- Interview Overview
Interviews by: Jamie Joseph
Editing: Jamie Joseph
1. Where did you attend your undergrad and graduate studies?
I completed my BA in Zoology and Psychology with an Interdisciplinary Concentration in Neurosciences from Duke University in 1991 and my PhD in Clinical Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1996.
2. Please list your previous department at UC San Diego and provide a brief description of the research you conducted?
I was a postdoctoral fellow in the Geriatric Mental Health Program under the mentorship of Dilip Jeste, M.D. and Gregory Brown, Ph.D. My research at that time focused on how schizophrenia affects brain function and how brain response differs depending on age and level of cognitive impairment. I also worked on validation of a method to measure blood flow using MRI and started a clinical trial of a cognitive enhancing medication aimed at improving neuropsychological function in schizophrenia.
3. Please describe your current job profile?
I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego and Associate Director of the MIRECC Neuroimaging Unit and Clinical Research Psychologist in the MIRECC program VA San Diego Healthcare System. I am also a faculty member in the SDSU/UCSD Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology and the Stein Institute for Research on Aging and chair of the Psychiatry Department Chair’s Advisory Committee on Diversity Issues and chair of the UCSD School of Medicine’s Standing and Promotions Committee. Currently, my research entails examination of the brain and biological systems involved in cognition and emotion. I am just completing an NIMH-funded R01 grant to study brain aging and cognitive performance among adults with bipolar disorder. I am PI on a new NIMH-funded R01 grant which will use ecological momentary assessment of mood and repeated measures of cognition and blood-based inflammatory markers in order to discover predictors of cognitive decline in those with bipolar disorder. My interest in developmental trajectories has also extended to work in healthy aging, including the genetic basis of variation in brain structural measures among older adults. I also have been funded to examine neural correlates of traits such as compassion and resilience among healthy older individuals. The underlying goal of my research is to help improve functioning among individuals with mental disorders and among those who are aging through a more thorough characterization of brain and biological systems that contribute to cognitive and emotional success.
4. How did you transition from your postdoc to your current position?
As my postdoc was ending, Gregory Brown and others were forming the VA Mental Illness Research Education and Clinical Center, which is a consortium of researchers at three Southern California VA Health Systems that aims to improve functional outcome in people with psychosis. I was offered a position as faculty in the Neuroimaging Unit which allowed me to continue research started in my postdoc and develop into an independent researcher. Although I applied for career development awards, I did not receive one, and I consider the MIRECC to be my primary mentored pathway to a faculty position. I joined the UCSD Department of Psychiatry as an Assistant Professor in 2004 and have continued my association with the MIRECC program as well.
5. Apart from the research you conducted, do you feel like anything in particular has helped you to acquire your current position?
Excellent mentors and sponsors were very important for me. I had wonderful scientists and educators who not only guided my career choices but nominated me for greater responsibility and advocated for me from positions of influence.
6. Please list some of the most striking similarities and differences between your post-doc and current position?
Similarities: Importance of scientific writing, time management, and persistence
Differences: More time spent in managing people and administrative responsibilities, greater freedom and responsibility with scientific projects
7. Is there any specific challenge (during the entire process of transitioning) that you would like to highlight and if so how did you overcome it?
Although I spent a lot of time on applications for Career Development awards, I did not receive one. It was a challenge to transition to independence and get a faculty position without a federal grant, but I credit my eventual success to my mentors/sponsors and my perseverance in seeking out other funding sources. Being a part of two large Centers and a large team-based grant also provided resources to help me learn how to run my own study and how to write a successful R01 application.
8. Please describe your goals and ambitions for the next 5 years?
I am just starting work on two new grants so I am excited to get those off the ground. I am also always looking for productive new avenues of research and I’m pursuing pilot funding for several small studies to explore different topics. I will continue to spend a lot of time mentoring all levels of trainees and will work on administrative activities that are important to me, like those associated with our Department’s Diversity Committee, which I chair.
9. What do you feel you could have done more, as a postdoc, to help prepare you for or acquire your current position?
A successful career development grant would have been helpful, but I learned a lot from the process and from the challenge of transitioning without it. Most of my postdoc activities were very good preparation for my current position, so I wouldn’t change much.
10. What do you feel is the most important advice you can give to a current UCSD postdoc in order for them to obtain a position such as yours?
Make sure you have a supportive mentor who will look for opportunities for you and promote you to others. Write as much as you can and develop good time management skills to balance all the different aspects of academia: research, teaching, administrative, and maybe clinical. Be a team player and good collaborator so that you will be offered opportunities and resources that will help you grow. Be strategic about how you spend your time – keep your goal in mind and politely decline offers that don’t move you towards your goal while seeking out those that will propel you forward.