Psychology and Child Development

College of Liberal Arts

Getting to Know Professor Taylor Smith

Professor Taylor Smith

Taylor Smith just wrapped up his first year teaching psychology at Cal Poly. In an effort to get to know him better, we asked him a few questions:

What is your favorite thing about Cal Poly?

The people. Since we arrived in fall, everyone at Cal Poly has been incredibly welcoming to my family and me. After living on the East Coast my whole life, the welcoming nature of Cal Poly has really helped me to feel connected.  

What are your research/scholarly pursuit(s)? What is the most significant research you’ve contributed to?

My research examines the developmental origins of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and focuses on the interplay between prenatal environmental factors and genetic/epigenetic factors. I am currently involved in a number of studies examining the genetic and environmental determinants of ADHD and other outcomes, including low birth weight, anxiety and risky sexual behavior.

For example, our research team (which includes five undergraduate researchers) is conducting a meta-analysis of the association between lower birth weight and ADHD. A large portion of the ADHD public health burden can be accounted for by low birth weight. Our study seeks to understand reasons that make individuals more vulnerable to develop ADHD following low birth weight. In terms of significance, this research may help guide the development of preventative interventions for ADHD. Our research team is excited to disseminate findings at the annual Behavior Genetic Association meeting this summer and plans to submit a manuscript for publication in the fall.

What is/has been your favorite class to teach and why?

I love to teach Behavioral Disorders in Childhood as it challenges students to think about how the individual and environment interact over time to influence risk for childhood psychopathology. It is extremely rewarding to see students grasp these concepts and apply what they have learned. Additionally, I enjoy integrating case studies from my clinical work with children and families.

Are there any scholars or individuals that have inspired you?

I have had excellent role models throughout my training. In particular, my postdoctoral mentors, Drs. Valerie Knopik and John McGeary, taught me how to be a better teacher and scientist. They are eager to work across disciplines and incorporate new methods and technology into their research. I try very hard to emulate their dedication to “team science” and training.

In my clinical work, I have also had the privilege of working with children and families that lead very fulfilling lives despite encountering major traumas. These individuals help to remind me that we can be incredibly adaptive and resilient.

What do you think will change in the field of psychology in the next five or 10 years?

I think the classification system for psychological disorders (known as the DSM or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) will undergo a paradigm shift, from classifying disorders based on behavioral indictors toward classifying disorders based on behavioral AND biological indicators (this will likely take more than 10 years). I am hopeful that research in the fields of genetics, molecular biology, neuroscience and physiology will provide further justification for this paradigm shift. I believe that rooting our classification system in biology will ultimately help to increase the efficacy of interventions for psychological disorders as it has for other diseases (e.g., cancer).

Besides work, what are your passions?

My family. Soccer. All sorts of games — board games, lawn games, etc. Pretending to be a handyman.

If you were stranded on a desert island and could bring one personal item, what would it be?

The board game Settlers of Catan. I could play for an eternity.

What’s the best advice you didn’t take?

A very long time ago, I received the following advice: “You shouldn’t stick your head between those two lead pipes ... it might get stuck.” :)

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