Majors: Political Science and Psychology
Year of Graduation: 2012
Graduate School/Location: North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
Current Position/Location: Postdoctoral Research Associate, School of Public and Environmental Affairs
Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), Indianapolis, IN
Please give a brief description of your current position.
I am currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI, where I conduct research on behavioral health issues (i.e., substance use; mental illness) in adults, particularly those who are involved in the criminal justice system. I also teach the School's undergraduate statistics course in the spring semester.
What path did you follow to get to your current position?
I actually applied to graduate school twice - once during my senior year at St. Ben's and then again the year after graduation. I ended up declining several offers of admission (primarily for law schools) during my first round of applications because the programs were not an ideal fit for me. Instead, I took a 1-year position with AmeriCorps VISTA to do capacity-building work in North Minneapolis. During this time, I re-applied for graduate school, focusing more on interdisciplinary Ph.D. programs rather than law schools, and received several offers of admission. I ended up accepting a fully funded Ph.D. program in Applied Social and Community Psychology at North Carolina State University. Four years later, I completed my Ph.D. and accepted a 2-year Postdoctoral Research Associate position at IUPUI (my current position).
What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
Good things come to those who wait! Don't be afraid to give yourself a year or two to apply to competitive Ph.D. programs. My professional trajectory (and level of student debt!) would look completely different had I accepted one of those initial offers to attend law school. Instead, I waited a year, which allowed all the research experiences I acquired during my senior year and my AmeriCorps VISTA experiences to "count" in my applications. For me, this paid off tremendously, and I was able to select an offer that was fully funded with a program that was a great fit for me.
What skills are important in your field?
There are so many skills and traits critical to success in academia - being resourceful, curious, creative, internally motivated, steadfast, hardy to criticism, and passionate about the work.
What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your position?
Conducting cutting-edge research on big issues in the national spotlight! For example, my colleagues and I are doing a ton of research on opioid overdose and mortality surveillance. It is rewarding to see your research interests reflected in the national dialogue and to be able to inform intervention development and policy change at the local level.
The most challenging part of academia is that nearly everything you do -- publishing papers, submitting grant applications, teaching -- is subject to criticism. For me, maintaining perspective and a genuine belief that constructive feedback can improve your work is essential to dealing with this on a daily basis.
What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career?
Getting involved in research of any kind was critical for me. As a student at St. Ben's, I worked for the Office of Academic Review and Curricular Advancement as a Research Assistant, completed a data-oriented summer internship through the Marie and Robert Jackson Fellows Program, completed an interdisciplinary honors thesis using data procured through my summer internship, and attended several academic conferences to present my research. All of these experiences helped me get into a competitive Ph.D. program, where I received the training to launch my independent career as a researcher.