Rethinking gender, sexuality, identity


Ph.D. Student Receives WW Women’s Studies Dissertation Fellowship

Jianmin Shao, a Ph.D. student in psychological science, has been named a 2023 Dissertation Fellow in Women’s Studies by the Institute for Citizens & Scholars' WW National Fellowship Foundation.

Shao’s dissertation, “Transgendering In-Betweens: Selfhood, Vulnerability, and Trans-Relational Encounters in China,” examines transgender vulnerability through attention to intimate relationships between not only individuals but also national and trans-national politics. The project aims to rethink gender, sexuality, identity, and the place of trans people in the world.

“It’s really important for me to get this fellowship so that I know that what I’m working on is important and there’s value in what I’m doing,” says Shao (they/them/their), who is one of eight scholars selected this year for the prestigious honor that provides $5,000 in support of dissertation research.

Shao’s research for the interdisciplinary project that exams transgender vulnerability in China involved spending a year there to collect data and conduct in-depth interviews with physicians, non-governmental organization staff activists and transgender individuals.

“I really want to know, in addition to their mental health struggles, what are the structural and social factors that shape their experiences,” Shao says. “So that's why I went to interview them. I talked to them and did ethnographic observations at parties and other gatherings.”

The WW Women’s Studies Dissertation Fellowship program was established in 1974 to support outstanding humanities and social science Ph.D. candidates whose work address women’s and gender issues in interdisciplinary and original ways. The program has supported more than 600 fellows over the past 50 years, including a Pulitzer Prize winner, two MacArthur fellows and numerous Guggenheim and Fulbright fellows.

Shao, who got their undergraduate degree in social and behavioral sciences at Soka University of America in Aliso Viejo, received a Mellon International Dissertation Research Fellowship and the UCI Social Ecology Excellence in Mentorship Award as a graduate student in psychological science here.

Hoping to complete studies for a doctorate this summer or in the fall, Shao believes this is the perfect place to do their kind of work.

“I think about academia the same way in which people think about gender because in society, you are allowed to identify as either a man or woman, or there’s very little room for the third option or fourth option,” Shao explains. “In academia, to some extent, you are allowed to be a psychologist or an anthropologist or a gender scholar. But, if you want to be both, or all three of them, it’s going to be hard because people don’t know how to categorize you. I think receiving this fellowship and being housed in the School of Social Ecology really inspired me to continue to do the work that is interdisciplinary, that’s bringing expertise, tools and theories from psychology, anthropology, and feminist gender studies to study the problems that I’m interested in, which is about gendered inequities and marginalization among trans people.”

Shao is also “really appreciative of the mentoring that I’m receiving from my UCI advisors,” who include the Department of Anthropology’s Tom Boellstorff, Kim Fortun, Lilith Mahmud, and Valerie Olson, Department of History’s Emily Baum (“I’m not even housed in their departments, but they really went above and beyond to provide me guidance for the research that I’m doing”), and the Department of Psychological Science’s Chuansheng Chen, Jessica Borelli and Kristine Molina (“One of them is a cultural psychologist, one of them is a clinical psychologist working on the parent-child relationship and the other is a social psychologist working on discrimination. And, all of them are very open and extremely supportive of what I want to do”).

“I really appreciate their encouragement and support,” Shao says. “They’re always there for me whenever I have questions. Doing this kind of work, you definitely need a lot of support from faculty members. I’m glad and appreciative to be mentored by faculty across different departments at UCI.”
— Matt Coker