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Elizabeth Twamley, Ph.D.

Elizabeth Twamley, Ph.D.

Interviews by: Jamie Joseph 
Editing: Jamie Joseph

1. Where did you attend your undergrad and graduate studies?

I received my BA in Social Ecology from UC Irvine and my PhD in Clinical Psychology from Arizona State University.

2. Please list your previous department at UC San Diego and provide a brief description of the research you conducted?

I completed my postdoctoral fellowship in Geriatric Mental Health in the Department of Psychiatry under the direction of Dr. Dilip Jeste, Dr. Barton Palmer and Dr. Mark Bondi. My research during that time focused on supported employment and cognitive training for middle-aged and older people with schizophrenia.

3. Please describe your current job profile?

I am currently an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and a Research Scientist in the Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health at the VA San Diego Healthcare System. I still do research on supported employment and cognitive training, but my focus has now expanded to include people with severe mental illness, traumatic brain injury, or other conditions affecting cognition.

4. How did you transition into your current position?

Towards the end of my postdoctoral fellowship, my NIMH K23 Award was funded, allowing me to transition from Postdoctoral Fellow to Assistant Professor of Psychiatry.

5. Apart from the research you conducted, do you feel like anything in particular has helped you to acquire your current position?

I have always been collaborative by nature, which has been a tremendous asset in my career. Being able to write well has helped me obtain grants and generate manuscripts for publication, both of which then helped get me my K Award, leading to my current position.

6. Please list some of the most striking similarities and differences between your post-doc and current position?

During my post-doc, I was fortunate to have access to lots of data just waiting to be written up; I was primarily analyzing data and write papers. Now, I have to write the grants to collect data and then also write the associated manuscripts. I am involved in many more projects now, and have a lot more administrative and teaching responsibilities than before (but teaching is always the best part of my week, so I love that). One thing that hasn’t changed much is that I am still very autonomous; I appreciate the ability to work flexibly and pursue the topics that interest me the most.

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?

Getting the K Award and transitioning to a faculty position was, luckily, not that difficult for me. I think the most difficult transition actually comes at the end of the K Award. Having the K Award gave me 5 years of protected time on a mentored award that paid my entire salary. When my K Award ended, I was fortunate to have an R01 grant that covered 40% of my salary, but I had to generate the other 60% of my salary by being a co-investigator on other faculty members’ grants. Forming collaborative relationships with other researchers in my department was the key to being able to support my entire salary.

8. Please describe your goals and ambitions for the next 5 years?

I would like to continue working in the psychiatric research domains that I enjoy (cognitive training, supported employment, schizophrenia, traumatic brain injury, PTSD, aging), and continue to teach. The economic downturn has hit many labs, but I’m hoping that NIH with increase funding so that I will be able to add staff and trainees to my lab.

9. What do you feel you could have done more, as a postdoc, to help prepare you for or acquire your current position?

I wish I had taken additional statistical modeling classes.

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?

1) Write as many data-based papers as you can before you apply for a Career Development Award, but also try to take some time to write a meta-analysis in your field (a good meta-analyses will get cited frequently and will give you name recognition when you apply for grants); 2) Take at least 6 months to write a really solid Career Development Award, and get as much feedback as you can on your proposal, including feedback from people outside your area of expertise (your proposal reviewers may not have expertise in your area); 3) Make yourself available and accessible for collaborative work with people within and outside of your mentorship team; 4) Work with investigators who are really productive (grants and papers) and who you really like – life is too short to work with difficult people; 5) But realize that some people who can teach you a lot or help you launch your career may be difficult and worth putting up with.