Mentor: James LePage, Ph.D.
Undergraduate Degree: B.A. in Psychology and English Literature
Undergraduate Institution: University of Texas at Austin
Hometown: Dallas, Texas
Awards/Scholarships: Magna cum laude from the University of Texas at Austin, Outstanding First Year Teacher from Teach for America, Dorothy R. Cullum Scholarship and the Southwest Medical Foundation Scholarship at UT Southwestern
How did you become interested in science and/or research specifically?
After college, I joined Teach for America and served as a teacher at a public middle school in Detroit, Michigan. My experiences as a teacher, in which I was able to interact with students and their families and witness the difficulties people face on a daily basis, motivated me to find a career that allowed me to make an impact beyond the classroom.
I was drawn to clinical psychology due to the breadth of the field. As a clinical psychologist, I can examine and address issues through research, clinical work, teaching, and advocacy. In clinical psychology, we adhere to a scientist-practitioner model in which our research and clinical work inform one another, and I desired to spend a career helping others through scientific inquiry and evidence-based clinical intervention.
Tell us about your research project and its relevance to human health.
Broadly speaking, my research centers around examining modifiable factors that can protect against suicide in high-risk populations. By now, we know many of the risk factors for suicide that are static and can’t be changed (e.g. family history of suicide, adverse childhood events). However, we know less about factors that may respond to intervention and lead to decreased suicide risk.
In collaboration with Dr. James LePage and the North Texas VA, I’m currently working on a project examining moral injury in Legal-involved Veterans and its association with negative outcomes (PTSD symptoms, suicide, depressive symptoms). Legal-involved Veterans are an understudied group who are at substantially increased risk for a variety of negative outcomes, including suicide, so the goal of this research is to better understand how moral injury affects this population in order to inform clinical treatment and prevent suicide.
I’ve also had the good fortune to work with Dr. Jennifer Hughes at UT Southwestern, researching best practices in suicide prevention for school-aged youth (another high-risk population) and examining how universal suicide prevention programs can effectively reach youth who may not otherwise have access to mental health care.
Why did you choose to come to UT Southwestern for graduate school?
I was drawn to UT Southwestern as someone who takes both research and clinical work very seriously. UT Southwestern has unparalleled clinical training opportunities, and many of the faculty also serve as clinicians. This means that the content we learn in our coursework is being directly informed by instructors’ real experience.
Furthermore, while many Ph.D. programs adhere to a mentor model in which students are limited to working with one professor on research, UT Southwestern is a very collaborative environment in which students can explore their research interests and collaborate with various PIs. The ability to receive rigorous clinical and research training in a top-notch, collaborative environment was a no-brainer for me.
In your opinion, what makes your specific program one of the top in the country?
There are very few clinical psychology programs housed within an academic medical center, which I think adds tremendous value. As health service psychologists in training, being embedded in a medical setting is excellent preparation for a career in which we will be collaborating with medical professionals. Furthermore, our clinical training opportunities allow us to learn in incredibly rigorous, high quality settings with diverse populations all across the metroplex.
The research training is also phenomenal. I’ve found faculty to be highly collaborative and welcoming, rather than territorial. This means students have access to doing research on nearly any topic imaginable, and there’s great flexibility and support for developing a line of inquiry that can extend well beyond graduate school.
What do you love about your program or why should a prospective student decide to get their Ph.D. here?
The program is highly intensive, and efficient. That means that nearly all students graduate in just four years with a Ph.D. and their APA-accredited internship completed. The opportunity to complete a degree and internship in that time period is truly outstanding, and the support and preparation I’ve received throughout has put me in a position to succeed after graduation.
The last thing I'll mention is the student body. With roughly 40 students in the program at any given time, I’ve found my classmates and future colleagues to be incredibly warm, bright, and collaborative. Graduate school is a lot easier when you’re surrounded by good people!
– Blake Martin, Clinical Psychology Graduate Program