Michael Trujillo is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University. His research areas focus on examining stigma as a fundamental cause of health disparities, the psychobiological pathways linking stigma to health, as well as the collective and personal strengths that promote resilience among stigmatized populations. He completed his PhD in Health Psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and was a post-doctoral fellow at University of California, San Francisco.
Do you have a favorite conference memory or story?
It would have to be my very first SPSP conference, which happened in 2019! I am technically trained as a health psychologist and due to graduate student budgetary constraints, I leaned towards attending more health-focused conferences. While they were great, they often overlooked other factors I felt were important for health such as affect, cognition, identity, and interpersonal factors. It wasn't until I was in my first year as a post-doc that I attended my first SPSP conference that I realized I had found the perfect conference for me! I nerded out so hard at that conference and met people who were nothing but friendly, welcoming, and helped me network with others in my field. I promised myself that I wouldn't miss another year.
How has your identity affected your career?
As a queer, Mexican-American person who was raised by immigrants, my intersecting identities have absolutely shaped not only how I approach my career but also the work I pursue. While I try to bring my authentic self to all spaces, I feel a particular sense of responsibility to do so where I may interact with students who share similar life experiences and/or identities as a way of silently indicating "it's possible!" This has also led to a love of mentoring and giving back to my community—something my parents instilled in me from a young age. This has impacted the types of questions I pursue, namely the social and health consequences of stigma exposure within an intersectional framework.
What led to your interest in studying the relationship between stigma and health as well as the resilience of stigmatized populations?
It was driven in part by my intersecting identities (see above) but also by my interest in "fairness" as a child. I frequently served as an interpreter for my parents beginning at a very young age (hello children of immigrants!) and sadly had a front-row seat to the many unfair and unjust experiences they had to endure. However, they were also incredibly resilient and they drew upon support from their family and community to help them get through many challenging times. Historically, and current work to some extent, research with stigmatized populations has taken a deficit-based approach. And while that is helpful for identifying the needs of communities, I also hope to offer a complementary strengths-based perspective highlighting the personal and collective strengths that speak to what works well for them.
What career path would you have chosen if you had decided to not pursue psychology?
I had initially pursued going to medical school, which did not work out but is how I ended up getting my PhD in health psychology. However, given my initial interest in fairness, I likely would have ended up going to law school to be a civil rights attorney.
What's the best advice you have ever received?
Celebrate the little victories along the way. Rejection and feeling overwhelmed are so common in our field from not making time to write that paper to then getting it rejected after 6 months under review. It can feel challenging to keep going when this happens. So, instead of adding another item on my to-do list when I've checked everything off for the day/week, I may choose to treat myself to an iced coffee (obviously) or maybe even call it a day. It's motivation for me to keep going after something especially challenging.
What is something you've done that no one would expect?
I've toured Europe with a choir singing in amazing venues like Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany and St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice, Italy. I was also in a choir that sang all the music on the first World of Warcraft video game!