What led you to choose to major in psychology, particularly the clinical Ph.D. program?
I’ve always been fascinated with human behavior. I was that child who asked “why” after every fifth statement my parents said. I stared too long at strangers in restaurants, wondering who they were and why they were there and if they were happy. I sent my AP Psychology teacher ludicrous research ideas (thankfully, she supported me and I credit her for encouraging me to pursue a career in this field).
I’m passionate about conducting quality research that can be used and applied to enhance people’s lives. Psychology is a relatively young discipline. There’s much left to uncover about how, why, and under what conditions humans thrive.
When it came to choosing a program, I was lucky to have an easy decision. Within seconds of meeting my advisors (Drs. Todd Kashdan and Patrick McKnight), I knew Mason was the right fit for me. I felt welcomed, I felt supported, and I felt I could thrive as a researcher. The professors in our program are passionately committed to advancing science, mentoring their students, and creating an atmosphere where any combination of personalities can thrive.
What have you enjoyed so far about studying psychology?
I tend to evaluate activities based on the energy I receive from them. I know this is the field for me when, at the end of a long day of research, I feel energized. Take writing. I feel more alive after working on manuscript than I do after any other work-related tasks. I feel similarly about public speaking. One of the exciting parts of a giving talk is the ability to share your research with the world, and do so in a way that makes sense to the general public. For me, there’s great value in not letting research collect cyber-dust and disseminating work not only to advance science, but to give people the opportunity to take what researchers have found and use it in their everyday lives.
What kind of research are you involved in?
My research is primarily focused on emotion regulation. I study daily fluctuations in emotions, the effects of emotion regulation strategies on well-being, and regulatory flexibility for people with anxiety disorders. I am currently leading an NIH F31 research grant that examines emotion regulation and alcohol use for people with Social Anxiety Disorder.
What is your favorite class?
My favorite class was motivational interviewing with Dr. June Tangney, my very first graduate course. We were thrown into the world of therapy. As a 22-year-old who just graduated college, I felt intimidated and somewhat of an imposter sitting across from someone as their therapist, and then having to show videos of those sessions to my classmates! We were put into the spotlight and evaluated by our peers and professors. Yet, each evaluation was constructive and focused on the quality of the work. Our individual personality traits and odd quirks were not shamed or judged. Quite the opposite, actually—we were encouraged to develop our own styles of therapy and, to the extent that it was helpful for the client, be ourselves in the therapy room. I think that class set the tone for the program. Everyone is evaluated, and the purpose of these evaluations is to learn how to to take critical feedback in order to excel as a researcher and clinician.
What extracurricular or other exciting activities are you involved in?
I love traveling. In the past year, I’ve spent time in Australia, Spain, Portugal and Japan. All this travel was motivated by looming burnout. Academia can lure and breed over-workers. I felt myself slipping into the easy-to-slip-into trap of spending nearly all of my free time working, and work was becoming my primary source of meaning. So, I set a New Year’s resolution to travel, and because I am bad at moderation, I decided to travel to four countries in three continents over 8 months. It was by far best goal I’ve set in grad school. Traveling reminded me how much I enjoy what I do, how fortunate I am to have landed at Mason, and how much I have yet to learn about this world (and also, how much I love Spanish seafood paella).
What are your career goals after graduation?
My career goal is to become a professor at a research-oriented university. I want to direct a research laboratory that conducts rigorous and ethical science, generates useful research findings, and cultivates intellectual curiosity.
What advice do you have for prospective students for your program?
If you got into the program, you belong here. There will be many times in your journey where you have imposter syndrome, or you feel your work isn’t good enough. You will worry you are not helping your clients; you will worry you can’t develop a valuable research question; you will worry you are not efficient enough to accomplish all you need to accomplish to receive your PhD. Use those doubts as your fuel. Academia is ripe with setbacks; use them as fuel to work harder, work smarter, and produce great work.