CLAS Connections: Lisa Eaton and Ryan Watson

Five heartfelt minutes with Professor Lisa Eaton and Associate Professor Ryan Watson of the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences

Five heartfelt minutes with Professor Lisa Eaton and Associate Professor Ryan Watson of the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences ()

Welcome to CLAS Connections, a minicast that spends a heartfelt five minutes with people from UConn’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. In each case, their special connection has had a profound and lasting impact on their lives.

Today we hear from Professor Lisa Eaton and Associate Professor Ryan Watson of the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences. Their personal lives could hardly be more different, but their mentoring connection and shared “tough love” attitude have led to a close friendship they both treasure. Here’s Lisa and Ryan.


Lisa: I have to brace myself for this answer. What was your first impression of me?

Ryan: I think I remember the first serious interaction we had. We hadn’t talked before. But people kept saying like, Lisa, Lisa, you gotta meet Lisa.

I came to your office with an idea. And so I showed up in the Ryan building. I remember going to that meeting thinking like, I really respect this person. She is really smart, she’s gonna help me in my career.

I had some ideas about a grant, and I was super naive and knew very little. This was, you know, I was in my twenties.

Lisa: Late twenties.

Ryan Watson wears headphones while sitting in front of a microphone.
Watson’s research is focused on reducing health disparities among sexual and gender minority (SGM) youth and young adults.

Ryan: In my late twenties. And I remember I came in with an idea and I’m not painting you out to be mean, But you were like, if you’re gonna do a grant for those reasons, you’re gonna not be happy in your career.

And I was like, this is what I thought I was gonna do. I’m not a very emotional person, but I I think I had tears in my eyes.

But you were a good mentor because you pivoted me into what is now our mentor- mentee grant, which is a K01 from National Institutes of Health. And it was way better.

Lisa: From tears to triumph.

Ryan: It was more in line with what I should have done.

Lisa: Yeah, I just think like life is short and like when you’re 80, 90 years old, God willing, you’re not gonna look back and be like, ” Oh, I wish I like applied for that application over that,” you know? You wanna really prioritize happiness, which I think leads to greater productivity in the long run anyways.

Ryan: Do you remember that meeting?

Lisa: I do remember that meeting. You reminded me a lot of myself because you had this approach of:  “I’m looking for people who are either gonna help me, or they’re gonna get outta my way.”

That level of determination is something that’s hard to instill in somebody, and something that you just showed up with. You’re someone who you can set in place and like, you’ll fly. I wish I could bottle it up and give it to, everybody.

Ryan: Lisa’s only five years older than me, but I think the trope is like someone older than me can’t use computers. You know, the old, the baby boomers or whatever.

Lisa: I’m a millennial!

Ryan: Okay, so am I, but… Lisa is a full professor. I’m an associate professor. There’s like, there’s that 5 years is not a lot, but there’s a lot that happened in those five years, I think. Especially for you.

Lisa: Well, and I’m just tired.

Ryan: And you have two children.

Lisa: And you sleep like, 11 hours a night.

Ryan: I sleep a lot of hours.

Just yesterday, we were working on a project. We were interpreting something very difficult. It was interpreting adjusted odds ratios via logistic regressions. You need a lot of attention to interpret this.

And the worst thing that could ever happen happened. Lisa closed the document without saving it. Hours of work, you just had to like — I gotta go, I gotta go.

Lisa Eaton wears headphones while sitting in front of a microphone.
Eaton, who is also a UConn alum, researches health disparities among race/ethnic, sexual, and gender identity minority populations.

Lisa: No, I took care of it. I was like, okay, I, yeah, I need to go. I just need to get this done. Now it’s time to… And I actually did it in like, 15 minutes, after it took us four hours of sorting it out.

Ryan: I was at a drag queen’s birthday party. We were at a bar celebrating the birthday party. And your son had a question for me, and FaceTimed me, and my friends gathered around and answered questions for your teenage son. And I’m like, that is a great example–

Lisa: It is a great example.

Ryan: — of how a mentor-mentee relationship might operate outside of just: Here’s how to write a grant. Here’s how to publish a paper.

Lisa: You’ve brought a lot of like enriching joy to my life. I really appreciated when you said earlier that you do feel like I have your best interest in mind. Because I do feel like I have said things to you that might have irked you. And I’m only saying this because I really feel like it’s a bad move. And I think that I’ve annoyed you, and I’m totally at peace with that, because that’s the right thing to do.

I can get very obsessive about everything I write. The perfect is the detriment of good, and Ryan will be more like, no, like keep, keep things moving.

Ryan: What would describe our relationship, is saying: I gotta go. And then Lisa will say, “No, I have to go.” It’s not about you, I’m the one that has something more important to do. And so, we’ll just battle that out, and then one person will eventually hang up. And I think it’s a great friendship, and especially mentorship, when you can really just hang up on somebody.

Lisa: You hung up on me today! I was like trying to find a parking spot and I’m literally talking and I look down and it’s just your picture.

Ryan: Call disconnected.

Lisa: Yes!

Ryan: That is a great sign of… I mean, we’re not doing that because we’re mad at each other, but because we’re comfortable enough, and we talk enough. I wanna have the last word and I wanna say: I have to go. And end this conversation.