figure out their identity—as a researcher, teacher, and colleague—in order to determine their goodness of fit within an institution. Ultimately, the goodness of fit between an applicant and an institution will help determine the outcome of a job search. So, as Germo puts it “knowing who you are as a colleague and a researcher is crucial for finding the right fit when on the job market.”
Currently, Germo is building his program of research examining the role of social relationships in the resiliency of foster care youth. Germo's interest in foster care youth began through volunteer work with the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Orange County, a non-profit organization that provides advocacy for children through a one-on-one relationship between a trained and supervised court-appointed volunteer and a maltreated child. During his time as a CASA volunteer, Germo noticed that despite the best of intentions, the advocates were often confronted with a myriad of challenges that made it difficult to promote the needs of the youth. Given the hardships that these youth faced—even with the aid of an advocate whose role was to ensure that their needs were being met by the court system—Germo wondered how other foster care youth who did not have an advocate were faring. He then started asking: “How can we improve the foster care and dependency systems to improve outcomes for vulnerable youth.” It was with this question in mind that he began partnering with community agencies to conduct applied research throughout Orange County.
Germo has found that partnering with local community organizations can be professionally and personally rewarding. These partnerships allow academics to conduct applied research and disseminate findings to those in need of the results. The partnerships also broaden one's perspective as a researcher and lead to exciting career opportunities, including collaborations and opportunities to present to community leaders. However, Germo also notes that conducting research out in the community, especially with vulnerable populations, can be slow as community partners may have different timetables and priorities relative to your own. To ensure a productive program of research, Germo recommends that graduate students and ECPs have multiple projects in the pipeline. That way, if a community projects slows down, you can turn to another project for the time being.
Germo has already made remarkable contributions to the field of child maltreatment via teaching, mentoring, and research. He is passionate about his multiple roles, and gives students and trainees opportunities to benefit from his knowledge. We wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors and thank him for his insights to our students and ECPs.