Jenny Phan

Jenny Phan plans to become an expert in adolescent development within the developmental and intellectual disability population, all while supporting families navigating challenges that go along with pubertal maturation. When Jenny isn’t busy with her research, she enjoys spending time with her children and spouse, traveling, watching movies, and reading together. 

Get to know Jenny Phan

  • Program: Human development and family studies 
  • Class: Fifth-year graduate student 
  • Hometown: Resides in Ankeny, IA (Polk County)
  • Career goal: To become an expert in adolescent development within the developmental and intellectual disability population
  • Awards/honors: National Institute of Mental Health’s National Research Service Award, Predoctoral Fellowship (F31)
  • Most influential ISU mentor: Elizabeth “Birdie” Shirtcliff
  • Favorite class: HD FS 640, Biomarkers and Family Research

Jenny Phan receives NIH grant to broaden research on developmental disabilities

An inspirational mentor, family circumstances, and a bold leap led Jenny Phan to become an emerging researcher with a prestigious fellowship at Iowa State University.

At the urging of Elizabeth Shirtcliff, an Iowa State professor in human development and family studies, Jenny took a leap, moving from New Orleans to Ames to pursue graduate school and research under Professor Shirtcliff’s guidance.

Jenny credits Professor Shirtcliff’s influence for elevating her research.

“ Shirtcliff’s mentorship has been a cornerstone in my career path,” Jenny said. “She guided me in many research endeavors that were made possible by her faith in me to succeed as a mom in academia. I feel empowered by her support and encouragement to seek this career path for my family and for other families like mine.”

As a parent of two boys on the autism spectrum, Jenny was involved with the Iowa Autism Council and The Autism Society of Iowa. Building on that network of knowledge, she chose to focus her research on stress pubertal development within adolescents on the autism spectrum. Jenny is specifically focusing on adolescent boys —and how different their development changes are compared to those of adolescent girls. Jenny is pinpointing precursors to depression, anxiety, and other mood problems.

Speaking with other parents of  children with autism, Jenny found inspiration in the possibility of helping. Encouraged by Shirtcliff, Jenny is working to fill a vacuum of research-based knowledge.

“I selected this point of development to study in order to address a need to help adolescents understand these changes and its challenges,” Jenny said. “The inspiration for the shift in my research comes from families.” 

Professor Shirtcliff encouraged Jenny to make this her topic of research. Encouraging her to fill the gap where research was lacking.

Now, having taken the leap and earning the National Institute of Mental Health’s National Research Service Award Predoctoral Fellowship, Jenny has a world of opportunity open before her to expand her research.

The sizable NIH grant Jenny was awarded is a training grant, which supports her work with a team of mentors who will help her explore their own areas of expertise. In turn, the grant allows Jenny to broaden her own research within developmental disabilities. Jenny is most excited to interact with research participants, and witness the impact of this research.

Though she maintains a very demanding schedule, Jenny stays positive and determined to advance her research, knowing her supportive major professor, other academic mentors, and, her family support system are with her every step of the way.

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