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Adrian Aguilera

Field: Psychology
SR-EIP: Stanford University (2000)
Undergrad: Stanford University (2002)
Graduate School: University of California, Los Angeles (2009)
Current Position: Assistant Professor, School of Social Welfare, University of California, Berkeley

Could you talk about any memorable experiences from your summer research at Stanford University?
The most memorable experience for me was the moment I began to feel like a real researcher. My mentor gave me the push I needed to develop a sense of confidence to be engaged in asking my own research questions. Though the goal of achieving a PhD felt out of reach at times, the experience (SR-EIP) made the possibility feel real. The idea of conducting research was something that I realized I could do.

Can you talk about how your summer experience prepared you for graduate school?
It set up the foundation for me to be in the field. It helped relieve some of that imposter effect that we feel, i.e. feeling as if we don’t fit in. Going to the conference, presenting, etc. were the steps that helped me feel as if grad school work was doable.

Can you talk about the role of mentorship in your career?
Mentorship has been the single most important factor in terms of my success. I was fortunate to have mentors, both faculty and grad students, that pushed me when I needed it and informed me of the possibilities that I may not have been aware of. They were instrumental in sustaining my interest in the field and my beliefs that I could succeed as a researcher. I also learned to be comfortable seeking out help and applying it. I remember when I was applying to graduate school, I asked a professor for her advice about going to grad school immediately after undergrad or taking time off. I took time off to gain additional experience, as she suggested. Afterwards, when I applied, I got into grad school. I was able to relay this to her and she was delighted because she mentioned that not all students take the advice that’s offered to them. This was something that stuck with me because it reminded me of the importance of not only seeking advice from others, but seriously considering it and applying it to one’s life.

What advice would you give to this year’s Leadership Alliance participants?
First, I think that you must really assess the resources around you and tap into them. It’s important to assess what relationships you’ve had over time, and go back to these to seek direction, i.e. utilizing these connections. The second thing is being persistent in your goals and realizing that the perfect plan may not be achieved the first time. You must keep “knocking at the door” because, if you continue to be persistent, you will have a much better chance of reaching your goals or getting as close to them as possible.

Is there anything else that you would like to mention?
As important as it is to find advisors and mentors that match your interests in terms of content, it is also extremely important to consider personal connection as well. Advisors in graduate school have a tremendous influence in making your experience easier or more difficult than it needs to be. Find someone who you feel supports you and has your best interests in mind.

Note from editor: At the time of this interview, Dr. Aguilera was completing a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco. In Fall 2011, Dr. Aguilera joined the faculty of the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare as an Assistant Professor. Read his Faculty Profile.