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Meet Anna Lau
Professor of Psychology and Asian-American Studies at UCLA and Associate Dean for Inclusive Excellence
Dr. Anna Lau is Professor of Psychology and Asian-American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and Associate Dean for Inclusive Excellence in the Division of Life Sciences. Her research spans racial/ethnic disparities in children’s mental health services, cultural variation in risk and protective factors for child mental health problems, and the community implementation and adaptation of evidence-based interventions for immigrant and minoritized youth and families. Through an implementation science lens she has examined factors that promote the use of evidence-based practice strategies among community therapists serving racial/ethnic minority youth in publicly funded mental health services. Her current projects focus on scalable evidence-based interventions to reduce inequities in care receipt, and prevention trials to examine mechanistic models of racial/ethnic disparities in health. Dr. Lau’s research is supported by the National Institute of Mental Health. She is a Fellow of the Asian-American Psychological Association and current President of the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology (American Psychological Association, Division 53).
What tips can you offer to colleagues trying to start a research lab or begin a career in research?
Apart from having a vision and passion for your scholarship, I think the most critical thing is to build your team of collaborators, coaches, mentors, and sponsors. I have been most fortunate in this regard. Having multiple mentors share their expertise, often from different disciplines, with me has always enriched the work. It’s challenging to get everything you need from one advisor, you may have someone you turn to for support with a particular method as a coach or technical consultant, while you lean more on others for career development guidance but not scientific expertise. Sponsors are also folks that provide access to opportunities but may not be that involved in the nuts and bolts of your research. And I cannot overstate how much my work has been enriched by collaboration with peers and students/trainees.
Beginning as an undergrad, I learned so much about navigating my way around Psychology from my friends who were just a little ahead of me. In graduate school, I teamed up with labmates (still among my dearest friends) to code observational data together that would serve all our dissertation projects. Nowadays, I learn so much about implementation science, grants administration, data handling, project management, and career development from my amazing collaborators. Finally, my students and trainees teach me so much about the latest research methods and tools, best practices in mentoring, and myriad other life and science hacks. Clinical psychological science is a team sport. Surround yourself with people that you like, who get you, who lift you up, who share your passions, and who have complementary strengths and skills. And of course, the more you give of yourself, the more you get.
Has your approach to research changed over the course of your career? If so, how has it changed?
In graduate school, my training and research were primarily focused on examining mental health services and patterns of service utilization and pathways into care for youth from racial/ethnic minoritized backgrounds. I was particularly interested in youth at risk for child maltreatment and in ways to support immigrant and ethnic minority youth and families with child welfare involvement. During my postdoctoral training, I began to get more interested in intervention effectiveness research and how the effects of evidence-based interventions may generalize (or not) to youth from minoritized backgrounds and how to adapt interventions to guard against the risk of generalization failure. In my early career, I was fortunate to receive great mentorship and training to transition to effectiveness and treatment adaptation research through a mentored career development award. Thereafter, I was supported further still in a transition to implementation science through a fellowship with the Implementation Research Institute. This led to a fantastic opportunity to study large-scale implementation efforts and the ways community therapists adapt and deliver evidence-based practices to meet the needs of diverse youth and families served in public mental health services. My work now integrates lessons from evidence-based practice and practice-based evidence, all while considering the complexities of service delivery systems and the racialized and cultural experiences of families and youth.
What have you found most rewarding about your research?
I have been very fulfilled by the process of trying to identify determinants of care inequities for underserved, culturally and racially diverse youth and families, and then working with community partners to try to identify potential solutions to bridge access, engagement, and quality gaps. When we identify an unmet mental health need, there is often an evidence-based intervention available that can help to meet that need and maybe this can be a big part of a solution. But then we need to attend to all the ways that intervention may or may not fit the service setting, the providers tasked with delivery, and the cultural and social contexts of the youth and families. It is a very collaborative process to think through what might need to be adapted in the intervention and in the implementation strategies to increase the chance that an evidence-based innovation could work to reduce inequities in youth mental health. It’s inspiring and humbling and gives you so much respect for everyone involved.
How do you balance research with the other demands of your position?
Although many times I feel a little overwhelmed with multiple demands, I also feel very lucky that I get to do so many things that I enjoy and that are consistent with my values. It is a wonderful job to get to study topics close to my heart in the lab and community, and to mentor students to do this work. On top of this, I get to teach classes on the Psychology of Diversity and Asian-American Mental Health at the graduate and undergraduate levels and I get to offer clinical supervision in our training clinic and within treatment studies. There is a so much richness in the interconnectedness trying to contribute to knowledge creation in clinical science, knowledge-sharing through teaching and dissemination, and application in supervision and direct service. My service to the campus and field are also informed by my research interests in equity, diversity, and inclusion and my emerging understanding of implementation. I can fall back on a lot of the same skills and tap into the same set of motivations that make the work rewarding.