Jasmine Abrams, Ph.D., was one of the first two graduates of the health psychology doctoral program in 2015. She currently serves as assistant professor of psychology (tenure-track) at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and is co-founder of Research Unlimited with fellow program alumna Michell Pope (Ph.D. '15).
Describe your transition from student to professor.
I am currently two years in. Year one and year two were very different. Year one was easier because my teaching and service requirements were reduced to help with the transition from doctoral student to faculty member. This reduction was greatly appreciated because it was reminiscent of my doctoral student responsibilities. I was able to find my balance with a full teaching load, with service requirements at the departmental and community levels, as well as running research studies, writing grants and providing mentorship to students.
VCU prepared me very well for academia. I’ve never felt caught off guard by any of my responsibilities or roles as a faculty member. I believe it’s because the department's expectations are very high; the students are competitive and are already outperforming their student peers at other institutions, so by the time one is ready for a faculty position, it’s almost a seamless transition. At the faculty level, nothing is different, it’s just more, and the teaching intensifies. It’s a learning curve of understanding how to juggle it all at the same time, as well as beginning new relationships with new people in a new space and a new city. VCU is a university that’s incredibly well-resourced, efficient with a number of processes and able to provide more diverse and abundant funding opportunities that helped prepare me for this transition.
What would you say to a prospective student who is interested in graduate studies in health psychology about this field and its possibilities?
Health psychology allowed me to merge two of my biggest interests – health and psychology. It’s a popular field that has allowed people to realize the value of looking at society’s problems from more than one perspective, and it’s that intersectional, multidisciplinary approach that is gaining popularity. There are a lot of entities gaining value from such a lens.
What would you say to a prospective student who is interested in graduate studies in health psychology about VCU’s program?
For prospective graduate students interested in health psychology, make sure you are able to define your research area of focus well and are able to become an expert in it. Prepare yourself early so you are competitive and so you are prepared for and can take advantage of what the experience can offer. Make sure you are academically strong, and are open to feedback and gaining experience as a part of a research team. Focus your efforts on the dissemination of research before you get to graduate school. Touch base with faculty members whose research you are interested in before applying to introduce yourself and to ensure they are taking students. Don’t apply to graduate programs with the mentality that you hope someone takes you. If you are going to spending four to six years with a faculty mentor, you need to be sure you are going to get the experience you will need in order to excel after you graduate.
What else would you like to share?
Skills you learn as a doctoral student are transferable skills. The VCU Department of Psychology rears students to be academics, which is great for individuals who are interested in the academy, but these skills can be utilized in a number of different capacities beyond academia—at private and public institutions, hospital settings, in governmental agencies, tech companies and entrepreneurial endeavors. In addition to working in academia, Michell Pope, Ph.D., and I launched Research Unlimited, a fast-growing, Richmond-area startup that provides research assistance to academic researchers, nonprofits and businesses. We specialize in the recruitment of "hard to reach" populations, community engagement and program evaluation.
I’d also like to speak to the importance of balance. I think graduate school is a place where it’s hard to both achieve balance and to find models for what it looks like. It’s a journey I’ve been on, and one to which I encourage people to dedicate themselves throughout their graduate careers and beyond. Ask yourself, “What are my personal goals?” Students need to find ways to define boundaries between themselves and their work, as well as to think through the tasks they take on and whether or not these are helping them achieve their goals. Always be willing to reconsider.
Congratulations are in order for Cydni Gordon (B.S. '16), who will be studying in Argentina courtesy of a Fulbright scholarship. Gordon graduated in December '16 and is studying for the GRE while enjoying living at home again and spending time with her family.
In Argentina, I will be studying mood disorders with a particular focus on bipolar disorder under the supervision of psychiatrists Sergio Strejilevich and Eliana Morengo of Favaloro University in Buenos Aires. I'll be assisting with two studies and hopefully dipping my hands in anything they allow me to. I'm looking forward to learning as much as possible and gaining clinical experience. I hope to volunteer in some capacity in my new community and also learn about the Afro-Argentine population - their history, their culture and their experiences in the present day. Of course, improving my Spanish will be a huge component of my Fulbright experience, too.
