Campus Closeup: Maya Sen

While enrolled in college in pursuit of a math degree, Maya Sen (Psychology) arrived at an academic fork in the road. Despite her knack for numbers, she was struggling to pass Calculus III, a requirement for her major. Yet she was pulling an A in a psychology liberal studies course and found that she thoroughly enjoyed the content. When a friend boldly questioned her choice of major, Sen decided it was time to follow a new path and explore the science of the mind. 

“I decided to focus on child psychology because I’ve always liked kids,” Sen said. “I was in high demand as a babysitter when I was younger, but I didn’t have the patience or bravery required to be a school teacher. My mom raised a little feminist who grew up believing girls can do anything, so that probably helped direct me toward a Ph.D. and was a guiding force in some of my research.”

Sen has studied gender stereotypes—how early they form and whether they are a product of nature or nurture. She said children as young as 18 months show preferences that align with traditional gender roles. For example, given a choice of toys, a toddler girl is more likely to be drawn to a doll and a boy to a truck.

Also drawing from her personal interests and background, Sen is researching attitudes toward vegetarianism. She grew up in California, where that dietary lifestyle “is more typical,” and continues to practice it. With each research project, Sen is eager to involve students.

“Interacting with them is the best part of my job,” she added. “I enjoy advising them and helping them figure out what they want to do; sometimes I challenge what others have told them they should do.”

Four other members of Sen's family, representing four generations, have been teachers at some level. Activism also runs in the family. Her paternal grandfather spent time in prison for being a freedom fighter in India and her sister was arrested for the illegal act of feeding the homeless in San Francisco. Sen recently started a UNICEF group on campus to raise awareness of children’s rights and to improve conditions for youth in underdeveloped countries.

“My parents always supported UNICEF; it was one of their most important causes. I remember them getting the [Christmas] cards. When I told them I started a group at Northern, I think they were more proud of that than when I earned my Ph.D.,” she laughed.


In addition to her family members who still reside in California, Sen also misses two other qualities about her home state: abundant fresh produce to fuel her vegetarian appetite and weather that is the antithesis to winter. But because she loves her job, she has become firmly entrenched in Marquette, as evidenced by the recent purchase of her first home. Sen has turned the basement into a roller rink. It’s not quite a Santa Monica boardwalk, but she enjoys spinning circles on the concrete floor.

Her other spare-time pursuits include do-it-yourself home projects, needlepoint and sewing baby clothes for her pregnant sister. She also has two cats: Zoey, a one-night caretaking offer that turned into a permanent adoption; and Leia, whose moniker was inspired by the movie princess.

“I’m a Star Wars dork. If I have kids someday, I don't want to inflict that on them by naming them Luke and Leia, so I decided it was better to prevent that possibility by naming the cat after one of my favorite characters instead."


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Updated: April 1, 2009

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