Working at the intersection of research and practice

Zijin Zhang

Zijin Zhang

Dual Major in Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Development and Education Policy, 2020

Before Penn GSE: Undergraduate student

After Penn GSE: Research Assistant, Mt. Hope Family Center at the University of Rochester

"I came to Penn GSE to learn how to use science-based evidence to empower children, families, practitioners, and policymakers."

Q: Why did you choose to pursue a graduate degree in Human Development at Penn GSE?

Human interaction and its relationship to healthy development have always intrigued me. I entered education as a practitioner in public schools and nonprofits with the craving to understand how individuals connect with, respond to, and care for each other, especially in an environment with myriad risks. After learning about people’s needs in everyday life and the systemic barriers to address those needs, I was educated about my own limitations as I did not have a solid understanding of child development and lacked the insight into tackling complex problems. Therefore, I came to Penn GSE to learn how to use science-based evidence to empower children, families, practitioners, and policymakers who need the knowledge and tools. 

Q: Why did you choose to purse a dual major in Education Policy?

Children develop within relationship ecologies. While the proximal and direct interactions in the family exert significant influence, social policies can provide opportunities or reinforce structural inequities. Moreover, education is never apolitical. We educate a child to become a healthy and fulfilled human being as well as a responsible citizen. It is essential to understand policymaking and policy implementation processes so that I can use evidence in child development to inform policy or leverage resources through public education and advocacy. Plus, Education Policy has a practicum in which student teams provide consultancy to state-level DOEs, school districts, and educational nonprofits. This was a great opportunity to get hands-on experience!

Q: What was the single most important thing you learned in the ISHD program?

Be genuine, proactive, and humble in understanding, caring for, and serving others. 

Q: How did your experience in the ISHD program inform your career path? 

I came to Penn GSE to learn research for its better application. Now, my research interest centers around adult-child interactions and how these interactions shape the development of both, especially in high-risk contexts. The research project at the Mt. Hope Family Center, on which I will be working under the supervision of Patrick Davies, Ph.D., is a longitudinal study designed to examine why different forms of inter-parental and family conflict are associated with distinctive developmental outcomes for children. I hope the opportunity to work at the intersection of research and practice can enable me to become a better researcher-practitioner.