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Student Profile in Psychometrics, Equity, and Dementia

William Goette

Clinical Psychology Graduate Program

Mentor: Laura Lacritz, Ph.D.
Undergraduate Degree: Psychology and English Literature
Undergraduate Institution: University of Texas at Tyler
Hometown: Paris, Texas

Awards/Fellowships: Undergraduate: University of Texas at Tyler (UTT), Carolyn McLean Ewbanks Scholarship; Graduate: UTT, New Graduate Fellowship, Diversity Division Student Award Finalist, Blue Ribbon Research Abstract Award Nominee, 2020 National Academy of Neuropsychology, Diversity Poster Award, Texas Alzheimer's Research and Care Consortium, Excellence in Research Poster Award, American Psychological Association Division 40, Blue Ribbon Research Abstract Award Winner; Grants/Fellowships: American Psychological Foundation, Lorraine D. Eyde Fund Grant, Texas Council on Alzheimer's Disease, Junior Investigator Grant, National Institute on Aging, F31 Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award

William Goette

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

My interest in psychology began with an interest in philosophy. I'd been involved in speech and debate while in high school and became very interested in various philosophies through these activities, and when I took my first psychology class, I felt like it was essentially applied philosophy. This interest turned to research when I took my first psychometrics class as the problem of quantifying something that cannot be directly observed was fascinating to me. As I learned more about testing theory and test design, I became interested in how these theories and methods could be refined to improve the performance of tests with the idea that such improvements would lead to better and earlier detection of cognitive disorders. In the course of studying test theory, however, I also noticed ways in which cultural assumptions, values, and beliefs were implicitly implicated in these assessments. During this time, I thought a lot about my grandfather who immigrated to the United States from Mexico when he was a child under extremely stressful circumstances and completed no more than 4 years of school. I didn't feel that the tests I was studying, learning, and administering to individuals would measure the same things for him as they would for others because the tests were designed by or for people like him. Those reflections and my own interests in psychometric theory are ultimately what led me to my current research on the uses of psychometrics for assessment equity in an increasingly diverse world.

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

My current research project focuses on the development of methods to explain why individuals with certain backgrounds are systematically less likely to answer test items with particular properties or features correctly. This involves analyzing the psycholinguistic properties of words on list learning tests and determining what aspects of education, childhood and adult socioeconomic status, and occupational history may account for subtle differences in the exposure, familiarity, meaning, and context of these words from person to person. Layered over this is an interest in understanding how disparities in the exposome such as neighbhorhood resources, experiences of discrimination, and healthcare accessibility can contribute to differences in cognitive aging and dementia risk. In combination, these aims allow for a decomposition of group-level score differences on cognitive tests between racial or ethnic groups into differences due to item-level bias and those true cognitive differences caused by inequities in the social distribution of cognitive protective and risk factors.

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

The choice to attend UTSW was ultimately due to my interaction with the students here. The graduating classes of this program have gone on to receive highly competitive post-doctoral fellowships and do so after a shorter PhD program than offered nearly anywhere else. The faculty at UTSW are also involved in many national (and international) leadership roles in addition to their research and clinical activities. As a student who took time to complete a Master's degree and work in several settings before starting a PhD program, the fact that the program was short, included internship placements without the need for applications or moving away, and produces graduate students who have received some of the best post-doctoral fellowships in the country was highly influential to my decision.

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

Very few programs that I'm aware of offer the same kind of flexibility as UTSW's clinical psychology program. The fact that students are not siloed into a single researcher's lab but are instead encouraged to collaborate and work with multiple mentors and senior authors provides not just a valued amount of autonomy and flexibility to customize research and clinical training but also fosters interdisciplinary and collaborative thinking. As psychology evolves and becomes a growing asset to medical systems, being rooted in an academic medical center and having encouragement and support to collaborate with peers across specialities and disciplines is a valuable training and professional development opportunity that no other program that I know of can compete with.

– William Goette, Clinical Psychology Graduate Program