5 Questions about Your Career:  Psychology Professor Mika Hirai

Recently, I had the honor of meeting up with my friend, Mika, at the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) Biennial Meeting where she was presenting some of her work.  Mika has a Ph.D. in Psychology and teaches at Yokohama City University in Yokohama, Japan where she specializes in Child Development.  She has such a cool job, I never get tired of talking to her about it. She humors me and answers all of my many, many questions. Here’s a little bit of what she had to say about her job and how she got there.

How did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in psychology?

I decided that I wanted to study psychology when I was young, probably in high school.  I think I saw a tv show that featured a psychologist who was always solving problems. That’s what appealed to me initially. I wanted to be a clinical psychologist until I met my mentor, Keiko Takahashi, who was a Professor at University of the Sacred Heart where I went to college and grad school.   I ended up working in her lab, doing research, and that really put me on the path to my current career. I still work with her today – mentorship is so important.

What did you do before you became a Professor?

I worked at a mental hospital. I also did research at a governmental agency and worked as a part-time lecturer at various schools. I even did unpaid work so that I could continue to get the experience necessary to get a good job at a University. Once I became a Professor, I still worked a few days a week at a clinic for a number of years.

So you teach college students, do research and put in clinical hours each week – which one do you like best?

I like them all. That’s one thing I love about my job, I get to experience three different types of work and each ones informs the other.  I think I am better at teaching because of my clinical and research experience, and better at clinical work because I’m teaching and doing the research that I’m doing.

What is it like to juggle work and being a single mom?

I had to make sacrifices, but my family helped me a lot.  I was able to send my daughter to a daycare that was very close to my house, and then when she was school age (age 6!) she could take the train by herself.  All young children in Japan start taking the train by themselves at a young age.  Japan is very safe, but that doesn’t mean you don’t worry.  Now that Mei is a teenager, I’m grateful that I do what I do because I don’t take it personally when she is moody with me or acts like a typical teenager.  I have empirical data that tells me this is all very normal!

Where do you see yourself professionally in the future?

As my daughter has gotten older I’ve noticed that I am increasingly focused on work. I write a lot more. I think that I will probably be doing this work until I am very, very old. I love it.  It never ceases to fascinate me.

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