Alumni Profiles Series: Tovah Klein
Dr. Tovah Klein received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Duke after completing her undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan. She then joined the faculty at Barnard College in New York, where she teaches, conducts research on children’s social and emotional development, and runs the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development. Dr. Klein is the author of How Toddlers Thrive and the mother of three boys.
(To listen to Dr. Klein's fall 2016 presentation at Duke, scroll to the bottom of this page.)
What career plans did you have in mind as you were completing your graduate degree here? What has your career path looked like since you graduated?
It’s hard to say what my plans were at the time. There was a part of me that was definitely headed for an academic career, and there was a part of me that wasn’t. Much of what was driving me was that I wanted to have an impact on children’s lives.
After graduation, I went to New York City and started working in the Bronx Lebanon Hospital in pediatrics. Then, almost immediately, a perfect position happened to open up at Barnard College. It is the only academic job I ever applied for! Would I be in academia if this job hadn’t opened up? I honestly don’t know. But I do know that timing is everything. This position at Barnard serendipitously opened up where I could run a center for children and do research and teach. Doing a mix of everything is what I wanted all along.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT WHAT YOU DO NOW?
In many ways I think I have the best job at Barnard. I run a wonderful program where I get to work with parents and children from the community, with students learning about early development, and with other researchers who want to collaborate. You can probably already tell, but I’m one of those people who has to be busy. I’m lucky that there are so many pieces to what I do.
DO YOU HAVE ANY INTERESTING PROJECTS IN THE WORKS?
Right now I’m collaborating with a developmental neuroscientist at Columbia (Nim Tottenham) who was actually my first student at Barnard. Our goal is to figure out how to do neuroimaging with toddlers. Right now, there is a huge gap in the neuroimaging literature on development because it’s so difficult to get this kind of data on children between infancy and 5 years old. Consequently, what happens in the toddler brain is largely misunderstood. Using neuroimaging methods could help us learn about this phase in brain development. I’m also considering writing another book, but that’s on the backburner for now.
WHAT’S THE BEST CAREER ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
The best advice I ever received came from Martha Putallaz, my advisor while at Duke, who advised me to finish my dissertation. She really pushed me to jump that hurdle, even if I’d lost some enthusiasm for the dissertation project. She emphasized that as soon as I had finished, I could go on and do whatever I wanted.
I will also say that I’ve truly followed my heart, which is hard – particularly in academics—because it can take you down nontraditional paths. But I don’t know that I attribute this to any one piece of career advice.
ANY ADVICE YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE WITH CURRENT GRADUATE STUDENTS AT DUKE?
You have to have passion. If you don’t really love what you’re doing, it’s hard to keep going—especially once you get into the business of balancing work and family. You can’t predict the way your path will go. It’s really difficult to stay in the moment and not get wrapped up in long-term goals, but it’s really important that you do.
Ph.D.student, Psychology and Neuroscience
Madeline Farber is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Psychology & Neuroscience. She studies the impact of early parenting on adolescent neural function and risk for psychopathology.