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Keita Christophe: On choosing UNCG, advice to his “junior” self, and coping with Covid-19

Keita Christophe is a graduate student in the developmental psychology program under the direction of Dr. Gabriela-Livas Stein. He is in his final year of the program and we are thrilled to report that he recently accepted a position as Assistant Professor of Psychology at Wake Forest University! 

We caught up with Keita to ask him about his decision to join our department, his current research program, advice to his junior self, and how he has dealt with the challenges of Covid-19 in the past year.

What made you choose the department of  psychology at UNCG and Dr. Livas Stein as your faculty advisor?

It was very clear from my visit on interview day that the department was a noncompetitive place where everyone was supportive and invested in each other’s success. I found that to be especially true in the CAMINOS lab and wanted to be a part of a culture where people built each other up and supported one another regardless of one’s professional goals. After meeting with Gaby on interview day, my head was already full of ideas for different research projects, so I knew that I would always be pushed to come up with better, more novel, and more impactful ideas if I came to work with her.

Representation was very important to me as well. Gaby is one of the only Latinx women and women of color more broadly in a Clinical Psychology program doing work on marginalized populations. I had also never met a Black psychologist before, so it was very meaningful to me to see Jason as the clinic director. Seeing both Gaby and Jason in these ‘achieved’ positions and getting to learn from them was, thus, a big draw as well.

Tell us about your doctoral work. What excites you about it (and your area of research)?

Broadly, my work has focused on (1) cultural factors that may reduce the negative impacts of discrimination on mental health in marginalized youth and (2) familial and contextual factors that promote health identity development and wellbeing in Multiracial populations. I think this strengths-based work is really exciting because it has the potential to help overturn decades of deficits-based thinking that, unfortunately, pushed a narrative that those from marginalized groups are deficient or less than those in the ‘majority’. I also see this research in this area as having the potential to be directly applied to improve the lives of marginalized youth; if we gain a better understanding of the many strengths inherent in these communities, we can design/improve programs and interventions to support these youth.

Are there particular courses that you’re excited to teach in the future?

At UNCG I had the opportunity to teach PSY370, which is essentially a class on factors that contribute to risk and resilience in marginalized populations across development. I am especially excited to recreate a version of that course at Wake and am also excited to work to teach a discrimination and prejudice course that has not been in the course rotation for a few years. 

How have you coped with the past year in particular (Covid)? What specific strategies have you used to stay resilient?

I have always been an active person but ramping up the amount I exercise has been my primary way of coping with Covid and breaking up the day. Several of the grad students have taken up playing tennis over the pandemic and having those close to weekly games to look forward to has really helped.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give yourself as a first year graduate student?

I would tell myself to think of graduate school more as training than school. Thinking about receiving training for a future career (even if your career goals are not set in stone) is helpful because it gives you permission to invest extra time and energy into the things that are most important for your training and less times in the things that are not as important. I think that thinking about how you want to be trained vs. just focusing getting A’s across all your courses will help you take advantage of the many different opportunities you have in graduate school.

What do you like to do in your spare time? How do you decompress?

Working out as I mentioned before, taking my dog on walks through the park, and lots of streaming movies and tv. I am a French citizen and am finally trying to become fluent, so a lot of the programs I watch and music I listen to is in French. Switching gears to thinking and listening to things in another language definitely helps me decompress and take my mind off psychology.

Any reading recommendations, whether psychology or non-psychology related?

I am a huge fan of Hermann Hesse’s novels (he was a close friend of Carl Jung so there is the psychology connection). The books of his I always find myself rereading are ‘Damien’ and ‘Siddhartha’.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about your experience in the department and at UNCG?

I have had such a great experience in the program over the last several years and really credit that to the amazing people. Everyone in my cohort, my lab, and the program more broadly has really had a big impact on me as a scholar and as a person and I am very grateful for that.

Thanks to Keita for answering our questions. We wish him all the best as he pursues the next phase of his career!