University of Houston
What does your research focus on?
My primary research program focuses on examining developmental pathways to childhood anxiety disorders, as well as developing and evaluating prevention/intervention programs for childhood anxiety-related problems. My work in this area has examined the roles of peer (e.g., bullying and friendship quality), familial (e.g., parental anxiety and stress), and academic variables (e.g., achievement, attention) in the development of pediatric anxiety. I also have a secondary area of research, which pertains to risk and resiliency factors involved in the development of anxiety and related difficulties following traumatic events. I have completed several studies in this area including those with survivors of natural disasters, sexual assault, and mass shootings.
Who were/are your mentors or psychological influences?
I cannot speak highly enough of the two individuals who have been mentors to me since my early training. Patricia DiBartolo was my undergraduate mentor at Smith College and she was largely responsible for my decision to pursue a PhD in Clinical Child Psychology. I worked with her on several studies at Smith, which fueled my drive to pursue a research career. She also helped me make the decision to attend graduate school at Virginia Tech, where I could work with Thomas Ollendick. Tom is truly the best mentor a person can ask for and I continue to be impressed by his intellectual merit, generosity, and kindness. My research and clinical abilities flourished under his mentorship. I am thrilled that I have been able to continue collaborations with both Patty and Tom over the years, and they are still among the first individuals from whom I seek advice and guidance from. I am also quite fortunate to have a wonderful team of mentors that currently support my NICHD-Mentored Clinical Scientist Research Development Award, including Jack Fletcher, David Francis, Sharon Vaughn, and Wendy Silverman. In terms of influences, my list is extensive and includes many behavioral and cognitive foremothers and fathers (e.g., Mary Cover Jones, Joseph Wolpe, John Watson, etc.), along with numerous present day researchers (e.g., Shiela Eyberg, Alan Kazdin, Philip Kendall, Ron Rapee, and John Weisz).
What drew you to this line of research? Why is it exciting to you?
I was drawn to the study of childhood anxiety in college after conducting coursework and research in this area with Patricia DiBartolo. I had always intended to work with children, but observing the work of my mentors quickly solidified my path. I find this line of research exciting on many levels, first and foremost because of the potential to improve the lives of children. Roughly one out of ten children experience significant anxiety, and while there has been remarkable progress in this field of study, there is still much work to be done. For me, the potential to identify areas that may boost the efficacy of empirically-supported treatments for child anxiety is exciting. I also enjoy collaborating with colleagues who have diverse areas of expertise that can be fused with my own interests to potentially identify additional pathways for anxiety, and/or methods for intervention and prevention. Discussions that I have with colleagues in this manner, along with attendance at conferences in my field always keep me excited about future projects as well.
To what do you attribute your success in the science?
I would not describe myself in this way, but I will identify a few main factors that I think contribute to the successes I have had: 1) a true passion for the areas that I study and dedication to my work that developed from a strong work ethic that was modeled by my family; 2) brilliant, generous, and thoughtful mentors who have been well-matched for my professional and personal needs as a mentee; and 3) the colleagues that I maintain active collaboration with and who provide me with support in times of frustration and mind-blocks.
What’s your future research agenda?
In the long-term, I intend to continue my research on the study of psychosocial factors and developmental pathways associated with childhood anxiety and related difficulties, including familial and peer influences as well as comorbid conditions such as learning disabilities. Moreover, I plan to continue my research on the evaluation and dissemination of appropriate prevention/intervention programs for young anxious children and their families. I will also be continuing pursuit of my secondary area of research interest in the near future by collaborating with Heather Littleton on a randomized clinical trial of a new, internet-based, cognitive-behavioral intervention for rape victims.
Any advice for even younger psychologists? What would you tell someone just now entering graduate school or getting their PhD?
For someone just entering grad school, I would say the most important thing is to find a mentor that fits your needs as a student but who can also treat you like a junior colleague. Also, make sure you are working with someone whose research parallels your own interests and that you are studying something you feel passionate about, because research is often a trying process. I would also strongly suggest you seek out peers/colleagues who you admire and begin active collaborations (to this day, I regularly collaborate with peers from my graduate program). Get lots of writing done–dissertation, publications, etc.—and schedule time for it! You will get exposed to lots of brilliant people in graduate school, so take advantage of all you can learn. Finally, budget time for your personal life—we all know what happens to those who spend all their time at work and leave no time for play.
For someone just getting their PhD, my latter two recommendations are critical, and in addition to these, I would recommend two things. First, try to locate a mentor, preferably someone in close proximity, who you can consult with as you adjust to your role as a new professional in the field. There are so many different paths for clinical psychologists and all of them come with challenges (e.g., getting licensed, navigating academia, mentoring students), so I think it is really important to find someone who can help you through the process. I have found it so useful to have mentors at my university who could help me with everything from basics like getting the best parking on campus to reviewing my grants before submission. Similarly, I would recommend finding other supportive links and resources in your field outside of your place of employment—for me, this has meant being involved with groups like APS and organizations like the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.
What publication are you most proud of or feel has been most important to your career?
I really struggled with this question and the only way I could select one publication, was to go with the one that represented my first major, independent research project. This publication represents a portion of my college honors thesis, which was a total labor of love and took us many years to finally put together as a manuscript. Thinking about it brings a smile to my face because it reminds me of my first experience conducting research with children, applying the behavioral assessments I had learned about in courses, and running my first (and second and third…) set of analyses (including calculating Kappas by hand). The formal presentation to the faculty that followed was also my first experience feeling like a junior colleague and solidified my desire to pursue a career in academia.
DiBartolo, P. M., & Grills, A. E. (2006). Multiple informant reliability and the prediction of socially anxious behavior in children. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 20, 630-645.