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Meet Kelsey J. Pritchard, M.A.
Every year, ABCT’s Research Facilitation committee awards a Graduate Student Research Grant (SRG) to provide financial support for a student whose research shows great innovation, creativity, and broader significance. For this feature, we are excited to present the recipient of the 2020 ABCT Graduate Student Research Grant: Kelsey J. Pritchard. Kelsey is clinical psychology Ph.D. student at the University of Toledo, where he is a member of the Adaptive Regulation and Coping Laboratory.
Kelsey responded to questions from ABCT’s Research Facilitation Committee about his experiences in research.
Tell us about the project the SRG is funding:
My dissertation, “Interpersonal Emotion Regulation in Mood Disorders: Contextual, Biological, and Social Processes,” is a series of projects aimed to advance our understanding of intra- and interpersonal emotion regulation by examining biological and behavioral processes as mechanisms in affective change, emotional disorder risk, and negative interpersonal outcomes. The project uses a multimodal assessment of physiological measurements in the laboratory and ecological momentary assessments (EMA) via participants’ smartphones to acquire data from their daily lives. This design allows for multiple assessments of behaviors, contexts, and outcomes across one’s day. The methodology also provides an opportunity to enhance the ecological validity of interpersonal models of emotional disorders, particularly in distressed persons’ reactions to daily stressors, their seeking of support from close others, subsequent interpersonal distress, and the maintenance of depressive and anxiety symptoms in daily life. Such knowledge of potential biological markers of interpersonal processes may identify and target flexible systems for intervention in individuals with depression and anxiety.
What does getting this award mean to you?
Receiving the ABCT Student Research Grant directly contributes to our goal of identifying, understanding, and integrating our knowledge of social behaviors and psychophysiological mechanisms that cut across research domains. Further, the award allows me to exercise and hone my research abilities in the context of this dissertation project. My long-standing goal has been to understand how behavioral and psychophysiological processes function in the context of emotion regulation, how interpersonal behaviors influence social relationships in individuals with depression and anxiety, and to examine the role of the autonomic nervous system in the onset and maintenance of such disorders. These interests directly inform my clinical practice, given that emotion regulation is often considered a transdiagnostic risk factor across differing populations. Thus, funding from this award brings me several steps further to achieving these goals and developing my capacities as a researcher and a clinician.
How has ABCT contributed to your development as a researcher and clinician?
ABCT’s commitment to fostering the professional development of rising scholars and clinicians has made a huge impact on my development. I was fortunate to have mentors who guided me to ABCT’s student resources early in my doctoral training. Shortly thereafter, I began attending and presenting at ABCT’s annual conventions, which serve as an anticipated training opportunity for me in several ways. The enlightening seminars, networking opportunities, and energy of the conference attendees contributed to forging new professional relationships, sharing novel ideas with colleagues, and inspiring me to succeed in my research and clinical capacities. The ABCT SRG is a direct contribution to funding my dissertation project, which ultimately seeks to elucidate potential mechanisms for therapeutic intervention in those with emotional disorders.
How did you first become involved in research? What was this first research experience like?
My early involvement in research was a journey with focal steppingstones. My initial scholarly curiosity began in my undergraduate career. I volunteered in a social neurochemistry laboratory and began to learn how environmental and biological components influence human reactions to social stimuli. My interest in human behavior grew from curiosity to passion and, as a result, I actively sought research experience in a clinical setting, specifically in a childhood mood disorders laboratory, which was rewarding to observe research being incorporated into practice. My Master’s program was a formative period for research skills as I became ‘hands on’ in the research process. My failures, successes, and growth in independent confidence resulted in my completing my thesis, which was an empirical examination of the biopsychosocial mechanisms that underly psychopathology.
Has your approach to research changed over the course of your education? If so, how has it changed?
My pre-doctoral training at Cleveland State University and doctoral training at the University of Toledo crafted my research interests and honed my proficiency in psychophysiological and behavioral experimentation across populations. As a graduate student, I designed, coordinated, and executed multiple studies that measured intra- and interpersonal emotion regulation strategies and social mechanisms (e.g., interpersonal relationships and dyad paradigms) in psychopathology with community adults and young adult university samples. I integrated my clinical and research training at the Cuyahoga Country Court Psychiatric Clinic, where I collected and disseminated data on sex offender recidivism from a forensic population. As a doctoral student in Dr. Peter Mezo’s Adaptive Regulation & Coping Lab, I continued my program of research on the psychophysiological underpinnings of interpersonal emotion regulation. My dissertation project uses innovative experimental designs that build upon my prior research experiences. In the next programmatic step in my research, these studies will provide me with fundamental training in empirical, methodological, and theoretical applications of clinical science in service of charting, treating, and preventing mental illness.
What have you found most rewarding about your research?
