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Nim Tottenham2013 Rising Alumni

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Nim Tottenham examines the development of brain systems involved in human emotional development to understand how these systems are influenced by early adverse environments. She was honored by the National Institute of Mental Health with its BRAINS award for innovative biobehavioral research.


Assistant Professor, Developmental Psychology
University of California, Los Angeles

CEHD Degree

Ph.D., Child Psychology

What skills are important to succeed as a young professional today?

There are three qualities I have observed in successful academic professionals. First, the ability to ask for guidance from senior colleagues or mentors. No one has all the answers, and we have the luxury of getting knowledgeable advice from others who have more experience in the field. Second, strong work ethic. Nothing comes easy in academia. Successful people are willing to put in very long and ceaseless hours of work for rewards that are few and far between. The third is tenacity. Most of the hard work is rarely rewarded in any immediate fashion. The most tenacious are those, who in the face of defeat, rejection, or set-back, nonetheless get back to the workbench and keep trying. People who are comfortable with set-backs and discomfort tend to succeed.

When you have free time, what do you do?

I am a mother of young children, and so any free time I have, I love spending it with them.

What is a good book you would recommend to others?

I recently enjoyed The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, and I have always loved East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

What was the impact and benefit of your experience in CEHD?

The academic climate, teaching skills, and intellectual prowess of the Institute of Child Development faculty were major factors in my career. I continue to learn from and be inspired by my mentors, Megan Gunnar and Charles Nelson. They guided me intellectually as well as professionally, and I continue to seek their advice on a regular basis. The Institute’s learning environment was one where graduate students felt prioritized, and this was very important to enable intellectual curiosity, creativity, and courage.