Science Narratives is a series of interviews with students from diverse fields in science at various stages of their career. By learning more about individuals and their journey in science, this series has the goal of breaking the stereotypes in science and showcasing the diversity in STEM. We hope readers will find connections and inspirations in these stories told.
Sheina Godovich is a 1st year Clinical Psychology Ph.D. Student at the Catholic University of America. You can follow her #PathToPhD on LinkedIn.
Describe your research in a haiku.
All of these treatments
How come people still suffer?
What is the focus of your research?
I haven’t started my graduate school research yet, but the lab I’ll be joining is focused on children’s mental health. Specifically, they study a resilience-based group treatment for children with anxiety, autism, and/or ADHD. The part that I find coolest about this research is that it is conducted in a private practice and in school settings, exactly the kind of “real-world” settings where children most frequently receive treatment. I have been talking with my advisor about conducting a longitudinal analysis of treatment response. The goal would be to see if gains made during treatment persist over time and which characteristics predict successful long-term treatment response.
In the recent past, I worked as a research coordinator and participated in research of brain function in young children with temper outbursts. I have spent the last year (and am still in progress) on a paper exploring how parents respond to temper outbursts in their children and which characteristics predict their behaviors.
Outside of work, how do you like to spend your time?
I feel like keeping in touch with friends is not usually listed as a hobby, but I think it totally should be – that’s definitely my favorite activity outside of work. I’m also into photography and travel!
What are you passionate about?
1) I’m fairly passionate about political issues, with an overarching drive to have people be more aware and involved in issues. I would really like to fight the apathy that says government is out of our control and therefore not worth caring about.
2) I haven’t yet done anything about this passion, but the difficult state of conducting research really bothers me. Funding is scarce and constantly decreasing, which leads to a strong emphasis on results from research. Not all research can produce results – some produces results later and some finds null findings, for example – but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. I really hope we can increase funding of a wide variety of research.
Who is a female scientist you look up to and why?
There are two people in my field that I could think of in particular: Edna Foa and Anne Marie Albano. They are both female psychologists who have devoted their lives to studying treatment of anxiety, but in very different ways. Edna Foa is a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania who has made massive contributions to the standard treatments for adult anxiety and PTSD. Anne Marie Albano has researched treatment for child anxiety, but I look up to her in particular because she has truly combined research and clinical practice in a way I hope to emulate.
Who is someone in your life that you look up to and why?
I have been lucky to have excellent graduate student mentors who have shown me what the path is like, encouraged me, and helped me! I remember sitting down with the very first grad student I worked with to ask her about why she chose this field – her answers really resonated with me and helped me decide to leave the pre-med track. Anu is now Dr. Asnaani and a professor at UPenn! All following grad student mentors have all done really, really awesome things. Particular shout-outs to Anu, Ty, Angela, Jade, and Hannah!
Tell us your story in science + research. How did your path begin and how did it lead to where you are today?
The summer after 7th grade, I took a three-week course called Cognitive Psychology with a graduate student teaching the course. We learned about the history of psychology and some really awesome psychological phenomena, like the cocktail party effect and heuristics, and I think that started my academic interest in psychology. I don’t remember when exactly I decided, but I already knew in high school that I wanted to work in psychology. In sophomore year, I joined a science research class (SERP) and decided to I wanted to study child anxiety. I reached out to Dr. Anne Marie Albano, who was then head of the NYU Child Study Center (see above) to try to join a lab or a real life opportunity, but that didn’t work out. Instead, I did some research on the effects of a kindness diary on happiness in high schoolers – with that, I participated in NYCSEF and another science fair. In senior year, I did an extension of the original project that I used to apply to several science fairs again, including Intel.
When I started college, I knew I was interested in working with a clinical population. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do psychiatry or clinical psychology, but I knew that research experience makes you more competitive for both, so I decided to seek some out. The first person I talked to told me that freshman year was too early to start research, so I asked my randomly assigned advisor instead and he let me join his lab. The rest, we might say, is history. Stefan Hofmann’s lab at BU was by far the most defining experience of my undergraduate career – although I didn’t know that when I joined.
I started out doing just a few hours a week, mostly doing data entry. The content was fascinating – we were trying to see if adding a drug (d-cycloserine) to social anxiety exposures would improve the treatment’s effectiveness. I entered questionnaire data used to track symptom severity over time AND I got to participate in some of the social anxiety exposures – this experience with research was very tangible. Besides that, I really liked the conversations I had with the grad students in the lab – lab meetings covered projects of many different kinds, and ideas big and small were brought up and dissected. I found that I liked research and wanted the kind of work the grad students did.
Freshman year at BU was a very conflicted time for me – I was on the pre-med track but was still figuring out what I actually wanted. I asked everybody I could think of for their experience. I talked to my friends’ parents who were psychiatrists. I talked to my cousin who’s a psychiatrist. I talked to the grad students in the lab. I talked to other people in the psychology department, went to graduate school panels held by the Undergraduate Psychology Association, and read a lot online. I chose my route because I realized I wanted to get a background in all of psychology – truly study how humans think and feel – then focus in on clinical issues, instead of a background of medicine and focus on psychology.
The next step was a graduate degree in clinical psychology. A lot of people told me I was a very strong candidate, so I had high hopes for an acceptance directly out of undergrad, but that didn’t work out. Nine applications and zero acceptances later, I had a several month-long crisis where I entertained other career ideas. The truth is, I never really wanted anything else – I was sure I wanted a doctoral degree in clinical psychology. To gain more research experience and make myself a more competitive applicant, I got a job as a research coordinator, this time working with children. The applicant from senior year was nothing compared to my application this time. Seventeen applications and seven acceptances later, I am excited to be really joining the world of clinical psychology!
What are your thoughts about starting graduate school?
I have been working towards this goal for the past six years, so it feels slightly surreal to have finally reached it. I’m most excited to actually take clinical classes and start seeing clients. I’m also excited to lead a project entirely on my own terms – any research I’ve done so far has been part of other studies, and I’d like to take a crack at my own.
What were the main factors you considered when choosing the right program and school for you?
I started by making a giant excel spreadsheet of every child-focused program in the US (I’m happy to share if anyone is interested!). From there, I narrowed down to programs that were well-funded, in areas I’d like to live, and focused on treatment/emotion regulation/anxiety. Once I got to the interview and acceptance stage, the main deciding factors ended up being funding, location, and “fit”. “Fit” is a nebulous concept that everyone in the grad school application process talks about but never defines. I think it’s about the program and advisor who matches your goals, values, and mentorship style most closely.
What’s your advice for someone considering graduate school or starting the application process?
The overwhelming advice is START EARLY. No matter what it is, the earlier you start it the easier it’ll be – getting experience, choosing schools, applying, everything. Past that, enlist a lot of people to help you with advice, support, and feedback on multiple drafts of application materials. Finally, be prepared for things to go in unexpected directions.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully, I’m working as a psychologist in an academic medical center or large clinic, doing a combination of mostly evidence-based practice and clinical research, but also spending time on teaching/advocacy/administration.