Undergraduate Research

Ly Duong ’23

OUR Featured Researcher: Ly Duong ’23

Ly Duong
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones '97

Ly Duong (she/her) is majoring in psychology. She conducts research under the mentorship Chair and of Associate Professor of Psychology Travis Wilson. Her project is titled “‘Prosocial Behavior and Academic Competence Among Low-Income African American Youth: The Mediating Effects of Self-Efficacy and Ethnic Identity.”

Please describe your project:

My research project examines mediating processes (self-efficacy and ethnic identity) that influence the relationship between prosocial behavior and academic competence in a sample of African American youth living in a low-SES neighborhood. The project utilizes a theoretical framework called the Phenomenological Variant of Ecological Systems Theory (PVEST) that considers lived experiences and the effect of environmental risk contributors, such as racism and poverty, on individuals’ experience of stress; these lead to different coping responses, emergent identities, and life stage outcomes. PVEST illuminates a possible pathway to cultivate positive development through prosocial behavior increasing academic competence. Education is important for economic and social mobility in the U.S., yet African Americans continue to be faced with structural and institutional barriers. The findings will reveal important implications for parents, teachers, and social workers who may be interested in developing interventions and promoting positive development for this ethnic group.

Why is your research important?

This research is important to the field because African Americans are an understudied population in the literature, and are often stereotyped in and outside of scholarship. It’s essential to address and acknowledge structural disadvantages and environmental influences that differentially affect this group’s health, well-being, and life course outcomes. A focus on strengths-based research through promoting prosocial behavior in early development is also important for maintenance of long-term positive effects.

What does the process of doing your research look like?

My research process includes searching the existing literature, reading papers, writing, rewriting, and more rewriting. I did a secondary data analysis in SPSS with longitudinal data my mentor had collected a few years ago, so I didn’t design my own study for this project. I spent a lot of my time reading previous research to gain a good foundation of knowledge, and to better understand the constructs of the ethnic group I’m working with. Writing is a slow and steady process, and I meet with my mentor every week to discuss my progress. 

Ly Duong writes in a notebook beside her open laptopWhat knowledge has your research contributed to your field?

My findings so far have confirmed that prosocial behavior significantly predicts academic competence (as is consistent with previous research), and that this is an important avenue to pursue for intervention. I have also found weak evidence of mediation through self-efficacy, but the relationship is not causal. Additionally, I note the importance of looking at consistency and change in individuals and groups over time (stability and continuity) in psychological research.

What is your favorite aspect of the research process?

My favorite part about engaging in this work is being able to contribute to research that centers a marginalized community and brings attention to structural inequalities affecting developmental trajectories. It has challenged me (in a good way) and has been personally meaningful, as I think it is important to learn about and support communities other than your own. Additionally, I believe that the research goes beyond the statistical findings to emphasize practical implications with real-world impacts, through discussing ways to increase prosocial behavior, self-efficacy, and ethnic identity in minority youth.

How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project? How has it impacted you as a researcher?

Dr. Wilson has been the best mentor and I’ve learned so much from him. He has patiently guided me through every aspect of conducting academic research, and makes sure that we take time to really process the results, and understand how they fit into the theoretical framework and the literature at large. He has been a great support and provides me with new perspectives that help me improve my writing, think more critically about messages I’m trying to convey, and become a better researcher.

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field? 

My advice to students wanting to be involved in research is to not be afraid to reach out to faculty. Make sure to show your passion for the subject, read papers that faculty have written, and find whose research interests align with yours. There are so many different areas to explore in the field, such as developmental, social, and clinical psychology, and there are opportunities to discover what you like. Most of all, remember that everyone wants to help you on your academic journey. Working with and getting to know your professors outside of class is one of the best things that Oberlin has to offer, so I would really recommend going for it!