Angela Narayan2018 Rising Alumni

Angela Narayan

Angela Narayan has a master’s and PHD in our top-ranked child psychology program, and is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Child Psychology at the University of Denver. Angela also directs the PROTECT Lab, which studies the transmission of parenting behaviors and family dynamics across generations. She looks at how early adversities in parents’ histories and current family environments can affect psychological wellbeing. She is currently leading a project to study how young parents expecting a baby can be protected from the effects of their own childhood adversity and its impact on their parenting skills and romantic relationships. Angela’s career has been focused on serving communities in need, families with higher rates of poverty, mental health problems and acute stress levels. She is drawn to stories of people who overcome adversity, and recalls traveling to her father’s home country of India and meeting adults who had faced hardship as youth but were now successful.


Assistant Professor of Clinical Child Psychology, University of Denver

CEHD Degree

MA Child Psychology, 2011;
PhD Clinical Child Psychology, 2015

Please list any professional accomplishments you wish to mention.

2016 - Became a state-certified licensed clinical psychologist in Colorado

Please list any past or current volunteer activities.

Throughout my doctoral program, I was actively involved in volunteering as a co-facilitator of a parenting stress management group at People Serving People, a local emergency homeless shelter for families in Minneapolis. This four-year position served as the foundation for my interests in and understanding of parenting resilience in contexts of extreme adversity. It also laid the groundwork for my goals to conduct therapeutic clinical research that integrates the unique perspectives and life stories of each participating family into understanding empirical patterns of risk and resilience across large groups.

Please list any awards or honors from your collegiate, professional, or volunteer experiences.

2015 - Recipient of the Outstanding Dissertation Award from the American Psychological Association (APA) Division 56 (Trauma Psychology. 2016 - Recipient of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Department of Psychiatry Trainee Research Award. 2018 - Became a University of Denver Public Impact Fellow for community-engaged research that serves the public good.

What professor(s) or course(s) were most influential during your time in CEHD?

The most influential courses I took were those that covered the theoretical foundations for the developmental psychopathology perspective in child psychology, which in large part was founded and initially formulated at the Institute of Child Development. My coursework and mentorship with Ann Masten, Dante Cicchetti, Byron Egeland, and Alan Sroufe provided strong and unforgettable lessons in developmental psychopathology that are now infused at every level into my research, clinical work, and teaching.

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

My research broadly focuses on transmission of parenting behaviors and family dynamics across generations. I believe that mentoring also takes similar forms - the way we are mentored as doctoral students influences and shapes how we, as professors in turn, mentor our own doctoral students. The main impact of my educational experience at CEHD was in gaining excellent mentorship that was supportive and structured, and also fostered my independence and belief in my own ideas as being worthwhile. These are mentoring practices that I try to pass down to the doctoral students whom I now mentor at the University of Denver.

What is your favorite memory from the University of Minnesota?

My doctoral advisor, Ann Masten, always treated me as a junior colleague, and I appreciated that we had - and continue to have - a relationship where we learn from each other. I'll never forget the day back in 2009 when she called me to offer acceptance into the doctoral program at the Institute of Child Development. She was excited to tell me about her data on parenting emotions that she thought I would be particularly interested in examining. I was thrilled that my prospective advisor seemed as excited for me to join her team as I was to work with her! Throughout my time in the doctoral program, she steadily provided with the right mentorship balance of support, independence, and confidence in my ideas for me to flourish. When I earned my Ph.D., she took me on a walk on the footbridge overlooking downtown where we both dressed in our regalia and took pictures cheering together! Another wonderful memory stemmed from when I gave my first departmental talk about my master's project to the faculty and graduate students at the Institute of Child Development. As a junior doctoral student, I was understandably very nervous to present my research to date in front of so many people! One of my mentors, Dante Cicchetti, wrote me an email the night before the talk and said, "Being a little nervous is good. I have learned to turn fear into fire, to perform at a high level even when I am scared. This has been a good mantra for me, try using it as needed." The next day, he sat in the audience smiling and nodding silent encouragement to me as I gave my talk, and it went very well! I have never forgotten his wise words, and I continue to use that mantra regularly.

