Kate Sweeny

University of California, Riverside


What does your research focus on?

I have two primary lines of research, both of which address the question of how people manage difficult life events. My first line of research examines the understudied experience of awaiting uncertain news. People frequently face difficult waiting periods when they anticipate news regarding their own or their loved ones’ health, professional prospects, and academic outcomes, and my research reveals how people cope with this type of uncertainty and seeks to identify successful strategies for navigating painful waiting periods. My second line of research examines one particular type of difficult life event: seeking health care. My lab examines patients’ expectations for care, characteristics of physician-patient communication, and other psychosocial aspects of health care visits.

What drew you to this line of research and why is it exciting to you?

I love that my research is relatable because everyone experiences uncertainty at some point. I’m drawn to research topics that “hit a nerve” — topics that I wake up in the morning thinking about and that are fun to talk about with colleagues, friends, and family alike.

Who were/are your mentors or scientific influences?

James Shepperd was my graduate advisor, and I credit him with teaching me everything I needed to know to become a good researcher, colleague, mentor, and professor. I have also been fortunate to gain several amazing mentors in my current position, including Sonja Lyubomirsky, Robin DiMatteo, Howard Friedman, and David Funder, among others.

What’s your future research agenda?

I hope to get a better handle on why the experience of waiting for uncertain news is so difficult, often even more so than receiving bad news, and to figure out the best ways to “wait well.” I also hope to contribute to our understanding of successful approaches to (and pitfalls in) the psychosocial aspects of health care.

What publication are you most proud of?

Sweeny, K., & Krizan, Z. (in press). Sobering up: A quantitative review of temporal declines in expectations. Psychological Bulletin.

This publication represents the culmination of the first 10 years of my research, so it was exciting to take a step back and look at the complete picture of where that area of the field stands. It was also my first attempt at a meta-analysis, which entailed a steep learning curve and a lot of help from my fantastic collaborator, Zlatan Krizan. It was a great experience to write the paper, and I’m proud of the contribution we made with the final product.

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