The most rewarding thing about my research is how it has shaped my clinical training and practice. My projects aim to elucidate the interpersonal emotion regulation and psychophysiological mechanisms implicated in the persistence and recurrence of debilitating threats to public health. My research and clinical work mutually integrate the assessment of transdiagnostic mechanisms of change (e.g., emotion regulation) with novel routine measurements, such as ecological momentary assessment, to capture the function and contexts of behavior in daily life. My research shaped my attention to empiricism and methodological adaptability to inform my practice of assessment and clinical practice, which ultimately leads to better outcomes for my patients.
How do you balance research with the other demands of being a graduate student?
The guidance of my faculty advisor, mentors, and clinical supervisors helps me focus on my long-term goals, which ultimately allows me to prioritize my day-to-day demands. Graduate school is filled with a plethora of opportunity that often leads graduate students to live by the “say yes to everything” mantra – which does not always lead to the most desirable outcomes for everyone. Working closely with my advisor, creating specific development goals, and timelines (often broken) for achievement is the tactful decision-making process that keeps me afloat. I’m also thankful for the help of my fellow peers in the Adaptive Regulation & Coping Lab, who collectively carry the burden demanded by my research.
What does an average day or week look like for you?
It varies considerably with the demands of my research, clinical training, laboratory coordination, and personal life. On Mondays and Wednesdays, my time is dedicated to clinical training at two externship rotations where I engage in psychological assessment, feedback sessions, individual therapy, progress note/report writing, supervision, collaboration with team members, and didactics. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays are dedicated to research and mentorship of my undergraduate research assistants and peers. An “average” day involves waking early to ingest coffee and a quick breakfast while creating a schedule and to-do list. I set aside two hours each morning to write my dissertation or a manuscript. I might spend another hour or two seeing patients. After a brief lunch, I mostly spend the afternoon with a few more patients before carrying on with my research studies. Early evening involves walking the dog and cooking dinner, and this is promptly followed by another couple of hours of writing.
What drew you to this particular research question?
Broadly speaking, I am interested in understanding how behavioral and psychophysiological processes function in the context of interpersonal emotion regulation. My primary research interests focus on examining the role of the autonomic nervous system in the onset and maintenance of mood and anxiety disorders. Further, my research aims to understand how interpersonal behaviors influence interpersonal relationships in individuals with these disorders. My work in a social neurochemistry laboratory sparked my initial curiosity into the intricacies of human social behavior and physiology. After later training in clinical laboratories and interventions, my curiosity eventually extended to my desire to understand the interplay of these mechanisms in psychopathology.
What is one challenge about your research that you didn’t anticipate before you started the work, and how have you dealt with this?
My dissertation project has several components that increase the complexity and scope of the work necessary to execute its completion. Of course, these posed unanticipated barriers to completing my project on time. I collaborated with my advisor and my dissertation committee to scale down various components in the study design (e.g., clinical interviews, in-lab tasks, and survey measures), while balancing the delicate task of preserving the larger aims and goals of the project. This involved delving further into the literature to find unique ways to improve the efficiency of the project protocol, such as by streamlining my surveys and removing components that were not necessarily relevant to addressing the research questions. It has been a rewarding problem to solve because I learned to view my research through the lenses of bright faculty who provided insightful outside-of-the-box feedback that I may not have otherwise noticed working on my own.
What is an example of a set-back you’ve experienced in your work, and how did you handle it?
The impact of COVID-19 was an unprecedented set-back for my project (as well as the projects of most in our field). The project initially involved completing semi-structured clinical interviews and physiological measurements face-to-face with participants. However, federal and administrative regulations were immediately enacted that unfortunately, but appropriately, suspended direct contact with research participants. Subsequently, these restrictions meant that my project could not proceed in a timely fashion with its original design with in-person components. I coordinated with my advisor and laboratory peers to navigate the inevitable challenges that COVID-19 posed. After some tough decision-making, I had to remove both the clinical interview and physiological measurement components from my project. Flexibility truly carried me through my decision-making during those months. While these decisions weigh heavily on the potential impact of the project, the pandemic offered a rare opportunity to adapt the project to also understanding the psychological and behavioral impact of COVID-19 on individuals.
If you weren’t pursuing a career in psychology, what would you be doing?
If I were not pursuing a career in psychology, I would follow my passion of brewing beer and opening a brewery. Brewing has been my hobby since beginning graduate school. I am so focused on behavioral science in our professional, that occasionally it is therapeutic to sink my spare time into the physical science of brewing. Beer can take anywhere between one to two months to ferment and brew on its own. I spend those weeks focused on work while the beer works to create a wonderful product. When complete, I love sharing the results of my craft with family and friends. I think there is value in creating, sharing, and savoring something with and for others.