Thinking about volunteering with the Anxiety and Health Behaviors Lab?

Read over a few experiences from staff members and past research assistants below to get an idea of what kind of skills you can grow and knowledge you can obtain from your time with our lab!

Brooke Kauffman – Former AHBL Research Coordinator

I was fortunate to serve a two-year, full-time research position with Drs. Mark Powers and Jasper Smits at the Anxiety and Health Behaviors Laboratory (AHBL) at the University of Texas-Austin coordinating a NIDA-funded, randomized controlled trial examining the relative efficacy of smoking cessation alone or in combination with prolonged exposure (PE) for smokers with PTSD. At the time of my hire, Drs. Powers and Smits were transitioning to University of Texas at Austin. I assisted Drs. Powers and Smits in transferring all aspects of the laboratory and setting up the new laboratory and clinical space for their two NIDA-funded trials for smoking cessation. Engaging in the start-up of a new project provided an opportunity for me to fully immerse myself in the development and implementation of a new project. The position aided in bolstering my intervention implementation and longitudinal study management skills. These skills thus far have proven to be very beneficial in my graduate career. During this time, I developed and refined systems necessary for a successful longitudinal study, including data management systems, an extensive participant tracking system, websites, detailed protocol, and web administration surveys. I led a community outreach project to increase participant enrollment and the AHBL involvement in the Austin community. This exposure has proven to be a very valuable experience as I move forward with designing my own research studies in my graduate career. Furthermore, it has prepared me for the difficulties that may arise with recruiting such “hard to reach” vulnerable populations. Additionally, during my time at AHBL, I was invited to coordinate Dr. Smits’ NIDA-funded trial examining d-cycloserine (DCS) augmentation of a treatment for panic and smoking reduction. These projects exposed me to many patients with co-occurring emotional disorders and tobacco use. Having the opportunity to be exposed to diverse psychiatric populations helped solidify my interests and facilitated my current directions in research in graduate school. This would not have been possible without the multitude of diverse exposures I received at AHBL. Furthermore, managing two projects at once gave me the opportunity to improve my multi-tasking, organizational, and prioritizing skills, which I feel have been instrumental in my graduate career. To advance my statistical knowledge, I also engaged in manuscript preparation in meta-analysis and psychometrics (n = 3). These experiences provided me with exposure to diverse statistical methodologies employed to answer research questions and the opportunity to refine my scientific writing skills. Additionally, throughout my experience, I gained strong supervisory and leadership skills, as I was the direct supervisor for a team of 9 research assistants. In addition, I received extensive training to administer psychological assessment interviews (including the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV Diagnosis of Axis I Disorders), to collect biological specimens via saliva, and to biochemically verify smoking status. I also was afforded the opportunity to receive extensive training on the therapist protocol on PE for smokers with PTSD and became an interventionist on the study in addition to my duties as the coordinator. This allowed me to obtain first-hand experience working with vulnerable populations and enhance my clinical training skills. Overall, my experience at AHBL aided significantly in my preparation for graduate school both within research and my clinical work. Furthermore, the skills I learned while at AHBL will continue to aid in my advancement as a clinical researcher within an academic institute upon graduation.

Andrew Levihn-Coon – Past AHBL Research Coordinator

Working in in the Institute for Mental Health Research the past year has made a tremendous impact on my life by effectively preparing me for a career in the field of clinical psychology. With the goal of attending a top clinical psychology doctoral program, I have acquired a plethora of research and clinical skills under the supervision of Dr. Mark Powers and Dr. Jasper Smits that will make me a desirable applicant to such programs in the near future. The substantial amount of research being done within IMHR exposed me to every facet of the research process through my work on four separate clinical trials. I have gained experience writing and managing IRB documentation; utilizing REDCap, Qualtrics, and Microsoft Office suite to collect, organize, and coordinate study data; designing studies by completing literature reviews, selecting appropriate measures, and developing study protocols; organizing and analyzing data on SPSS; presenting research to medical professionals; conducting phone screens and in-person eligibility assessments; running participants through study procedures; administering virtual reality exposure therapy for anxiety disorders and pain; hiring, training, and supervising undergraduate Research Assistants; and managing grant budgets and making purchases. Additionally, through my work at Dell Seton Medical Center, I have gain firsthand experience working with hospital patients with a variety of diagnoses that has instilled in me a passion for potentially working in a hospital setting at some point in my career. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been a part of a research institute that offers such a vast amount of research and clinical opportunities under the guidance of experienced, knowledgeable, and caring supervisors.

Noura Alavi – Past AHBL Research Assistant and Current Research Coordinator

I started volunteering with the Anxiety and Health Behaviors Lab in IMHR in August of 2015, during the senior year of my undergrad at UT. I worked on the PTSD and Panic Quit Smoking Studies and the Social Anxiety Study while volunteering as an RA with AHBL and I was able to build clinical and research skills that directly impact my work as a coordinator now. I gained a lot of experience speaking with participants over the phone and completing phone screens to assess whether a participant might meet for PTSD, Social Anxiety Disorder, or Panic Attacks. Now that I am doing clinical assessments, I am extremely grateful for all of the training and experience I got as an RA with phone screens because it prepared me on how to handle tough situations, how to listen and respond to participants who are going through various emotional/psychiatric problems, and how to administer a structured screening or assessment. My position as a research assistant also greatly informed my research interests and how I wanted to spend my post-undergrad years before applying to graduate school. My work as an RA with AHBL helped me transition into this project coordinator position with the Quit Smoking Studies because many of the skills and tasks related to a project coordinator position with anxiety or trauma studies were being built during my time as an RA. I also had mentors in the lab who were asking me about my future goals and career plans and helped me actively build skills to achieve those goals.

Corey Tatel – Past AHBL Research Assistant

I am currently entering my senior year about to graduate with a B.S. in psychology. I worked in the lab from September of 2016 through May of 2017. I am now a research assistant in the Markmann Lab working on two projects: one dealing with differences in cognitive abilities between experienced and start-up entrepreneurs and one dealing with teamwork training and shared mental models within organizations. I am planning to attend graduate school to receive either a Masters or a PhD in Industrial Organizational Psychology. Although I am no longer on the clinical psychology track, I really enjoyed and appreciated my time in the AHBL. I worked on the Quit Smoking Study and SAD study for EJ as well as the joystick study for Jolene. The lab introduced me to the world of research and gave me valuable experience that will apply to any field of psychology that I end up in. I am very grateful to the AHBL for giving me hands on experience as an undergraduate and allowing me the opportunity to explore my interests and narrow down my career aspirations.

Emily Barnes – Past AHBL Research Assistant

As a senior completing my honors psychology thesis this year, I realized my passion for clinical psychology in the AHBL. My interest in clinical research was deepened through my work screening participants for studies and tracking the progress of the studies. Speaking with potential participants about their experiences with anxiety and PTSD taught me more than any textbook ever could. Seeing how these disorders affected people made me more passionate about researching interventions, therapies, and best practices to improve mental health. As a result, I decided to pursue a PhD in clinical neuropsychology. I will be applying for lab manger and research coordinator jobs for next fall, and the support and resources of the lab have been an enormous help understanding clinical psychology graduate school and research.