Early Career Psychologist Column
Spotlight on Early Career Psychologists
By Anna Westin
This column spotlights successful early career psychologists (ECPs) with a variety of career paths to help graduate students, interns, and early ECPs make wise training and career choices. Our third spotlighted ECP is a great role model for members interested in a primarily research-oriented career path with a nonprofit organization. This role includes research analysis, technical report writing, supervision, chairing various committees and informing state policy.
Lindsay Malloy, PhD, is assistant professor in the department of psychology at Florida International University. Her role includes research as the director of the development, context and communication lab, teaching and service. Malloy has an impressive publication record of 23 peer-reviewed articles, primarily in the area of child maltreatment disclosure, forensic interviewing and child testimony. She is passionate about the intersection of psychology and law, and emphasizes that child maltreatment is an interdisciplinary field where psychology, law, social work, public policy and medicine have to work together. This can work in favor of those looking for jobs, as positions in a variety of departments may be relevant.
Thinking back about her career path, Malloy reflects that it developed over time rather than being planned out far in advance. As a high school student, Malloy knew she wanted to be the first person in her family to complete a college education. She enrolled at Central Michigan University with interests in both psychology and law, without having plans for a specific career path or graduate school training. While completing her BS, she met Debra Poole, PhD, who became her mentor. Poole was passionate and knowledgeable about the intersection of psychology and law, and Malloy loved doing research in her lab. Poole helped guide Malloy's career journey by showing her that combining law with psychology was possible, and also through specific guidance on where to apply to get further education in this area.
When applying for graduate programs, Malloy picked the program where faculty research interests best matched hers. She entered the developmental psychology program at University of California, Irvine in 2002 and completed her PhD in 2008. Her education was heavily influenced by her mentor, Jodi Quas, PhD, as well as other research faculty at UC Irvine (Elizabeth Cauffman, PhD) and University of Southern California (Thomas Lyon, JD, PhD). Towards the end of graduate school, she recalls sharing, jokingly, during a conversation at a conference that she would love to do her postdoc with Michael Lamb, PhD, at Cambridge, U.K. (one of the most influential researchers in her field). Someone else happened to know Lamb was advertising for a postdoc, and she applied even though she did not meet the language requirements for that particular position. While she did not get the advertised position, Lamb had another position for which she was qualified. The postdoc was “the perfect position” and she “lucked out.” Malloy encourages others to apply for positions that are great matches, regardless of their location, and also to reach out to ideal mentors whether or not they have positions listed.
After spending almost three years in the U.K. as a postdoc, Malloy returned to the U.S. for her first job. She recalls applying for a number of positions across the U.K., U.S., and Canada primarily based on match with her interests. She reflects that it is difficult to be focused on a particular location when you have specialized training. There are only a handful of jobs that will be a great match, and your dream job may not be available if you restrict your search to a particular location. She also shares that depending on your life circumstances, moves may be more or less realistic. She was lucky that she had flexibility to move to the U.K. for her postdoc, and also that her husband—whom she met in the U.K.—was willing and able to move with her to Miami for her first job.
Malloy's research is relevant to policy, and she makes conscious efforts to disseminate results broadly to reach the appropriate audience. Publishing in peer reviewed journals is important from an academic perspective, but giving presentations to specific policy groups can be more helpful to ensure use in practice. While some policymakers are open and excited about her sharing research results, others may be less interested in input from “outsiders.” It can be hard to know whether your findings have an impact in the policy world and she was pleased to know that some of her findings were recently cited in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court. She recommends that ECPs develop a tough skin and are persistent in their efforts. Getting rejected is a big part of being a scientist, whether in the context of the policy arena, peer review for articles, or grant funding reviews. It is easy to be discouraged in the early stages of your career, but over time you will learn to adjust your expectations and reframe rejections.
Another important factor to be aware of for ECPs interested in policy applications of their research is that academic settings may not encourage time spent on policy efforts. It takes significant time to develop policy relationships, and academia rewards productivity in terms of academic publications. Therefore, policy-relevant work likely has to happen on your own time. Malloy encourages ECPs to be strategic in their policy efforts, and focus on policy collaborations that can be mutually beneficial. For example, your relationships may help increase access to research data. With regard to starting to build policy relationships, she recommends first networking at your university and building on others' relationships. If that is not possible, cold calling can have some positive results.
Other advice for graduate students and ECPs include focusing time and effort on the specific aspects of your education that will make you more competitive for your career. For many students, this will be core skills in research methodology and statistics, and publication productivity. Sometimes students can get bogged down in classes or other service activities even though their time is likely better spent on writing. More generally, the transition from undergraduate to graduate school can be difficult and discouraging for many students. Students may be “used to being the best in their class,” and that classes are the most important thing. In graduate school, the focus is more on “creativity and independent thought,” and everyone else is also a top student. She believes building resilience is key to being successful throughout graduate school. It helps to focus on the process rather than achievements, and students who are “eager and passionate about learning and improving” tend to do best.
The transition from student to ECP can also be challenging. Many ECPs may not feel completely competent when they start out, and also have the added pressure that students rely on their research productivity. However, while increased independence is expected after graduation, Malloy emphasized that mentors do not stop being mentors from one day to the next. She still shares ideas with old mentors, and also relies on exchange of ideas and support from her colleagues. In addition, in Malloy's experience, the first years of building curricula and lab are the toughest. Time management likely also gets better with time and increased responsibilities. Furthermore, realizing that we always grow with regard to competence is helpful.
In addition to conducting quality research, Malloy also teaches seminar style classes in psychology and the law to undergraduate and graduate students, provides mentorship, and is involved in a number of service activities. Current service activities include serving as ad-hoc reviewer for a number of journals, serving on several department committees, editing the newsletter for APA Div. 7 (Developmental Psychology), serving on the Dissertation Award committee for the American Psychology-Law Society, and serving as the Early Career Network representative of Div. 7. It is also relevant that Malloy was the student representative of the Section of Maltreatment in 2004, where she was part of developing the still used curriculum guide accessible on our website. Malloy's passion and commitment to all aspects of her work have earned her several recognitions, including the Florida International University Provost Award for Outstanding Mentorship of Graduate Students in 2016, the Saleem Shah Award for Early Career Excellence in Psychology and Law in 2014, and the Diane J. Willis Early Career Award in 2013.
Malloy has already made remarkable contributions to the field of child maltreatment via research, teaching, mentoring, and service. She remains passionate about her policy-relevant research agenda and plans to do research in the area of human trafficking next. We wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors and thank her for her insights to our students and ECPs.