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Melanie Killen

October 29, 2015

Dr. Killen investigates topics such as children’s and adolescents’ social and moral reasoning; social exclusion; intergroup relationships and attitudes; theory of group mind; origins of prejudice in childhood; and how diversity in social experiences is related to reasoning about exclusion and intergroup bias. Killen is Honorary Professor of Psychology at the University of Kent, Canterbury, U.K., and has been elected Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, the American Psychological Association, and the Society for the Study of Psychological Issues. She is a University of Maryland Distinguished Scholar-Teacher (2008-2009) and recipient of the Graduate School’s Graduate Mentor of the Year Award as well as the Director of Graduate Studies of the Year Award.

Dr. Killen is author of Children and Social Exclusion: Morality, Prejudice, and Group Identity (2011), and has co–edited six additional books. She is currently a member of the College Board of Reviewers for the National Science Foundation's Developmental and Learning Sciences branch, and she was Associate Editor of Child Development (2007-2013), the leading journal in the field of developmental psychology.

Dr. Killen’s research has been profiled in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chronicle of Higher Education, Scientific American, Newsweek, and other news outlets. In 2012, Dr. Killen was commissioned by Anderson Cooper for CNN AC360 to collect data for a news story on children’s racial bias. She and her University of Maryland graduate student research team designed the study, collected and analyzed the data (interviewing 145 children at 6 and 13 years of age), and assisted with the story scripts. The show aired for 5 nights in 2012, and received an Emmy Award for Outstanding News and Analysis in 2013.

Dr. Killen received her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley in 1985.

Why is graduate education important

Graduate education enables individuals to pursue dedicated and intensive training in an area of intellectual, academic, creative, and scientific interest—training that provides for fascinating career opportunities. Higher education in the U.S. is the envy of the world. Students from all over the globe come to the U.S. for specialized training in a very wide range of fields. In just five or six years, you can acquire depths of knowledge and expertise leading to careers that not only give back to the community, but also provide endless new possibilities for novel inquiry. 

How would you describe your experience at the University of Maryland?

My experience at the University of Maryland has been extremely enriching. I have the opportunity to mentor outstanding graduate students, and I am surrounded by the best research scientists in my field—down the hall, and within a 10-minute walk. 

What key elements have shaped your life and career?

My grandfather got his B.A. at UC Berkeley. He graduated in the Class of ’29, which meant that he could not make use of his degree in financial trade, importing, and exporting, but he valued education and reinforced its importance. After attending college in Massachusetts, I returned to Berkeley for my Ph.D. and never took it for granted; I appreciated the unique and special opportunity I was given to spend six years studying developmental psychology. My Ph.D. advisor, Elliot Turiel, had a huge impact on my career preparation. He spent quality time with his graduate students, which is something that I have tried to emulate in my own mentorship model.  

How has the Graduate School and your graduate program supported your efforts?

The Graduate School has been tremendously generous and supportive of our NICHD/NIH Training Program in Social Development, now in its 10th year.  Further, a group of us were awarded a Graduate Field Committee in Developmental Science which is a cross-campus initiative to bring faculty and graduate students together for cross-cutting developmental science collaborations and opportunities. We sponsor one-day graduate student-organized workshops on a topic in developmental science that have been outstanding. We are planning new initiatives this fall.

Why did you choose the University of Maryland?

I taught at Wesleyan University in Connecticut for eight years after receiving my Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley. While I enjoyed teaching very motivated and talented undergraduate students, I did not have the opportunity to mentor doctoral students, as the Psychology department only offered a terminal M.A. degree. Moving to the University of Maryland enabled me to create an active doctoral student laboratory and launch an entire new line of research. What attracted me to the Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology was the active faculty group, the nearby Center for Young Children Laboratory Preschool, and the doctoral program concentration in developmental science.

Why should others choose the University of Maryland?

The University of Maryland has been on an upward trajectory for the past 21 years that I have been here. We have a perfect location with access to the Washington, D.C.- Baltimore area universities, the NIH, and the National Science Foundation, and the many amazing research institutes and think tanks in the area, as well as incredible cultural institutions and natural resources. It’s a large place, but graduate education can be very focused and supportive if you are motivated and energetic about it.

What is graduate education at UMD all about?

Graduate education is about discovering new knowledge and learning how to analyze, create, develop, and produce new ways of thinking about and solving important problems that are relevant to society. To succeed it is important to be productive, autonomous, enthusiastic, hard-working, and dedicated to a very intensive line of inquiry or creative pursuit.

Is there anything else that you would like to say?

Graduate education is a very special opportunity. It’s not for everyone. But, if you know that it’s for you, then you will want to dive into it and be as productive and engaged with it as possible. Five very short years will provide you with the foundation for a lifetime of intriguing pursuits.