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Dr. Diana Sanchez: Associate Professor of Psychology, Rutgers University


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2013/08/28

1. What positions have you held in Academe?

After receiving my PhD in 2005 from the University of Michigan, I accepted a tenure-track position in the Psychology Department at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ.  I have been there ever since. I am currently an Associate Professor of Social Psychology.

2. In brief, how was your youth? How did you come to this point? 

My youth was a bit challenging. My mother died of cancer when I was 17 and my father died of a stroke when I was 21. In some ways, academia saved me because it became my home when there was no home to return to. 

3. When did Psychology interest you?

As an adolescent, I remember wanting to become a supermodel or a psychologist. I quickly became disenchanted with the idea of modeling and the unrealistic body ideals for women in the industry. No doubt my stint in modeling inspired some of my work on the danger of unrealistic body image ideals.

My true passion for psychology began as a teenager. I found myself playing the role of psychologist for my friends and family, which drew me into my present career path.

4. Where did you acquire your education?

After growing up in a small town in Cresskill, NJ, I attended Bard College on the Excellence and Equal Cost Scholarship (essentially a scholarship that allows you to pay state college prices for a private school education if you graduate in the top 10% of your high school class). At the time, Bard College was a very liberal environment full of tree-hugging liberals and high school outcasts. It suited me well. At Bard, I began conducting social psychological research with Dr. Tracie Stewart, which led me to graduate school in a joint social psychology and PhD program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

5. What kinds of research have you conducted up to the present?

I have two lines of research. The first involves examining how sexism and the social construction of gender influence interpersonal relationship. For example, I have tackled questions such as, “How do gender role prescriptions influence sexual satisfaction?” “What are the interpersonal costs and benefits of confronting sexism” and “When do gender roles restrict men and women’s freedom to be themselves in relationships?” The second line of research involves identifying the impact of biracial identities on race, intergroup relationships, and social categorization processes. This work focuses on how racial ambiguity challenges prejudice and rigid social cognition.   The core question here is “What impact does the growing biracial population have on how we think about race and the relationships between racial groups?”

6. If you currently conduct research, what form does it take?

Currently, I examine the social conditions under which racial ambiguity influences racial attitudes after interpersonal interactions. I have also begun some promising work at the intersections of gender and race to better understand the experience of women of color and the health consequences of combined gender and race-based discrimination.

7. Since you began studying psychology, what do you consider the controversial topics? How do you examine the controversial topics?

Any research that challenges the wisdom of conforming to gender norms could be considered controversial in the eyes of the public because many are resistant to scientific studies that demonstrate costs of what some consider the way men and women should behave. Because my work explores the potential costs of restrictive gender roles, I sometimes receive some resistance.

In the field of psychology, I also find it controversial to study sexuality because many do not consider sexuality research a science worthy of study despite the obvious importance of sex to virtually all aspects of psychology. As a result, not many social psychologists study sexuality but I see too much importance in sexuality research to ignore this importance facet of interpersonal connections.

At first, studying biracial identity was controversial topic because many did not consider biracial identity to be a legitimate identity.  The resistance to biracial identities came from both conservative and liberal circles. In some parts of the country, there was (and continues to be) a strong backlash against interracial marriages and much early research seemed influenced by conservative racial politics. For example in the 1950s, biracial individuals were described as psychologically disturbed and criminally-minded. Even after some of these ideas were discarded, others resisted biracial identities because they felt that biracial individuals could diminish the power of minority political movements by reducing the population counts of minority populations. Others accused biracial people of trying to escape their minority identity and pass as White. So, there was a public sensitivity around biracial identity, which was only recently overcome by the large, outspoken biracial community who demanded that biracial identity be recognized as a real identity. So, studying biracial identity no longer seems controversial though there is still some backlash from racially prejudiced groups who do not approve of racial mixing.

8. How would you describe your early philosophical framework? Did it change? If so, how did it change?

Do what you love and you will live a fulfilling life. This is the philosophy that led me to my career. As for a philosophical framework for my research, I suppose one could say that I adopt a self-determination approach. That is, I think that we have two core motivations that explain a great deal about behavior—the desire to belong and connect with others and the desire to feel autonomous, free, and authentic. I still believe these are cross-culturally important motivations that can help explain social behavior.

9. If you had infinite resources and full academic freedom, what would you research?

If I had infinite resources and full academic freedom, I would utilize more international samples, purchase biomedical equipment to study the interface of the physiological body and the mind, and conduct more longitudinal studies to ascertain long-term psychological consequences. If I had infinite resources that I could use for non-research purposes, I would create programs to improve the diversity of psychology programs at the graduate and faculty levels.

10. What advice do you have for undergraduate and graduate students? For Psychology students, what do you recommend?

If you are passionate about your topic of study, work will not feel like “work”. So, pick ideas that will sustain your passion. For those who strive to join PhD programs, get involved with publishable research early in your career. Moreover, I highly recommend getting closely involved in different areas of psychology because I strongly believe that the most exciting innovations to come will be those that bridge across areas of psychology.

11. Who most influenced you?Can you recommend any books/articles?

There are several mentors who influenced my thinking and advised me along my career path (Tracie L. Stewart, Jennifer Crocker, Margaret Shih, Laurie Rudman, Abigail Stewart, James Jackson). Of course, there were also those scholars whom I have never had a chance to talk to in person but whose work has and continues to inspire me (Alice Eagly, Anne Peplau, Susan Fiske, Claude Steele, Jennifer Richeson, M. Lynne Cooper, Edward Deci, Richard Ryan). And of course, there are the intellectual pioneers of the social psychology of identity, prejudice, and stigma (Henry Tajfel, Gordon Allport, Erving Goffman) whose work laid the foundation for the research that I conduct today. Perhaps, I would recommend that people start with Gordon Allport’s Nature of Prejudice and Goffman’s book on Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity.

12. Where do you see Psychology going?

I can only answer the question of where I would like to see Psychology go. I hope that Psychology continues to bridge with other disciplines so that scientific discovery can reach its full potential. I hope that we continue to explore the links between the mind and the body.  I hope that we become an even more open science so that our work is more widely distributed and we can educate the public. Also, I believe a standard of open science (e.g., data sharing) can also prevent fraudulent science. 


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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