By Saadia Ahmad
The first time that Dr. Shuangshuang Wang learned of the gerontology field was from a professor in college who mentioned that while there are many researchers interested in child development, far fewer are focused on the development of older adults. She enrolled in a class on human aging and discovered an interest in care-giving and marital relationships in the later stages of life. From that point forward, she began thinking about how to improve life quality at the larger stage of human development and found the Gerontology PhD program at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School.
That was seven years ago. Last month, Wang graduated with a doctoral degree in gerontology and with the Gerontology Book Award, presented to a graduating student who has demonstrated excellence across both coursework and dissertation work.
When she began in the fall of 2011, her main interests focused on understanding inter-generational and marital relationships later in life. Over time, her focus broadened to include aspects of aging such as mental and physical health, community-based barriers, and advanced research methods.
Wang explained, “I realized that to be a more impactful researcher, I needed to expand my interests and gain as many research tools as was possible from the McCormack Graduate School.” She credits her professors – Elizabeth Dugan, Jan Mutchler, Amy Smith, Frank Porell, Maximiliane Szinovacz, Michael Johnson, and Christian Weller – for serving as knowledgeable mentors and for their guidance in helping her explore her interests and improve her ideas. Szinovacz and Mutchler supported her through the process of her dissertation, while Dugan provided the resources and opportunities to work with the communities Wang was studying.
Wang explained, “Dr. Dugan gave me the platform to work with community and organization leaders on how to put current activities and resources in place to support Massachusetts residents over age 65 with dementia. Her guidance and trust allowed me to contribute to several state-wide projects as a researcher, presenter, and leader … It’s been a pleasure to be part of Team Dugan as a research assistant.”
Wang was a leading student organizer in a statewide summit for nurturing community partnerships between behavioral health and aging services, working closely with Dugan, Porell, and Rashelle Brown, the Events Coordinator of the McCormack Graduate School. She expressed appreciation for Brown’s help, attention, and leadership in envisioning and organizing the event. “The strong relationship across departments and colleagues helped make our conference a huge success,” she said.
Providing such support and opportunities is a hallmark of the Gerontology Department and of the McCormack Graduate School more broadly. Wang said, “I am a firm believer of the concept that it takes a village to raise a child. My Gerontology PhD program is very much a village of professors mentoring and accommodating us.”
Fellow students and peers are also critical to the process. “You’ll need friends and colleagues to help you get through the PhD life,” Wang remarked.
As a new graduate, Wang will collaborate with Dugan and her research team as a postdoctoral fellow. She will continue working on the Healthy Aging Data Report for Massachusetts and New Hampshire funded by the Tufts Health Plan Foundation, as well as take on new responsibilities of leading quantitative analyses for a study aimed to improve the safety of older pedestrians, funded by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. She welcomes current students to reach out to her if she can be of help as she continues to contribute to UMass Boston’s commitment to conducting high-quality research for the larger public.
She advised students currently in the process of completing their degrees to seek opportunities to learn from one another, to support others and also to refine one’s own ideas. “Try to learn as much as you can, because people will look to you for answers and ideas. Trust yourself that you are prepared enough and are ready to help,” Wang said.