Who has inspired you the most during your career?

The two most inspirational individuals to date have been my predoctoral advisor, Ann Masten at ICD, and my postdoctoral advisor, Alicia Lieberman at UCSF. Dr. Masten inspired me to conduct research that serves those who need it most; families who are impoverished, marginalized, and have much fewer access to resources to support their adaptation and resilience than their higher-income counterparts. Dr. Lieberman inspired me to integrate clinical practice into empirical research by listening to the stories and perspectives of the participating parents and children with whom I work. This practice provides support and empathy to participants and also allows the researcher to honor each family's unique experience.

What skills are important to succeed as an emerging professional today?

In my career as an assistant professor that balances research, teaching, and clinical work, the most important skills that have served me well are: having strong working memory, being organized and able to switch between tasks efficiently, rarely procrastinating, developing research that excites me, and honing confidence in my ideas.

When you have 30 minutes of free time, what do you do?

With 30 minutes of free time, I like to run or swim laps. I tend towards physical activity that facilitates circulation after sitting at a computer for so much of my day. And, I've found that some of my best ideas come unexpectedly when I am working out!

How do others describe you?

My mentors have described me as being exuberant and charismatic, capitalizing on bursts of productivity, having excellent executive functioning skills, and striving to help others recognize and utilize the resources they have to help them succeed.

How do you describe yourself?

I would describe myself as calm and well-regulated, confident, empathic, optimistic, and particularly strong in my ability to encourage and motivate others.

What's a good book you'd recommend to others?

I recently read the book "What Made Maddy Run" by Kate Fagan, which covers the intersections of mental health, social media, interpersonal connectedness, and the transition to college. It illuminated several emerging societal trends in how young people express themselves, perceive struggles with mental health, and connect with others for support, as well as many valuable lessons that I believe all educators, mental health professionals, parents, and young adults should consider.

If you could have coffee with anyone from history, who would it be?

Mary Ainsworth and Selma Fraiberg were two very influential clinicians and researchers whose theories and empirical findings heavily inform my current program of research. Dr. Ainsworth was an attachment researcher of healthy parent-infant relationships, and Dr. Fraiberg was also a parent-infant researcher and clinician who conceptualized and delineated how early traumatic experiences with caregivers are carried forward across generations. I would love to have met both of them!

What gets you excited about work?

I feel fortunate to have found a career at a university where I am supported in conducting exactly the type of research I want to be doing. I have taken strands of my mentors' academic legacies and woven a research program that focuses on understanding the intergenerational transmission of risk and resilience during the pregnancy period. Pregnancy is a time of hope and optimism, and a rewarding window to interview and intervene with women expecting a baby and fathers-to-be. My research focuses on understanding how protective factors during the prenatal period may buffer young expecting parents from the effects of their own childhood adversity on their parenting, romantic relationships, and healthy child development. Participating families are also very appreciative of the ability to "share their stories" during pregnancy, reflect on their life experiences, look ahead towards the future, and feel inspired to make the changes that are needed. Asking the research questions that I want to be asking and feeling like I am conducting research that is helping and inspiring others is what makes me most excited every day!

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was a kid, I was drawn towards art and math - I loved drawing and problem-solving. Looking back, however, I was also drawn to reading books about personal struggles and resilience following hardship, such as non-fiction and particularly, memoirs.

Outside of your job, how do you grow professionally?

I value the strong friendships I made as a graduate student at CEHD, and I work hard to stay in touch with these friends even though we are now spread across the country. It is very rewarding that my closest friends are all doing variations on clinical practice, research, teaching, and community-engaged work - we have all found the right balance that works for us. Keeping in touch with these individuals helps to energize me and stay inspired by their passions, creative goals, and accomplishments.

What is a "fun fact" about you?

As a little kid, I was always really competitive with myself, yet always optimistic if I struggled to succeed at something. I think this balance of competitiveness and optimism was an early marker that academia would be a good career fit for me.