An associate professor of psychology and director of experimental training at the University of Mississippi, Stephanie Miller is a College of Liberal Arts Award for Research, Scholarship, and Creative Achievement recipient with the 2021 Sanford and Susan Thomas Senior Professor Research Award in the Social Sciences.
Her research program focuses on early cognitive development, with an emphasis on executive function (EF). Her work aims to explore the emergence and development of this foundational cognitive skill within a broader sociocultural context. She has worked examining how early communicative and linguistic skills support the emergence of cognitive control across different cultural contexts; how executive function relates to social functioning in friendships, social problem solving, and social cognition; and how EF relates to creative cognition. Her current work is focused on examining foundations of early EF and examining the effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions on social-emotional development within a preschool curriculum across multiple and diverse contexts.
Miller received an National Institutes of Health Grant to examine the emergence and development of self-regulation abilities of executive function in toddlers. Executive function—the ability to control thought and behavior—is foundational in early child development and is linked to positive academic achievement, social understanding, and relationships. At this time, there are limited comprehensive and valid measure of executive function in infants and toddlers.
Briefly describe your teaching philosophy/work. What should people know about it?
A large goal of my teaching is to help students connect to the material. As a developmental psychologist, although some elements of the theories, research methods, or statistics can seem abstract or complex, I aim to draw out how this knowledge can help us better understand everyday behaviors, development, and change. I encourage students to think about their own developmental path, but also to appreciate the diversity and complexity of development focusing on multiple interacting factors over time.
How did your interest in your field of study develop? What initially sparked your interest in teaching about your area?
I actually come from a family of educators. Growing up, I always wanted to be an elementary school teacher. When I started taking developmental and cognitive psychology classes in college, I was excited to learn about and conduct research on understanding how children learn (rather than how to teach them). Although I now teach students who are slightly older than I originally anticipated, I am excited to share what I know and continue to ask questions about how individuals change and develop across the lifespan.
In reflecting on your time as a professor, what are the highlights?
Developing my own research laboratory in the community has definitely been a highlight. To better understand cognitive development, I work with children throughout Lafayette County and Mississippi. It has been great to collaborate and work with so many parents, schools, and community partners—all who share a common interest in helping our youngest citizens succeed. I also could not do any of my work without my incredible research team of students, and it is always a highlight to share in their growth and celebrate their academic and professional achievements.
Are there specific examples of support—fellowships, mentoring, other—that helped advance your academic and professional goals?
I have been fortunate to have had several elements of support throughout my career. I have served as both a mentee and/or mentor in several organizations including the Society for Research in Child Development’s Millennium Scholars Program, the Society for Indian Psychologist Mentoring Program, and the Ronald E. McNair Program. I have always learned a great deal from these programs and supportive communities.
What do you hope students take away from your classes?
I hope that my students can take away specific knowledge and tools they can apply in their professional and personal lives. But more broadly, I hope they take with them an appreciation for the complexity of development and understanding of how so many factors interact and contribute to our development over time.
Do you have advice or thoughts to share with students?
As a developmentalist, one thought I would share would be to appreciate the journey. There are many different pathways. With time, there is always room for growth and change.