Congratulations to Dr. Kwan & Dr. Minnich!

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Congratulations to Dr. Mun Yee Kwan & Dr. Allison Minnich for completing their doctorates in clinical psychology! After their internships, Dr. Kwan will be an Assistant Professor at West Texas A & M University, while Dr. Minnich will be a clinician at the Chicago Cognitive Behavioral Treatment Center! It was an honor to serve as their advisor, and I couldn’t be prouder of them on their graduation day! The world gained two fantastic clinical psychologists!

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NDSU at ABCT

I had the pleasure of attending the 49th Annual Convention of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies in Chicago over the past several days, and it was an excellent conference!

Four graduate students from the NDSU Psychological Clinical Science program presented their research. 

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Mun Yee Kwan, from our lab, presented on stress generation and bulimic symptoms (details forthcoming in a manuscript that was recently accepted by Journal of Affective Disorders).

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Brandon Saxton, from the Attention and Emotion Lab, presented on differences between anxiety and sadness with regard to dual-attention RSVP performance.

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Tharaki Siyaguna, from the Attention and Emotion Lab, presented on mindfulness moderating the influence of rumination on depression.

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Samantha Myhre, from the Attention and Emotion Lab, presented on trait mindfulness serving as a protective factor against depressive symptoms.

I had the opportunity to catch up with Brooke Ammerman, who was a research assistant and honors thesis student in our lab when she was an undergraduate. She is currently doing important work on nonsuicidal self-injury as a doctoral student at Temple University.brooke

I saw so many compelling presentations on groundbreaking research in the field, including two psychologists who have influenced me as a scientist, instructor, and clinician: Marsha Linehan and Scott Lilienfeld. They each have far too many contributions to list here, but Linehan is best known for creating, developing, and rigorously testing the revolutionary Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Lilienfeld is well-known for his prolific work identifying and calling out pseudoscience and articulating the importance of identifying and stopping harmful mental health practices, among many other contributions.

Some quotes from Linehan’s presentation (with the disclaimer that they are not exact, but rather paraphrased from the best of my memory and my notes):

  • On understanding the perspective of a client who is experiencing suicidal desire so that you can effectively intervene,”Suicide is viewed as a problem by the therapist and as a solution by the client.”
  • On dialectical thinking and the acknowledgement of multiple truths, “If you ask people what you get when you put black and white together, most will say that you get gray, but that’s not true. Black and white together makes plaid.”
  • On her clinical trial that dismantled different components of DBT to see which components were most impactful (e.g., skills group vs. individual therapy), “I try not to go into research thinking I know the answers because that’s when I usually get the worst outcomes. I was confident that the DBT skills reduced suicide attempts, but I wasn’t going to let people die to make a point. We made sure every client in our clinical trial had the formal DBT system of suicide risk assessment and prevention, regardless of group condition.”
  • A point that seems like it may be helpful for rumination prevention, “If your feelings fit the facts in a situation, you should use problem-solving. If your feelings don’t fit the facts, you should change the emotion through other methods.”

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Scott Lilienfeld and NDSU graduate student, Alisson Lass

Some quotes from Lilienfeld’s presentation (with the same disclaimer that I had for Linehan’s quotes):

  • On concern about certain branches of psychology reducing the number of statistics courses required in their graduate programs, “Statistics are the language of psychology.”
  • On the importance of including multilevel analyses of mental disorders such as sociocultural factors, he quoted George Graham, “Mental illness may be ‘in’ the brain, but not ‘of’ the brain.”
  • “Many people think the opposite, but a finding in a low-powered study is actually more likely to be a fluke than the other way around.”
  • “Descartes was so tall, that when he died, he didn’t fit in the casket. They had to cut his head off. In his death, he literally had mind-body dualism.”

We also met Judith Beck, who has made enormous contributions in the area of cognitive behavior therapy, which her father, Aaron Beck, created.

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And last, but not least, we ate some delicious food while we were there.

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the NDSU crew at Girl and the Goat

My Top 10 Tips for Grad Students

The transition from being an undergraduate student to becoming a graduate student can be challenging. One aspect that graduate students may struggle with is the ability to decipher faculty expectations. A couple of weeks ago, I gave a presentation on this topic that included my top 10 tips for graduate students. I am posting them here in case they are helpful.

