11: Olivia Atherton



Program and Year of Study

PhD, 4th year (Social-Personality Psychology)

Previous degrees and colleges

BS Psychology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Where did you grow up?

A few small towns in Illinois – an unincorporated community (Custer Park, IL), a small town off of Historic Rt. 66 (Braidwood, IL), and a rural, farm village where my high school graduating class was 40 people (Saybrook, IL).

Where do you live now?

Davis, CA

What's your favorite spot in Davis?

Cloud Forest Café (preferably a table by the windows)

How do you relax?

Hot yoga, cooking, painting, photo walks, trivia nights

What was the last book you read for pleasure?

The Voice Inside by Adrian Eller (a friend of mine’s first published book!)

What was the last film you saw at the theater?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I think? 

Research interests

I am interested in personality trait development across the life course – how and why people become who they are. More specifically, I’m interested in the development of self-regulation (i.e., what factors shape an individual’s ability to control their behaviors and emotions).

Dissertation title or topic

The Development of Self-Regulation from Late Childhood through Early Adulthood

Please share a surprising or noteworthy fact or finding from your research

Your personality influences the way you behave and the life outcomes you experience. Those same life experiences can subsequently shape your personality in important ways (sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse).

Which professor or class inspired you to pursue graduate studies?

Dr. Brent Roberts – at UIUC – taught my ‘Introduction to Personality Psychology’ class, and I later became a research assistant in his lab. He was a phenomenal mentor to me, and I wouldn’t be here without him.

Which scholarly text do you wish you had written? Why?

Any text that Ravenna Helson has written over the course of her career. She is a very inspiring emeritus professor, who studied the psychology of women, creativity, and social roles/clocks. She not only conducted foundational research on personality, but was also one of the first psychology professors to exclusively study women over the life course. I admire her work because it embodies studying the whole person, which is really difficult to do! 

Which other researchers at UC Davis are doing work that particularly interests you?

Within the Department of Psychology, Wiebke Bleidorn is doing interesting longitudinal research on personality change in adulthood and Simine Vazire has an interesting research program that investigates whether individuals have self-insight into his/her own personality traits.

In the Department of Human Ecology, Daniel Choe is conducting fascinating research on factors that influence the development of self-regulation in early childhood from multiple levels of analysis (from genes to the neighborhood). Also in Human Ecology, Kali Trzesniewski has a randomized control study, where they are implementing a growth mindset intervention among adolescents, which is really cool.

What’s the best thing about being a grad student?

The best part about being a graduate student is having…

- The ability to be creative in my work and research questions

- Rick Robins as my graduate advisor!

- A flexible schedule and workplace

- A network of graduate students and professors at UC Davis who are very insightful, talented, and supportive

- The opportunity to travel around the country/world for conferences

- The ability to study interesting phenomena about human behavior

What’s the worst?

When Mplus gives you error messages that you do not know how to fix…

If you weren’t a grad student, what would you be doing?

I would be working for a nonprofit that helps disadvantaged youth. And, for fun, I would be tirelessly trying to convince National Geographic to hire me as a travel photographer in my free time. 

Finally, please ask yourself a question

What was the last concert you went to, and where?

I saw The National at the Greek Theater in Berkeley.


—April 2017


Are you a grad student in the Division of Social Sciences at UC Davis? Do you enjoy answering questions? If so, .