James Li – Information for Prospective Graduate Students

Dr. James Li – Information for Prospective Graduate Students

Website: https://lilab.waisman.wisc.edu/

Current research: My research bridges clinical and diversity science, quantitative psychology, genomics, neuroscience, and developmental psychopathology to study the causes of neurodevelopmental and externalizing conditions, features, and behaviors, including ADHD, autism, conduct, and substance use. My lab’s central mission is to better understand how diversity interacts with biology and psychosocial environments to develop more effective and personalized mental health care, particularly for children with mental health conditions. I am looking to recruit graduate students who are statistically-inclined and are passionate about one or more of the following research foci:

  • Racial and ethnic differences underlying multidimensional mental health outcomes (HiTOP), including but not limited to studies of measurement invariance, social determinants of health, longitudinal outcomes, etc.
  • Gene, brain, environmental, and cognitive and behavioral factors underlying the development of complex neurodevelopmental conditions, including autism and ADHD, from a neurodiversity perspective
  • Gene-environment interactions underlying the development of neurodevelopmental and externalizing outcomes across the lifespan
  • Identifying biomarkers in the prediction of neurodevelopmental and externalizing outcomes across the lifespan

Communication Prior to Applying: It is my lab’s general policy to not have video calls/meetings with prospective students prior to the application process. I also don’t privilege or prioritize applications from prospective students who have contacted me prior to applying. This is for reasons of fairness – in particular, to ensure that I’m able to read every application that I receive with an open mind and from the same initial starting point.  If you have questions about completing/submitting the UW Madison Psychology Department application itself, the best person to contact is our graduate coordinator, kbelt@psych.wisc.edu. Please also review my lab website for extensive information about clinical graduate admissions and working in my lab, including a helpful FAQs page:  https://lilab.waisman.wisc.edu/prospective-graduate-students-2/

Areas I’m Willing to Advise Students in: Clinical

How I Evaluate Applicants: Like all faculty members in the Psychology Department, I evaluate prospective graduate students in a holistic manner. I therefore consider all the possible ways in which students’ applications materials can demonstrate excellence and a strong likelihood to thrive in the graduate program and in my lab.  As such, the information below should be treated as general rules of thumb rather than a highly proscriptive “checklist” of attributes that candidates must have in order to be considered for admittance to my lab.

  • Academic preparation: Although we do not employ strict GPA cutoffs when evaluating applicants, successful applicants to my lab typically have a strong academic record as demonstrated through excellence in their college coursework and involvement in research and other in extracurriculars relevant to their future career goals. Additionally, students in my lab have a strong skillset in statistics as well as an above-ground level competency in R. Obviously, students can expect to learn a lot of cool quantitative skills in graduate school (e.g., machine learning approaches, structural equation modeling, longitudinal analyses, etc.), but it’s harder to learn these techniques without an already strong foundation in undergraduate statistics.
  • Research preparation: Research experience is extremely important because a) it means students know what they are getting yourself into before going to graduate school, and b) potential mentors have a sense of what kind of research students might be interested in pursuing/conducting while in their lab. However, some students confuse research experience with being in lots of labs and doing lots of different things on many different research topics. While this is great for figuring out what they’re interested in, this approach may not always translate to success in graduate school where they are typically in just one lab working on a few, very focused projects that require a lot of time devoted to it. Instead, here are some examples of strong undergraduate research experiences from our past and current doctoral students:
    • an honors/undergraduate thesis project in which you conceptualized a project and completed it, including the writing and data analysis
    • substantively contributing to mentor’s project, such as in the data analysis, writing, and/or dissemination, leading to a poster presentation or co-authored publication
    • substantively contributing to a mentor’s grant proposal
  • Motivation/drive: Students come from different backgrounds that lead to having different motivations for pursuing graduate studies. I welcome all students to apply if they have an interest and passion for contributing to the overarching mission of the lab but may also have ideas that diverge from the ones we have. I am especially eager to work with students who have a clear passion in clinical psychological science and a desire to learn. That said, students who are interested in pursuing an applied/clinical career may not find our clinical program to be suitable for them. Per the UW-Madison Clinical Psychology admissions website: “Our program’s emphasis on training clinical scientists highlights our strong “commitment to empirical approaches to evaluating the validity and utility of testable hypotheses and to advancing knowledge by the scientific method” (APCS mission statement). The principal goal of the UW-Madison Clinical Program is to train clinical psychological scientists who will: 1) generate new and significant knowledge about the factors that influence mental health and illness, 2) develop more effective methods for treating mental illness and promoting mental health, and 3) deliver evidence based, cost effective, clinical care to treat psychopathology and improve mental health.”
  • Personal statement: In your personal statement, I’ll be eager to learn about why you are interested in conducting the research of my lab, and how you believe the specific skills you gained as an undergrad research assistant should translate. I’d especially appreciate learning about the specific kinds of projects or research questions you see yourself addressing in my lab.