  1. Clarify expectations, and then put forth your best effort to meet those expectations. Sometimes students feel embarrassed to ask faculty to spell out what they want for a particular project due to fear that they will look unprepared or unintelligent. However, taking time to clarify expectations typically leads to a better outcome both in terms of completing a task correctly and decreasing uncertainty and anxiety for the student during the process.
  2. Practice conversational skills, listening, and otherwise refining your interpersonal interaction style. These skills are important to develop for networking, job interviews, and opening up collaborative opportunities. I recommend seeking out ways to practice in order to feel more comfortable and confident interacting with other professionals in your field. If you want feedback about your interpersonal skills, I recommend asking faculty or more senior graduate students who you trust to be honest and constructive.
  3. Complain discreetly. Almost all (if not all) people vent or complain about the less desirable aspects of their work and life from time to time. It can be a helpful way to process emotions and garner social support. However, if complaining about graduate school-related topics is done frequently, particularly in public domains (e.g., in public hallways and public places, social media), it may suggest to people that you are dissatisfied with your line of work and may fit better in a different field.
  4. Act respectfully toward others, not just people you view as crucial to career advancement. Though it’s a rare occurrence, sometimes people will only act respectfully toward certain professors that they view as vital to their advancement and less respectful to others, including their peers and administrative staff.  Word gets around about people who do this, and it can reflect negatively on you.
  5. Respond well to feedbackOften students who enter graduate school are used to being among the top students from their undergraduate classes. It can feel especially difficulty to start receiving more in-depth criticism on writing, presentations, and other aspects of your work. It is important to keep in mind that you are working to attain a much higher skill level than before, and feedback is necessary for you to reach that higher skill level. As best as you can, try to accept that feedback is part of the learning process and not a personal attack or sign that you are incapable. Try to be open to feedback and respond well to it.  You are not expected to do something perfectly the first time you try, but it will reflect positively on you if you listen non-defensively to feedback and incorporate changes based on it.
  6. Be mindful of your online presence. Many employers, students, and clients will look you up on social media. Keep this heightened visibility in mind as you transition into a more professional role as a teaching assistant, begin practicum experiences and internships in your field, etc. Try to keep in mind that anything posted with a public setting may be viewed by people other than your friends and family, and tailor your online presence accordingly.
  7. Show interest. If you are passionate about your field and demonstrate that through enthusiasm about your work and the work of others, people will be able to see you as a professional in the field. If it appears that you are doing the bare minimum asked of you, tuning out in class or lab meetings, or otherwise going through the motions, you may want to consider whether you would be happier in a different field.
  8. Be engaged. In my seven years as a faculty member, I have repeatedly heard other faculty members talk about graduate students who impress them. Consistently, they are students who demonstrate that they are engaged through consistent, hard work, going above and beyond what is asked of them, and seeking out additional opportunities for learning (e.g., attending presentations or reading materials that are not required), and independently seeking out professional growth opportunities (e.g., initiating research projects and papers, presenting at conferences, applying for grants and fellowships, attending specialized workshops).
  9. Act with integrity. Regardless of achievements or talent, if a person does not act with integrity (e.g., treats people disrespectfully, acts in an aggressive or discriminatory manner, lies, or cheats), then faculty will be reluctant to work with or hire them. On the other hand, if a graduate student treats others fairly and acts honestly and ethically, then faculty can wholeheartedly recommend them to future employers and collaborators without reservations. In most cases, if you make a mistake, you can still prove that you have good character by taking responsibility, apologizing, making amends, and proving that you have changed your behavior.
  10. Take care of yourself. Finding a balance between working really hard and taking care of yourself can be difficult. Yet, it is essential to prevent burnout, maintain productivity, and, most importantly, to protect your physical and mental health. If you find yourself struggling to strike this balance (as most of us do), consult faculty members and peer role models for advice, and please consider seeking counseling as an option as well. Discussing your values and well-being needs with a person outside of your program can help to clarify what you need to do to take care of yourself while balancing the important, hard work that you need to do in order to succeed professionally.

Navigating graduate school can be a challenging process. You were admitted into your program because the faculty in your department have confidence that you have what it takes to succeed. I hope that you can take some comfort in that fact while balancing the numerous demands of graduate school.
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 Maplewood State Park, 57 miles from NDSU

Summer Update: Projects, Papers, & Welcoming a New Grad Student

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted any lab updates, so I thought I’d write a little about what we’ve been up to this summer.

We have primarily focused on analyzing and writing up data we’ve collected over the past few years. We’re excited about writing up new findings on the following topics: 1) an examination of whether empathy reduces the likelihood of acting aggressively toward obese people, 2) a look at the the impact of racial discrimination on minority mental health, and 3) emotional and interpersonal influences on eating disorder behaviors. We hope to tell you more about these projects as they develop. In the meantime, here are some brief summaries of recently published papers:

1) Gordon, K.H., Simonich, H., Wonderlich, S.A., Dhankikar, S., Crosby, R.D., Cao, L. Kwan, M.Y., Mitchell, J.E., & Engel, S.G. (2015). Emotion dysregulation and affective intensity mediate the relationship between childhood abuse and suicide-related behaviors among women with bulimia nervosa. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior.

It appears that childhood abuse may have led to more intense negative, painful emotions AND difficulty dealing with painful emotions, which, in turn, led to suicide-related behaviors (perhaps as a maladaptive way to cope with emotional pain) among adult women with bulimia nervosa. Findings suggest that suicide-related behaviors may potentially be prevented if clinicians can work with clients to establish healthy ways to reduce the intensity of painful emotions.

2) Lavender, J.M., Wonderlich, S.A., Engel, S.G., Gordon, K.H., Kaye, W.H., & Mitchell, J.E. (2015). Dimensions of emotion dysregulation in anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa: A conceptual review of the empirical literature. Clinical Psychology Review, 40, 111-122. 

Existing evidence suggests people who suffer from anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa have more difficulties identifying, accepting, and adaptively coping with undesired emotions. This is consistent with the notion that people turn to eating disorder behaviors to deal with unpleasant emotions and suggests possible areas for clinical intervention.

And, last but certainly not least, we are excited to welcome a new lab member in the Fall. A new graduate student, Valerie Douglas, will be joining us in August from Louisiana!

Data Blitz

Last Friday, the NDSU graduate students participated in a data blitz. They each presented their most exciting research findings from the previous year in 2-3 minutes and 2-3 slides. Below are pictures of our lab members’ presentations. Allison Minnich presented on gender differences in the impact of disordered eating on quality of life, Darren Carter presented on the relationship between alcohol and an aspect of suicidal behavior, and Mun Yee Kwan presented on factors related to suicidal desire among individuals experiencing eating disorder symptoms. It was a wonderful opportunity to see the exciting, diverse research that all of our graduate students are doing!

  Ally Darren Mun Yee Kwan

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