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Student Profile in Pediatric Neuropsychology

Sydni Shorter

Clinical Psychology Graduate Program

Undergraduate Degree: Psychology and Human Development
Undergraduate Institution: University of North Texas
Hometown: Euless, TX
Awards/Fellowships: Exploring Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics (DBP)- Advanced Practice Clinician (APC) Scholarship

Sydni Shorter

How did you become interested in science and/or research specifically?

I have always had strong interest in working in a field that would allow me to make a meaningful impact by helping others. I recognized the underrepresentation of diverse voices in mental health and have observed firsthand how stigma negatively affects willingness to seek and accept mental health treatment within the Black community. This is one of the main factors that have fueled my passion to foster change and increase representation in this space. This was again solidified during college where I served as a special education teacher, within a general education classroom, working with children with Autism and other comorbid psychiatric diagnosis and their families. This experience deepened my interest and understanding in psychology, guiding my decision to pursue a graduate education in this field. During my Master’s program at UT Tyler, I gained a strong interest in neuropsychology. I discovered quickly that approximately 5% of neuropsychologists are Black, with an even smaller fraction focusing on pediatrics. This once again reminded me of the importance of representation. I went on to complete my practicum at Children’s Health, under the guidance of Andrea Wahlberg, Ph.D., and this experience solidified my desire to become a pediatric neuropsychologist. My fascination with Neuropsychology merged seamlessly with my passion for working with children. My goal is to increase culturally adapted neuropsychological evaluations and interventions and contribute to reduce the occurrence of misdiagnosis of Autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders in children of color. This, I believe will be the first step in dismantling the stigma of receiving mental health treatment in BIPOC communities. I hope by increasing representation, I am able to empower families to confidently embrace the value of evaluations and understand the benefits of accommodations for their children.

Tell us about your research project and its relevance to human health.

Broadly speaking, my research focuses on the prevalence and factors relating to misdiagnosis of Autism and other developmental disorders, along with examining the disparities of length until proper diagnoses. Historically, children of color have received misdiagnoses at disproportionate rates, often being unfairly labeled as “bad”. These children often receive their diagnoses at a later age, hindering timely access to essential treatments and interventions. My objective is to thoroughly investigate how the intersections of race and socioeconomic factors influence early diagnosis intervention.

Why did you choose to come to UT Southwestern for graduate school?

UTSW’s Clinical Psychology program provides students the unique opportunity to study and work within an academic medical center. This provides an array of diverse and comprehensive training experiences, including exposure to interdisciplinary care. This program has an amazing track record of cultivating outstanding clinicians and researchers. Students are able to work and learn from clinicians who are actively integrating empirically supported research and administering evidence-based treatment throughout their clinical practice. The appeal lies in the opportunity to work alongside currently practicing professionals and being able to learn directly in environments and with patients your desire to work with in the future. For me, having access to a diverse range of clinical populations was an important factor to consider, as it aligns with my commitment to expanding mental health services to minority communities.

In your opinion, what makes your specific program one of the top in the country?

UTSW’s Clinical Psychology program stands out as one of the few programs situated within an academic medical center. This offers students a wide array of potential clinical and research opportunities across multiple trainings sites such as Children’s Health, Parkland Health, and Dallas VA Medical Center. Students are exposed to a diverse range of populations and disorders, enhancing our knowledge and conceptualization skills. Also worth noting is the captive internship and the 4- year accelerated program. These are just a few of the unique advantages that improves the overall educational experience.

What do you love about your program or why should a prospective student decide to get their Ph.D. here?

This program stands out as an accelerated 4-year program, accompanied with a captive APA accredited internship. There are numerous research and clinical opportunities within UTSW and other affiliated community hospitals and clinics. Another perk of this program is it’s cohort model. The relationships that I have developed within my cohort has proven to be invaluable. The challenging nature of graduate school feels much easier when you have peers who understand the program’s rigor. It is a collaborative and supportive environment that extends from the student body to faculty, clinicians, and mentors.

– Sydni Shorter