My future interests include completing a doctorate degree in clinical psychology with a focus on mood and anxiety disorders in children and adolescents. I'm also very interested in studying the intersection of culture and mental illness (the perceptions and treatment of), which was a topic of emphasis in my Fulbright application. After grad school I aspire to be a clinician-researcher, and to draw on my background in journalism to improve the dissemination of research findings to the public. Further, travel is very important to me and will remain a part of my personal, professional and academic endeavors.
I think it's safe to say that without studying psychology, this project and Fulbright award wouldn't be possible. I have really come to appreciate the power and importance of networking. For example, on advice from Rosalie Corona, Ph.D., I applied to and attended the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill's Diversifying Clinical Psychology Weekend last April. There I connected with a UNC faculty member whose research really resonated with me. We kept in touch and he connected me with one of his past collaborators (and my future collaborator) in Argentina. The rest, as they say, is history. I also must credit the VCU Globe faculty and my experiences in that program, in addition to Jeff Wing from the VCU National Scholarship Office who introduced me to Fulbright at the start of my sophomore year. Applying for the Fulbright has been on my radar since that time; it's still hard to believe that I've been awarded one!
Daryl R. Van Tongeren, Ph.D., 2011 graduate of the social psychology program, has been selected as a Rising Star by the Association for Psychological Science. From the APS website: "The Rising Star designation recognizes outstanding psychological scientists in the earliest stages of their research career post-Ph.D. whose innovative work has already advanced the field and signals great potential for their continued contributions." The complete list of 2016 Rising Stars will appear in the February issue of the Observer magazine.
Van Tongeren is an assistant professor of psychology at Hope College. His teaching responsibilities have included Introductory Psychology, Social Psychology and Advanced Research Lab. His research focuses on the social motivation for meaning and its relation to virtues and morality. Specifically, he and his students adopt a social-cognitive approach to study meaning in life, religion and virtues, such as forgiveness and humility. His research has been funded by grants from the John Templeton Foundation.
One of social psychology's most prominent scholars, David Myers, Ph.D., a faculty colleague at Hope College, nominated Van Tongeren for the award. In Myers' correspondence with with VCU about the award, he remarked, "My did you ever serve Hope College well in developing and sending us Daryl! ...It’s a feather for your department’s cap (as well as ours)." Many congratulations to Daryl for this prominent recognition of his work! We look forward to hearing more great things from him in the future.
Baillie (Ph.D. '92) Elected President of Canadian Psychological Association
Patrick H. F. Baillie, Ph.D., LL.B., 1992 graduate of the counseling psychology doctoral program, has been elected president of the Canadian Psychological Association. He will serve a one-year term beginning at the CPA convention in June 2017. Already a member of the CPA board, he will attend executive committee meetings for the next three years. As president, Baillie aims to promote the value of accredited doctoral programs and internships to students, make progress towards establishing the doctoral degree as the national standard for entry into the profession and further advance the incorporation of evidence-based practices into psychologists' work.
Unlike the American Psychological Association, CPA has no regulatory authority, but does publish a code of ethics that some provinces use for regulation of psychologists. A new revision of the code is currently under review.
Baillie has served as an expert forensic psychologist at Alberta Health Services since 1992 and is formal legal counsel at the Provincial Court of Alberta. Other current professional activities include serving as a consulting psychologist for the Calgary Police Service, a clinical psychologist in private practice and a sports psychology consultant to professional, Olympic, college and national teams and athletes. Baillie has appeared twice in the past year before the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs as an expert psychological consultant.
Emeritus Professor Steven Danish, Ph.D., served as Baillie's mentor during his studies at VCU. In addition to his doctorate in psychology, in 2003 Baillie graduated with a law degree from the University of Calgary. Having both terminal degrees has given him unique opportunities as a psychologist.
Recent features in Canadian media:
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