Lecturer Woo Pei Jun studies how babies learn languages

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FALLING in love with psychology more than 10 years ago resulted in a career not only assisting children, but also studying babies and building the base of psychologists in the country.

Psychology lecturer Woo Pei Jun has come a long way in the past 10 years. She answers some questions from Thots n Tots:

Since when have you been a psychology lecturer?

I started teaching as a full-time psychology lecturer at Sunway University in 2005.

Where did you study?

I did my tertiary education mostly in the US. I completed my Bachelor in Psychology at Ohio State University and my Master in Psychology at Boston University. I am currently pursuing my PhD in Psychology with University of Grenoble-Alpes in France.

Why did you decide to go into psychology? What or who influenced this decision?

When I started my university education, I initially planned to major in physical therapy in the US. Due to a change in the education system for the training of physical therapy in the US, where it was only offered at a Master level at the time, I decided to major in psychology for my Bachelor’s degree which was my second interest. But after completing my degree, I decided that I loved what I had learned and decided to continue pursuing my postgraduate degree in psychology. My interest in psychology started with the Introduction to Psychology elective that I took during my first year of undergraduate studies. There were many aspects of the subject that intrigued me and I especially fell in love with developmental and child psychology.

How long did you practise clinical psychology? When did you stop and why?

After my Master’s degree in the US, I worked as an early intervention psychologist in Boston, Massachusetts, where I worked with at-risk families with young children. When I came back to Malaysia, I continued to learn, and worked alongside Dr Teoh Hsien Jin, a clinical psychologist who was also my mentor.

After a few years in clinical practice, Dr Teoh and I were asked to help set up an academic programme in psychology at Sunway University. I thought it was a great idea and another way to help spread the education of proper clinical practice in psychology. It was a stepping stone to contribute to training more professional psychologists to help with the increased demand for psychologists in Malaysia.

What are some perks of being a lecturer?

There is a lot of work that goes into being a lecturer as we have to not only teach but also conduct research and complete other administrative duties. As a clinician, my biggest satisfaction has been to be able to help my patients. Similarly, as a lecturer, the biggest perk (which I view as satisfaction) is to see how I have transformed some students and helped them develop a love for this field. I have helped many of them with their career path and I am very happy to see them successful in their own way. Some have gone on to become clinical psychologists and I am very happy to see that we have achieved our initial vision of growing the field.

You also have a baby lab. Can you tell us more about it?

Currently, in addition to teaching, I conduct research on babies in the area of face and speech perception. I have a few different studies looking at how babies understand tone languages, how they learn languages in a bilingual environment and how they learn to remember different type of faces. A colleague of mine, who also works in the baby lab, is studying how babies process emotion in faces. At the baby lab, we use various non-invasive techniques to understand babies’ knowledge and behaviours. Parents usually participate in the studies together with their babies. We hope that some of the information will be helpful to students and parents.

Parents can find out more about our baby lab from https://university.sunway.edu.my/Sunway-Baby-Lab and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/sunwaybabylab/.

What is your policy or belief when it comes to children’s health?

I believe that we should try to do our best in choosing care for our children’s physical and mental health. I believe parents should be equipped with all possible information to make an informed decision as to what is best for their children. Information should be disseminated accurately and with integrity. I have seen many parents given misinformation which leads them to choose treatments which may not be the best for their children.

What is your best advice to parents for better mental health in children?

Do not be afraid to ask, and try your best to look for information. There is no one best method that fits every family. But, if a parent is willing to find out more information to understand how to help their children grow healthier (physically and mentally), I think that is a great start. Try to get information from accredited sources to guide your decisions.

How many kids do you have? What are their ages?

I have two active and healthy boys. My eldest boy is 10 and the youngest is eight. They both have their own challenges to overcome but have great personalities in their own unique way!

Has being a parent helped you in your job? How?

Being a parent has helped me appreciate managing my time more effectively. It has definitely helped me speed up my work as I have only so much time in a day for work and family. My kids have also taught me a lot about being patient and to appreciate individual uniqueness.

If you could invent something child-related, what would it be and why?

This is a tough question … perhaps something along the lines of helping to read children’s minds? Children struggle sometimes to express themselves in a way that adults would understand due to their limited language and cognitive capacity, hence a device for this would be helpful.