Young scholar soars

Peiyi Wang

Peiyi Wang receives Otto W. Shaler Scholarship

Peiyi Wang had recently entered the psychological science doctoral studies program at UC Irvine when she received an email from the graduate coordinator about the Otto W. Shaler Scholarship.

Fearing it was too close to the deadline, Wang waited until her second year to apply for the scholarship that provides financial support to international students who need the funds, have demonstrated past academic achievement and show future promise. Each school at UCI can only nominate two students for the scholarship.

Now in her fourth year, Wang is the School of Social Ecology’s latest recipient of the Otto W. Shaler Scholarship, for which she says, “I feel beyond honored, grateful, and empowered.”

Having previously received her B.A. in psychology and social behavior and M.A. in social ecology from UCI, Wang is used to academic honors. She has received the Center for Asian Studies Graduate Student Grant, been named a UCI Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation summer fellow, pedagogical fellow and graduate dean’s recruitment fellow and made the Social Ecology dean’s honor list and the school’s honors program list.

Wang, who studies the biological, psychological and social predictors of racial/ethnic minorities’ behavioral and health outcomes, has about a year and a half to go before she proposes her Ph.D. dissertation and completes the dissertation projects.

“I am currently studying acculturation and acculturative stress; body image and eating behaviors; weight stigma and weight stigma internalization; and culture psychology,” she says. “In my dissertation, I study the influence of culture on psychosocial predictors of body image dissatisfaction and eating behavior among young adults and hope to contribute to improving culturally sensitive practices in disordered eating prevention and treatment.”

Originally from north mainland China, she applied to UC Irvine because of the location (“I grew up in a city near the beach, so this place feels like home. I love the California sunshine.”) and for a specific, one-of-a-kind center of study (“I wanted to integrate salivary bioscience into my psychological research. The strong health psychology faculty team and Institute for Interdisciplinary Salivary Bioscience Research attracted me.”) 

Fortunately, she discovered even more to love about being an Anteater.

“My advisors and mentors!,” she says excitedly. “I worked in my advisors’ research labs when I was an undergraduate student here. My advisors are so knowledgeable and supportive; they are my role models. So, I really wanted to continue learning from them.”

One mentor spotted Wang’s talent early.

“Peiyi is an exceptional student,” says Illona Yim, professor and interim chair of psychological science. “While she was still an undergraduate student here at UCI, she approached me with a study idea. When I asked her to tell me a little more about her idea, it turned out not only did she have a study idea, she had also already read through the literature, written up the IRB (institutional review boards) proposal, and gotten ready with concrete plans on how to collect the data. I was stunned.”

Wang did the required research, analyzed the data, became a psychological science graduate student and has published the work, “Acculturative stress and eating disinhibition among Asian young adults: The role of depressive symptoms and gender.” The co-authors are Yim and Esmeralda Garcia, another member of the professor’s lab who earned her Ph.D. at UCI last year and now is a UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow.

“I’m so excited she came to me all these years ago and I got to be a part of her journey,” Yim says of Wang. “I couldn’t be more proud of the young scholar she’s become.” 

“I also love that our department encourages collaboration within the department and with other scholars,” Wang says. “I have truly learned a lot from research collaborations.”
— Matt Coker