Where do you work and in what capacity?
I am an Associate Professor in the Psychology department at the University of Florida, which is interestingly where I received my undergraduate degree. In fact, my new lab houses the same space where I worked as an undergrad RA. Talk about full circle!
Where did you do your training?
I received my PhD in Social Psychology at the University of Houston, under mentors Clayton Neighbors and Chip Knee.
Briefly, what is your research area?
My career mission is to help people connect with each other. Broadly, my research focuses on the intersection of close relationships and health behaviors, most often addictive behaviors. Topics of interest include perceptions related to partner drinking problems (and related regulation behaviors), communication, and conflict. I also focus on developing and evaluating brief interventions that help those struggling as well as their partners. I have a particular interest in harnessing the power of written narratives for alleviating problems and enhancing individual and relationship well-being. In the future, I plan to pursue personal finance as it connects to mental, physical, and relationship health. Finally, I am particularly interested in discovering small, self-reinforcing changes that people can make that will result in large ROI for their life.
Got a unique story?
I wrote this column to capitalize on the opportunity to share some career and life lessons I learned after a recent sabbatical in industry. Even with the best-laid plans, we never really know the path our career will take us on!
I was the weird kid that knew when she was 9 that she wanted to be a psychologist. I fast-tracked undergrad, PhD, tenure-track job. I got tenure when I was 34. But… then what?
I relinquished tenure at USF in 2022 to work in industry (Meta), where I worked until this summer. Working in industry opened my eyes to the processes and outcomes in corporate America. Objectivity and rigor are second to sexy taglines; Research findings are important only to the extent they are desired and accepted by the product’s designers, managers, and engineers. Of course, there were advantages, such as the fully stocked kitchens on beautiful campuses, the ability to work remotely full-time, and collaborating with some of the brightest minds on the planet. However, I realized there is no amount of free lattes that can compete with the autonomy and flexibility that accompany academic life.
So what’s next?
I am thrilled to return to academia with a new and fresh perspective borne from lessons I learned at Meta. Specifically:
I’ll embrace – and never take for granted – the tremendous benefits this career provides: autonomy, flexibility, and freedom in the summer to write, travel, and grow.
I’ll build a lab full of students who are driven by a mission similar to mine – If you have any promising undergrads, I will be taking a student or two Fall 2024!
I’ll pay particular attention to using fewer words that are understood by many instead of many words that are understood by few. As psychologists, we have a duty to disseminate knowledge, and to me, that means making an impact beyond journal articles and academic conferences.
What advice or recommendations would you have for early-career addiction scientists?
If you are not sure what your ideal job looks like, my advice is to talk to as many people as you can who have a job you think you might want in the future. You will be surprised how many people agree to meet with you. Have coffee with them (VC if you have to). Take a walk if possible. Ask them: What does your day look like? What is your favorite part of your job? What do you struggle with? If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently? Integrate their experiences with your vision of an ideal career and identify what best fits with what is most important to you. As we all know, greater confidence comes with a higher N, so the more people you talk to, the better.
If you are sure you want to pursue an academic path, my advice is to become as proficient at every aspect of success as possible. For example, for tenure and promotion (and to get a tenure-track job) at an R1, you need a CV full of publications, grant experience, a well-rounded teaching portfolio, and at least some evidence of service to the department, university, and field. In each of these areas, there are ways to demonstrate success. Do not put all of your eggs in one basket, unless you are comfortable (and content!) with a job that only focuses on that basket. Also, find your why. Find a topic area that makes you excited to dive deep into the literature, where the questions you can ask far outweigh the answers that already exist. It is a huge advantage of your career in academia to choose what questions to answer, and a huge waste to answer questions you don’t really care about.
If you are sure you want to pursue the private sector, I recommend applying for internships as soon as you can, to get some hands-on experience. Sometimes internships are paid, sometimes they are not, but the experience and skills you learn will be invaluable to your future self. I would also recommend learning at least one programming language and becoming familiar with software such as Python, R, and SQL so that you will be more valuable when looking for a job. Learn what designers do, and consider learning design skills. Same with product managers. Update your LinkedIn often and become active in the UX community. Helping others always returns dividends in the long run.
Any other information that you would like to share about yourself with other SoAP members?
Dog lovers out there, find me on social media (@thelovelyharpergrace on IG)! I train, compete, and breed golden retrievers and really enjoy spending time with others who are also passionate about dogs. Harper Grace (4) and Cora (1) do competitive obedience, rally, therapy work, agility, field work, and conformation. You would think I would use an advanced degree in psychology when training dogs, but I am a total pushover when it comes to my own!