Psychology undergraduate aims to better understand the role of discrimination in sleep

Crystal Li conducts research on minority populations and the transition to college


Portrait of ASU student Crystal Li.

Crystal Li, an ASU psychology undergraduate with a minor in Spanish, hopes to make a difference in diverse communities through graduate research.

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Crystal Li, an Arizona State University undergraduate psychology major with a minor in Spanish, hopes to make a difference in diverse communities through graduate research. 

When she was in high school, she volunteered in an underserved community in the San Francisco Bay Area that had just been hit with a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid for undocumented immigrants. Her internship gave her firsthand experience with the impact that research and interventions can have on the youth in the community. She conducted research with the students, and from that point on, she knew that she wanted to pursue psychology research. 

“The first lab that I joined was the Adolescent Stress and Emotion Lab with Professor Leah Doane. I've been in that lab for almost two years now, and the other lab that I'm a part of is the Arizona Twin Project with professors Mary Davis and Kathryn Lemery-Chalfant,” Li said. “Coming into college, I really didn't know what specifically my research interests were, but all I knew was that I really wanted to prioritize working in a lab that worked with diverse populations.”

The Adolescent Stress and Emotion Lab conducts research on child and adolescent well-being using physiological, psychological and contextual factors with a particular focus on stress. 

“We focus on understanding daily experiences, physiology and sleep in the prediction of health and academic trajectories, as well as how transactions between culture and neurobiological systems may influence these pathways across development,” Doane said.

While conducting research in the lab, Li was mentored by graduate student Jeri Sasser, a graduate mentor in the ASU ENERGIZE project, which guides underrepresented students in psychology and neuroscience to streamline the process of conducting research to prepare for graduate school. This mentorship encouraged Li to also give back as an undergraduate mentor in the program. 

“I'm currently an ENERGIZE peer mentor. This means that I mentor students about labs and connect them to resources, as well as check in and see how everything's going. I think that's really a nice little thing to do because Jeri was that person for me when I joined the Adolescent Stress and Emotion Lab. Mentorship is so important to inspire students to continue pursuing research and to believe that they have a place in research,” Li said. 

Li is currently applying to doctoral programs for developmental psychology. Her future research interests are in studying culture, sleep and stress, and academics and their role in development among ethnic, racial and minority youth. 

This fall, Li also defended her honors thesis as part of the psychology honors seminar on the relationship between ethnic racial discrimination and both objective and subjective measures of sleep among Latino students in their transition to college.

“I presented to my classmates as well as my thesis committee, which was Dr. Doane, Dr. Jinni Su, Dr. Thao Ha and Jeri Sasser,” Li said. “It was such a wonderful experience, but I’m so glad it is over now! I spent over a year and a half on the project, and to see it through to completion was extremely validating.”

Li’s advice to other students who are scared of pursuing research? Just go for it.

“I was very scared to join a lab because I had no idea what to expect and I didn't know if I was well-suited for that kind of environment. Research can be really daunting for students – that's why I really appreciate what ENERGIZE is doing, and I wish I'd known about it when I was initially applying to labs,” Li said.  

“Something that I'm really interested in looking at is continuing my investigation of my honors thesis on discrimination in sleep and further exploring protective factors that can help protect you from harmful effects of discrimination,” Li said. “Transitioning into higher education is difficult for many people, and when you add in any kind of race-based stressor, that can be a huge barrier.”

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