In December 2021, Dr. Luis Rivera returned to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, his alma mater where he earned his PhD in Psychology, to offer professional advice to students, share his career trajectory, and present his research findings. On Dec. 2, Rivera participated in an online social hour as a part of the Institute of Diversity Sciences’ speaker series “Creating Pathways to Social Good in your STEM Career.” On Dec. 3, he delivered a research talk for 35 faculty, staff, and students on "In Search of Understanding the Implicit Mind: My Journey from the Lab to the Halls of Congress.” Thirty-five faculty, staff, and students from diverse fields – computer science, psychology, geoscience, sociology, mathematics, among many others – attended this in-person event over dinner at the UMass Marriot Center.
The speaker series and research talk were hosted by the Institute of Diversity Sciences at UMass Amherst and were moderated by Nilanjana Dasgupta, the Director of the Institute. Dasgupta is a professor in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences. Her research centers on unconscious or implicit bias with emphasis on the ways in which changes in social contexts produce corresponding changes in people’s implicit attitudes, beliefs, and behavior.
Dasgupta worked closely with Rivera and guided him when he was still a student at UMass Amherst. Rivera is now an Associate Professor in the Psychology Department at Rutgers University-Newark. His experimental research investigates the implicit social cognitive processes that underlie stereotyped attitudes and how these processes shape the self, identity, and health of stigmatized individuals. As an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellow (STPF) in the office of U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (Oregon), Rivera used his expertise on implicit and explicit biases to draft legislation and oversight letters that addressed the role of bias in artificial intelligence, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on marginalized groups.
At the Career Social Hour, Rivera offered his perspective on crafting a career that furthers social good and equity. He answered questions from undergraduate and graduate students, sharing insight on the process of choosing a career path, the importance of building a support team of mentors, overcoming obstacles of discrimination, and landing an internship or job. Rivera shared stories from his childhood as a Puerto Rican American growing up in the South Bronx, to his ascension to college, and finding his career as a professor and social psychologist.
Rivera highlighted one instrumental step that propelled his journey forward: “You must start to get involved early on.” He recommends that students join organizations and attend seminars that can hone their interests and build important connections. Rivera suggested an organization he had joined in college and is still a member of, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI). One opportunity closer to home is at IDS itself, which hosts monthly research seminars on topics involving equity in health, climate change, and learning & work, where students can interact with faculty and seek out research experiences on multidisciplinary research teams.
During his presentation on his research, “In Search of Understanding the Implicit Mind: My Journey from the Lab to the Halls of Congress," Rivera discussed a question that has propelled his career: “What is the nature of the implicit mind, when and why does it influence our evaluations of ourselves and others, and how does it shape inequities in society?” He highlighted his cross-disciplinary empirical project that answers this question about the implicit mind, specifically in the context of criminality. He also discussed how his broader work on implicit social cognition shaped his professional journey beyond the walls of his lab to reach communities and practitioners, and most recently to policymakers in the United States Senate, where he participated in the Congressional Science and Technology Policy Fellowship.
While on Capitol Hill, Rivera focused on legislation, policy, and oversight at the intersection of bias and artificial intelligence. He also learned an unexpected lesson: social and behavioral scientists, natural scientists, engineers, and technologists have opportunities, and perhaps an obligation, to use their expertise to have a positive impact on society. Dr. Rivera concluded his research discussion by highlighting how positive and equitable social change is possible through the collaboration of policy and academic research: “Through combining your wealth of knowledge and their wealth of knowledge, you can work as a team to address major issues.”