Alumni Update From Rachael Lapidis '04

Rachael (Degenshein) Lapidis '04 sent us an update:

Since graduating in 2004 as a Linguistics & Psychology double major, I have remained involved in academia. My Presidential Scholarship under the mentorship of Ioana Chitoran provided me with the background necessary to pursue research. Immediately after graduation I became the lab manager of Laura-Ann Petitto's Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory for Language & Child Development at Dartmouth, which allowed me to stay in Hanover for an additional year while I applied to Psychology PhD programs. I was interested in combining my love for language, music, and psychology in my graduate studies and found an excellent opportunity to do this at the University of California, San Diego. In addition to having one of the top Psychology graduate programs in the country, UCSD is also home to the Center for Research in Language, and an outstanding Linguistics program. I was fortunate enough to take classes in Linguistics as well as in Psychology and to learn from some of the leaders in the field.

In my fifth year of the graduate program, I decided to transition out, as I became a bit disenchanted with the process of conducting research. However, I remained enchanted with the academic environment and, in a confluence of fortune and preparedness, the Graduate Coordinator position in the UCSD Psychology Department was offered to me. In this capacity I was able to support the program and individuals who had supported me while remaining part of the intellectual community at UCSD. In November of 2013, I was promoted to Student Affairs Manager, overseeing both undergraduate and graduate programs in the Psychology Department.

One of the best characteristics of my administrative positions has been the opportunity to continue teaching in the Psychology Department at UCSD.  Over the past several years, including this Spring 2014, I have taught Psychological Disorders of Childhood. I've also taught the Psychology of Music at Chapman University in Orange County, CA three times. I am perpetually grateful for this balance of responsibilities, and for the fulfillment I feel daily in serving our department. I have been fortunate to have found personal fulfillment as well. I met my husband in San Diego eight years ago, and we were married in 2008. We are expecting our first child, a daughter, this July.

I was also fortunate to have participated in the inaugural Anthropology/Linguistics FSP to New Zealand in 2003. This experience was absolutely life-changing. In a way reminiscent of Dorothy emerging from her black-and-white life into the vibrant colors of Oz, when I landed in New Zealand the apprehension about the unfamiliar atmosphere and the limitations of my prior preconceptions disappeared. In the 10 weeks that followed I learned the basics of the Maori language (including the still-remembered phrase, "E haere ana ki te whare waananga ma runga i te waka ripi moana" ("I went to the university by means of my hovercraft"), participated in anthropology classes with 15 anthro majors, and immersed myself in the culture and beauty of New Zealand. Weekends brought with them trips to many exotic locations, including a memorable visit to Abel Tasman National Park and to Wellington and the program itself involved visits to the Bay of Islands, the sulfuric hot springs of Rotorua and even a trip to a prawn farm. After the conclusion of the official program I was able to travel to the South island with some of my fellow FSPers, visiting glaciers, lakes, Christchurch, Wellington, and Queenstown. Innumerable stories and memories resulted from this quarter away, trading a Hanover winter for a Southern Hemisphere summer.

Most importantly, my FSP experience encouraged me to consider a broader array of options in my life. My move to San Diego may not have been possible without the success of the leap of faith in boarding a plane to fly halfway around the world to a continent where I, at least initially, knew no one. In the years since, I've been fortunate to travel to several other countries, emboldened by my successful experiences on the FSP. I hope to be able to return to New Zealand someday, and have a sense that it will still feel like home.