KIZZANN ASHANA RAMSOOK, 24, PSYCHOLOGY
Ashana Ramsook grew up in Trinidad and Tobago, where mental health issues carry a large stigma. “It has made me think carefully about what we classify as 'disorder,'” she says, “and how we communicate with people we are trying to help. It's really important to first find out what people in a community think their biggest issues are and address those before we assume that we know what's best for any given individual or family.”
When she was in fourth grade, Ramsook’s teacher told her that she asks so many questions that she should become a scientist. “I guess I took that to heart,” she says. “I'm a very curious person.”
She took her first psychology course as an undergraduate at Pomona College and knew immediately that she was passionate about the subject matter. She got involved with labs that work with children and families. “The interpersonal aspect was important to me,” she says. “I enjoy learning about the complexity of children and families broadly through my research, and getting to see how this complexity unfolds in an individual through my clinical work.”
"I'm motivated by the kids that I've worked with in schools and mental health care settings. I've been amazed by how strong they can be and also saddened by it."
She’s petite—five-foot nothing—but is becoming a big name in her chosen field. Her thesis examined the linguistics of how mothers and children discuss emotions and relationships. With help from professor Jessica Borelli, Ramsook used a variable called “language style matching” to characterize how mothers and children interacted, and found that mother-child pairs who have an “insecure-dismissing attachment” engage in less language matching than do mothers and children who are securely attached.
Since matching language styles suggest connectedness, Ramsook’s findings support the notion that insecure relationships are more distant and that secure relationships are more connected. Ramsook presented her work at the Western Psychological Association’s conference, where it won the sought-after Robert L. Solso Award. (She also received an award for academic excellence from Pomona College’s Office of Black Student Affairs.)
Today, Ramsook is a doctoral student at Penn State, working under the mentorship of Pamela Cole, a leading scholar in the field of emotion regulation. Ramsook coordinated the Temple University Infant and Child Lab but is reluctant to share specifics about her more recent findings since they haven’t been published yet.
“Right now,” she says, “the goal of my research is to understand the role that parent-child interactions and language play in the development of emotion-related capacities.” That has included examining how four-year-olds express negative feelings and how that correlates to persistence.
“I'm motivated by the kids that I've worked with in schools and mental health care settings,” she says. “I've been amazed by how strong they can be and also saddened by it. I work hard so that hopefully I can contribute to more kids leading simpler, happier lives.”
She’s grateful to be getting a Ph.D. from Penn State, “to receive this opportunity to grow and learn from such prestigious names in the field,” she says. “It means a lot to me, especially since people with my background tend to be quite underrepresented in academia.”
She hopes to secure a position through which she can continue her research, take on clinical cases, and teach. In the more distant future, she wants to be involved with public policy and larger scale mental health institutions.
“I would love to open a free mental health clinic wherever I live,” she says. “I want do my part to promote diversity in academia as well.”
We’ll be publishing profiles of this year’s list of the 30 top thinkers under 30 throughout the month of April. Visit this page every day to read about another young person who is making an impact on the social, political, and economic issues we make it our mission to cover every day at Pacific Standard.
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