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Interview with Dr. Yalda Uhls, Senior Researcher at the UCLA Children’s Digital Media Center

Dr. Yalda T. Uhls is an author and columnist; her research has appeared in publications like CNN, The New York Times, Time Magazine, and KPCC. She is the senior researcher at the Children’s Digital Media Center at the LA UCLA campus and the Regional Director of Common Sense Media.

Common Sense Media is a national non-profit that centers on helping children, families and educators pass through the digital world. In this illuminating interview, Dr. Uhls discusses her previous career in the film business, where she was a vice-president at MGM, as a well as a consultant to Google. Dr. Uhls experience in film informs her present career in psychology and this interview showcases this knowledge.

What event or series of events led you to pursue psychology as a professional choice?

yalta-uhlsI was always fascinated by human behavior, and thus in my first career, I explored people through storytelling, as an executive in the film business. After I had children, I became interested in development, and so I decided to take psychology classes. After a few years of classes, I partnered with a research scientist at UCLA, and she encouraged me to apply to the doctoral program.

Name 1 or 2 specific challenges you have faced in your career in psychology and the steps you took to overcome them?

I came to the field as an older student, which meant I was outside of the norm. In many ways this helped me, and in particular since I was studying developmental psychology and had children, it was extremely useful for both my schoolwork and parenting. However, given the different life stage, I was not able to partake in many of the social activities that other students enjoyed. In addition, I was interested in a career outside of academia, and decided to not pursue a tenured professorship. This non-traditional path was sometimes more difficult to navigate.

Can you give us an example of an interesting case or project that have worked on and your role in helping to achieve a positive outcome?

I enjoy writing for non-academic audiences and the intersection of science, storytelling and psychological research. To that end, an article I wrote for a blog has been republished many times, and I believe is helping people understand the research on cyberbullying and how this kind of bullying is different than in person bullying.

Can you describe what a typical day looks like for you or the activities you spend the most time on at work?

I do two things, research at UCLA and I also run the Los Angeles office of the non-profit, Common Sense Media. In addition, I write and speak to audiences about media, children, and research. So every day is different. Some days I go to meetings with film and television executives and talk to them about what research says about how kids navigate the digital world, and also how to portray this world in the most responsible manner. Another day I will analyze statistical data. Still another day, I will write up the results of a study for a peer reviewed journal or an article on kids and media for Huff Post.

What aspects of your work do you enjoy the most?

The variety, the thinking, the connecting with people. I really enjoy doing talks for parents and the conversations that ensue afterwards. I sometimes get ideas from these, for research and for blog posts. My favorite thing is to communicate successfully something I am passionate about and to engage people in a conversation around these topics.

What advice would you give to new graduates for getting hired after graduation?

I would recommend exploring your options. Try different avenues. Trust your instinct. Network.

What is the key strength you bring to your career and how would you advise new graduates to mine their own strengths to further their careers?

I believe my key strength came from my many years in the film business where I learned to tell stories and to persuade. I also learned what works in the marketplace and how to gage an audience; even in academia, storytelling is important, and knowing your audience and how to speak specifically to them is a critical skill.

I would advise new graduates to allow themselves to try things and see what gives them enjoyment. Find their passion, a career can be a long winding road, and you may take some turns, but always go with your instincts if possible.

We extend our thanks to Dr. Uhls for being so generous with her time and sharing her advice for psychology students. You can learn more about Dr. Uhls at her website.