Q&A with Francisco J. Sánchez
Assistant professor in Counseling Psych makes jump to UW from UCLA genetics lab
Francisco J. Sánchez, one of 18 new faculty hires across the School of Education at the start of the academic year, is the newest addition to the Counseling Psychology Department.
Sánchez received his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in Counseling Psychology in 2005, but had spent the past eight years, most recently as an Assistant Research Scientist, working in the Department of Human Genetics and the Center for Gender-Based Biology at the UCLA School of Medicine.
He started his position as an assistant professor at UW-Madison in August, and received an Anna Julia Cooper Post-Doctoral Fellowship for the 2012-13 school year. This prestigious fellowship allows new faculty members to focus on their research and make connections across campus before having to take on a teaching load.
Sánchez, who is known as “Cisco” to his friends and colleagues, will take on more responsibilities, including teaching, in 2013-14.
He recently took a few moments to chat about his past research, his decision to come to UW-Madison and his future hopes. Following is an edited transcript:
you most recently were working in a research center at UCLA. What were you working on?
Sánchez: Most of my work has been on the development of sexual orientation and gender identity. Over the last eight years I was in a genetics lab where we studied the biological basis for those two traits.
The lab had historically worked on intersex conditions, which includes children born with ambiguous genitalia, and similar types of conditions. So our boss helped decode a lot of the genes that contribute to that. In addition to people with different types of intersex conditions, I worked with gay men and transsexuals, and we did MRI studies and genetics studies, and typical psych studies.
So, you were a psychologist working in a genetics lab?
Sánchez: If you walked into the center, the lab would look a little bit like what one might expect a typical chemistry lab to look like. And then my corner of the lab was just all of these books. I was the odd one, but I was integrated within the team and played a major role — being one of the more prolific researchers in the lab.
For example, one of the dominant questions parents of children with intersex conditions always have is how is this going to impact the child’s sexual development in terms of their gender orientation or sexual identity? Especially when it was a situation where the parents had to chose whether to raise the child a boy or a girl. And so where I came in was to try and help out with the psychological aspects of such questions, including helping assess quality of life issues.
How did you first get involved with this type of research?
Sánchez: A lot of the work I had done in grad school and in my counseling training focused on sexual orientation and gender identity issues. But then I realized at the end of all my clinical training that I didn’t want to be a full-time clinician, which is originally what I thought I wanted to do. I just realized I was more interested in the research side of things and decided to throw myself into a heavy science environment in order to do clinical research.
But part of how I ended up at the Center for Gender-Based Biology was really just by chance. I knew a post-doc in the lab and he was like, “Hey, my boss is searching for a psychologist to add to the team.” And it just worked out.
Why did you end up making the jump to UW-Madison?
Sánchez: Even though I was in a genetics lab, I always identified as a psychologist. UW-Madison’s reputation and history, and the diversity of the School of Education’s faculty, made it very attractive. It has an especially strong history within psychology and is a very respected environment, especially among the psychological sciences. I also wanted to be a professor, and the University of California, as part of its state budget problems, has really frozen hiring. So I knew if I wanted to work up the professor ranks, I had to leave.
Are you going to continue to build off the research you were a part of at UCLA, or move in a different direction?
Sánchez: I will still collaborate with the lab at UCLA, especially until I can make more connections here. Right now there aren’t a lot of biology labs that study sexual orientation or gender identity full-time in the world. I’m slowly starting to meet faculty and different research groups across campus and I’ll see what kinds of connections I’m able to make. But here at UW-Madison I’ll probably be focusing more on quality of life issues, and mental health issues, tied to the populations I’ve been studying.