Singer Turned Lab Manager

July 19, 2018
Erin Ulrich ’18
Elayne Zhou smiles into the camera
Elayne Zhou ’18 smiles into the camera. Photo credit: Courtesy of Elayne Zhou

Elayne Zhou ’18 is working as a lab manager at University of California, Riverside, but while at Oberlin her willingness to explore new paths paved the way to her first postgrad job.

Elayne Zhou ’18 has always been passionate about helping people, but it wasn’t until she got to Oberlin that she saw a future in studying how she could help people. A psychology major and Hispanic studies minor, Zhou now works as a lab manager—collecting research data, training and overseeing undergraduate students, and working with graduate students and the principal researcher on their respective research. She plans to stay in this position for up to two years, publishing several research papers before pursuing a PhD. Her research focuses on the neural mechanisms of empathy and lack thereof in behaviorally aggressive teenage girls—research Zhou says is especially needed in today’s society.

But conducting and overseeing psychology research wasn’t always in Zhou’s plans. Before coming to Oberlin, she had planned to be a singer. Outside of her college classes, Zhou took private voice lessons with Professor Gerald Crawford in the conservatory.

It wasn’t until she enrolled in Meghan Morean’s Introduction to Clinical and Counseling Psychology course that she began to think seriously about majoring in psychology.  Zhou says it was this course that convinced her of the necessity of integrating research with practice.

A problem-solver from a young age, Zhou says she values that the academic culture at Oberlin focuses on making a difference in the world.  “My courses gave me the freedom to find a problem that I cared deeply about and try to solve it.”

Oberlin gave Zhou the space she needed to nurture her interests—such as singing—while also thinking critically about the impact she wanted to have in the world.

When reflecting on her career aspirations, Zhou says that it’s not about having more researchers in the world, but “having thoughtful people in the world in this day and age. If every single person is thoughtful about how their actions may affect themselves as well as those around them—that would be a world I would love to see.”

She says, “my underlying fascination with psychology comes from how much I value communication and understanding others, so it is a wonderful opportunity for me to build on my research experience looking at how people relate to others.”

But her time at Oberlin wasn’t only career-facing. In addition to studying singing in the conservatory, Zhou minored in Hispanic studies.

When asked why she chose this minor, she says, “I was born into a bilingual family, with Mandarin as my second language, and I had begun studying Spanish in the second grade. I knew, especially coming from California, how important these languages were, and I had valued communication from a very young age.”

Zhou says her upbringing has affected the way she thinks about her psychology research now. “A big part of Chinese medicine that my mom conveyed to me is the importance of not just treating a problem temporarily and superficially,” but emphasizing that “problems must be understood and addressed at their roots in order for the illness to be completely vanquished and the symptoms avoided in the future.”

“I have always believed in proactive rather than retroactive thinking. Mental health is often not taken as seriously as physical health. I don’t want to turn on the news and wonder what life could have been for someone. I want to help them live that life in the first place.”

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