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Meet Ph.D. Student Allen Mallory

Meet Ph.D. Student Allen Mallory

Graduate student in Human Development and Family Sciences Allen Mallory was recently the featured student profiled in the 2019 edition of the College of Natural Sciences' award-winning magazine, The Texas Scientist.

You received a prestigious predoctoral fellowship from the National Institutes of Health to support your research. What ages do you study?

A lot of my research focuses on the adolescent/young adult population. That's a really important, formative time for development. For people having negative experiences early in their adolescence, there can be implications down the line for their health as adults. Understanding how experiences and events earlier in your life are related to health outcomes later on in life, that's what I'm really interested in, and looking at transitions from adolescence to adulthood and the effects of those early aversive experiences.

Lessening health disparities, including for sexual minorities, is part of your focus. What motivates you?

I guess there are two things. I'm a curious person, so there is the intellectual piece that's intrinsically motivating. But, also, I go back to this core ideal or value that people should be able to live their lives authentically, and if my research can help them do that, then it's important.

How does being at UT Austin affect your work?

UT is a cool place, and Austin is a fun city. Faculty give a lot of feedback. My advisor has been really supportive of me both working on his research but also giving me flexibility to do projects that I'm interested in and pursuing research that's a little different.

Have you found any solutions that would improve health for vulnerable groups?

In a paper two colleagues and I just published, we found that bullying explained the higher risk for alcohol use among sexual minority youth. This is evidence that interventions for bullying at schools can help mitigate health risks.

What's the case for this research, and why would people care about what you find?

We need more information to best help people. Understanding different experiences can help, and we can make our research more inclusive.

There's this movement to try to make research more aligned with reality, rather than a specific way of looking at reality that doesn't necessarily match people's experiences. When we do research like that, research that has more applications to real life, then I think people care.

What kinds of research is your predoctoral fellowship allowing you to do?

I'm really interested in understanding not just if there's a health disparity for heterosexual compared to LGB youth, but also understanding how race and gender factor into disparities and also who might be most vulnerable. It's addressing the intersectionality question. Once we understand that, we can better help people in more specific and tailored ways. I'm thinking of the people who I'm studying and how I can best help them.

Another part of your work is looking at the effects of sex education on sexual minorities. Can you explain that?

It's become increasingly important because we recognize that generally sex education in the U.S. isn't great for most people, and it's particularly bad for LGBTQ youth.The research that I'm working on now is potentially pointing to that idea that sex education that's inclusive of LGBTQ youth is good for everybody. A lot of the same information and skills that LBGTQ youth need, heterosexual youth need, too.

What are some factors that tend to enable LGB youth to do really well in life?

I think the bulk of the evidence shows that it's supportive communities LGB youth that have family and parents that are accepting of their identities tend to fare much better. Support from peers and teachers, and having trustworthy adults—adults they can talk to—have been shown to be really positive in terms of the long-term outcomes. Inclusive sex education is also shown to be really effective. Just using inclusive language in sex education is related to lower sexual risk for gay youth.