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Graduating student seeks collaboration in a polarized world

Family and human development, psychology dual major interested in bridging interpersonal conflict


Smiling young woman in graduation regalia on ASU Tempe campus

After graduating with two bachelor's degrees from ASU, Sydney Tran will pursue a PhD in social psychology at UCLA. Her research interest is examining interactions between social identities such as race/ethnicity and religious affiliation in applied settings like politics. Photo courtesy of Sydney Tran

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April 24, 2023

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

Graduating undergraduate student Sydney Tran has always wondered what makes people unique. As a child, she was curious about people and what made them relate. This desire to understand others increased as she entered high school and began noticing how factors such as race, culture and religion influenced identity, behavior and choices. 

Once Tran came to Arizona State University  from her hometown in Tucson, Arizona, she found a place to pursue these interests. Through her classes, she realized she could actually make a career out of doing what she loved – asking questions and conducting research. Indeed, she participated in several research opportunities as a psychology and family and human development student, including CARMA, Children in the Law Lab and multiple research assistant positions. 

Through these research experiences, Tran refined her academic interests and began focusing on interpersonal conflict and disagreement in society, especially surrounding such hot topics as politics and religion. Now an aspiring professor, her goal is to find out how people with different identities and beliefs can learn to collaborate.

We caught up with Tran to hear more about her time at ASU and her plans. 

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: Ever since I was young, I was always curious about what factors made me similar and differentiated me from others. In high school, I became especially interested in how cultural identities such as family, race/ethnicity, religion and political affiliation shaped behavioral outcomes. This curiosity manifested in tons of interesting conversations with friends discussing topics such as the meaning of life, the dissection of friendship compatibility, and the boundary between uniqueness and conformity. While these have shaped my perspective, it wasn’t until I entered ASU that I realized that I could have a career dedicated to getting closer to answering life’s questions via research.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I will be attending the University of California, Los Angeles pursuing a PhD in social psychology. My research interests are in examining the interactions between social identities like race/ethnicity and religious affiliation in applied settings like politics. I am super excited to delve into research and spend the rest of my life learning.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I was incredibly fortunate to have met so many supportive professors and graduate students who have always believed in me and my capabilities as a scholar. When I was exploring different career pathways during my first semester of college, I met Dr. Stacie Foster during her office hours and we simply talked about life — possibilities after college, how to stay happy, work-life balance, etc. I can’t boil down our conversations into a single lesson, but I really admired her overall character. I first started wanting to become a professor because of my interactions with her. I really believe that it takes a village to succeed, and because she was so kind, I learned that there’s always support available if you reach out.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?      

A: Before I entered university, I have always heard stories of uninvolved college professors and how students were simply a nameless face in the mass of students. However, all the professors and academic staff that I have met were sweet and encouraging. For instance, I can remember some professors making an active effort to memorize every student’s name in a class (of 40!). In one of my classes, my professor, Dr. Connor Sheehan, actually reached out to me after my class project and invited me to continue the research with him and work on making it into a publication. Because of the competitiveness of academia, I sometimes struggle with imposter syndrome, but the community around me encourages me to try my best and take pride in my accomplishments.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Try and schedule at least one fun event or activity each week. Life gets a little dreary when there’s nothing to look forward to in the short run. Short-term reinforcements are crucial to achieving goals (special thanks to my learning and memory class).

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: While there are many issues that I am passionate about such as sustainability, promoting equity and encouraging educational pursuits, one problem I would like to address is bridging interpersonal conflict in an increasingly polarized society. I think that it is incredibly important to find ways to start dialogue among individuals of different viewpoints and work together to find solutions.

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