Department of Psychology Profile

Professor Goldberg talks about research opportunities in psychology at Clark for undergraduates, and her own research on gay and lesbian adoptive parenting.

What do you think students ought to know about studying psychology at Clark?

When I came to college I didn't know what research or working in a lab was. It seemed like something totally boring and uninteresting. I pictured people in some dingy little office somewhere. But it was so not like that. What's exciting to me about research is the ability to ask questions, to investigate the answers to those questions, and to interact with real people. To find out answers to the things you've always been interested in. That was so exciting to me--the ability to do that.

Clark offers an incredible research program, and there are so many professors who are truly interested in and dedicated to their students. We spend a lot of time with our undergrads. We treat them like human beings. They're allowed to do interesting projects and real, important work. They're building skills that will take them to graduate school, or to another job. I know that they're all leaving with skills that they didn't have when they came in. And they're leaving with all this interest in things that they wouldn't otherwise have been exposed to. The faculty at Clark is unique in that people really care--in particular I'm thinking about the psychology faculty-and are very interested in helping students realize their interests and goals, and fulfill their passions in whatever way they want to. I think our psychology department is a particularly good place for undergrads to start out. I look at all the interesting work that people are doing in their labs and the ways students are able to get involved. I know that at other colleges there's not the same level of involvement. It's really amazing. Really good students get to do really interesting work here. And people who work really hard are then given even more responsibility. There are certain undergrads that I think of almost as mini-grad students.

One of the advantages of Clark is that it combines a nationally-recognized graduate program in psychology with a small, personalized setting.

That's unique, as is the fact that undergrads are able to interact with grad students. It's not that we pawn undergrads off onto grad students. I do just as much work with undergrads as if grad students weren't there. But undergrads have a unique opportunity to interact with grad students who were in their shoes just a few short years ago and who can explain the grad application process to them and advise them. They really serve as mini-mentors to them and that's so special. And I always say, if you don't feel comfortable asking me, ask one of the grad students, or ask each other. There are so many resources to draw on.

How did you become interested in psychology, and especially the study of parenting?

When I was 15, I went to a summer program for high school students at Bennington College, where I took a course in adolescent psychology. I loved it, and it really had an impact on me. I thought it might be something I would be interested in pursuing further. I didn't really know what psychology meant when I was that age, but I was the trusted friend that people talked to about their problems, and I was interested in emotional development, especially in children and adolescents.

What are you studying in your current research?

I'm really interested in how couples create equality in their relationships, and how they arrive at equitable or inequitable parenting arrangements. In lesbian couples there's a biological and a non-biological parent, and I was interested why, in many cases, the biological mother was the one doing more childcare, while the non-biological mother engaged in more hours of paid work. So, many lesbian couples were actually dividing labor along relatively segregated lines, despite reporting a strong commitment to egalitarianism.

I'm currently conducting a study looking at heterosexual, lesbian, and gay couples and their transitions to adoptive parenthood. I interview couples before they adopt, while they're waiting for their first child, three months after they've had a child placed in their homes, and one year after placement. So far we have about 40 lesbian couples, about 35-40 gay couples and about 60 heterosexual couples in the study.

Have any of your research results surprised you?

One surprising find is that gay couples in my sample are having children placed with them faster than lesbian couples. That finding has not been documented anywhere in the literature and is very interesting.

Do students help you with your research?

Yes. Graduate students are incredibly helpful in this project. Two of my grad students assist with recruiting. They call adoption agencies, talk to them about the research, and send them brochures which they then disseminate to their clients. Along with me, grad students also do some of the interviewing. I'm the primary person who keeps track of all the participants, but they keep track of the individual couples they've interviewed over time. They also code, enter and transcribe the data. So grad students do a lot.

Undergraduate students also do a lot, but at a different level. They listen to the in-depth interviews and transcribe them. It helps them develop interviewing skills, such as learning how to probe for difficult answers and how to ask about sensitive subject matter that they might then use in other capacities. They also do a lot of the data entry and learn how to code qualitative data. They enter the quantitative data into a big database which we later analyze. And they do independent projects based on this data: they take a little piece of this bigger project and use it for their own. For example, one undergraduate recently looked at couples' preferences about the adoptive child's race, how that changed over time, and their reasons for being open or not open to a particular race. Undergrads also help with internet research, library work, and identifying potential recruitment avenues. So they're involved in a lot of different aspects of the research.