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Erin E. Reilly

Mentor Spotlight

ABCT’s Spotlight on a Mentor program aims to highlight the diversity of excellent research mentors within the organization’s membership ranks. Our goal is to spotlight both promising and accomplished mentors across all levels of academic rank, area of specialization, and type of institution.

Dr. Erin E. Reilly is an Assistant Professor in the Clinical Psychology Ph.D. program and Director of the Lab for Research on Eating and Anxiety Disorders (READ) at Hofstra University. She received her Ph.D. in 2017 from SUNY Albany and completed her APA-accredited pre-doctoral internship and post-doctoral research fellowship within UCSD School of Medicine. Her research interests include characterizing shared features of anxiety and eating disorders and using this knowledge to adapt behavioral treatments for use in eating disorders.

She is involved in leadership and service positions at the Academy for Eating Disorders, the ABCT Obesity and Eating Disorders SIG, and the Coalition for the Advancement and Application of Psychological Science. Erin believes that researchers can have the biggest impact through mentoring the next generation of students interested in clinical psychology and promoting the work of other early career scholars, particularly those from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds. Accordingly, she currently provides ongoing mentorship to over 20 trainees, ranging in stage from undergraduates to post-doctoral fellows.

On mentorship: I aspire to be a mentor that models a clear set of values (persistence, genuineness, equity, humility) applied in service of using the scientific method to decrease human suffering. Funnily enough, there are two articles from the Behavior Therapist that have stuck with me and had a lasting influence on my mentoring style. The first was Dr. Kelly Wilson’s Lab Manifesto (published in a 2006 issue). It outlined a vision for a lab that simultaneously valued striving toward the best quality of behavioral research possible AND the full lives of its members. The way in which the manifesto balanced these things and outlined process goals that included making mistakes and supporting one another across domains remains striking to me (and in my opinion, still remains somewhat unique). Thus, the lab environments/mentorship relationships I enter always include a clear set of stated values, including priority on the humanity of its members, a love of the work, and a dedication to equity and growth.

The second influence was a profile on Dr. Scott Coffey. In the article, Dr. Coffey mentioned coming to the realization that he could make a significantly greater impact through mentorship than he could with his research. This sentiment struck me immediately. Yes, I have and will continue to try and produce the best clinical science possible. But ultimately, the impact I’ll have through that is likely to be small. I can do much more by getting students excited about producing rigorous, ethical, transparent work that remains focused on (a) decreasing suffering and (b) making our field a more equitable place and then having them go out into the world and serve in a range of environments. When I fast forward to the end of my career (hopefully many decades from now), if the sum of what I have done is inspired my mentees to discover their own values/moral compass and apply that to whatever work excites them and serves others, that will be more than enough.

I would be remiss to not mention that my mentorship style has also been influenced by a range of wonderful people who have mentored me over the past decade or so. Prior to my training, my parents modeled a work ethic and humility that I hope continues to be salient in my mentorship. Further, senior and peer mentors at SUNY Albany and UCSD are almost fully responsible for cultivating a passion for behavior therapy, eating disorders, research methods, and prioritizing work with real clinical impact that I try and make contagious.

One strength that I have as a mentor is that I am transparent in my process of trying to grow and make myself better. I cannot model perfection, because I am very much a work in progress, which I think is sometimes more valuable than having a mentor who is “goals” and appears to do the impossible. I am a very dedicated collaborator, and so when mentees work with me, they not only get access to my thoughts/resources/commitment, but also that of my close collaborators. Finally, I continue to put a lot of time and thought into my values as a person, scientist-practitioner, and mentor, as well as make these very transparent— this serves as a strength in the sense that my mentees know what they will be getting when they sign up to work with me. 

My advice to future mentors is to do your homework to the extent possible, but then prioritize jumping into actually doing the thing! I have made many mistakes and continue to learn as I go. A few more tangible tips:

  • Participate in formal or informal mentorship programs through professional organizations—if one doesn’t exist within your organization or special interest group, propose making one. I’ve both participated and organized mentorship initiatives in various organizations and these allowed me to pilot and refine my mentorship approach.
  • Seek out different mentors (and recognize that mentorship can take many forms!)—as I note above, my mentorship style is essentially an amalgamation of all the things I found to be helpful as a mentee. The more peer and senior mentors you can acquire, the more varied your experiences will be to draw from.
  • Do a strengths and weaknesses inventory and structure your mentorship relationships such that it plays to these domains. In this way, we can use the skills we often teach our clients! For instance, as I am not naturally the most organized person, I have developed several systems for creating structure within my mentorship relationships (contracts; agendas) and schedule check-ins with mentees about these systems.
  • In a similar vein, approach mentorship using the skills you are developing as a scientist practitioner. The mentorship relationship can be conceptualized similarly to the therapeutic alliance—agreement on goals, methods to achieve those goals, and a warm bond are going to get you where you need to go. In the same way I approach my work with clients and as a researcher, I try and create structure and set expectations, collect ongoing data and feedback that I use to refine, and personalize the approach to each person.

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