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Jasmine Abrams, Ph.D., was one of the first two graduates of the health psychology doctoral program in 2015. She currently serves as assistant professor of psychology (tenure-track) at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and is co-founder of Research Unlimited with fellow program alumna Michell Pope (Ph.D. '15).
Describe your transition from student to professor.
I am currently two years in. Year one and year two were very different. Year one was easier because my teaching and service requirements were reduced to help with the transition from doctoral student to faculty member. This reduction was greatly appreciated because it was reminiscent of my doctoral student responsibilities. I was able to find my balance with a full teaching load, with service requirements at the departmental and community levels, as well as running research studies, writing grants and providing mentorship to students.
VCU prepared me very well for academia. I’ve never felt caught off guard by any of my responsibilities or roles as a faculty member. I believe it’s because the department's expectations are very high; the students are competitive and are already outperforming their student peers at other institutions, so by the time one is ready for a faculty position, it’s almost a seamless transition. At the faculty level, nothing is different, it’s just more, and the teaching intensifies. It’s a learning curve of understanding how to juggle it all at the same time, as well as beginning new relationships with new people in a new space and a new city. VCU is a university that’s incredibly well-resourced, efficient with a number of processes and able to provide more diverse and abundant funding opportunities that helped prepare me for this transition.
What would you say to a prospective student who is interested in graduate studies in health psychology about this field and its possibilities?
Health psychology allowed me to merge two of my biggest interests – health and psychology. It’s a popular field that has allowed people to realize the value of looking at society’s problems from more than one perspective, and it’s that intersectional, multidisciplinary approach that is gaining popularity. There are a lot of entities gaining value from such a lens.
What would you say to a prospective student who is interested in graduate studies in health psychology about VCU’s program?
For prospective graduate students interested in health psychology, make sure you are able to define your research area of focus well and are able to become an expert in it. Prepare yourself early so you are competitive and so you are prepared for and can take advantage of what the experience can offer. Make sure you are academically strong, and are open to feedback and gaining experience as a part of a research team. Focus your efforts on the dissemination of research before you get to graduate school. Touch base with faculty members whose research you are interested in before applying to introduce yourself and to ensure they are taking students. Don’t apply to graduate programs with the mentality that you hope someone takes you. If you are going to spending four to six years with a faculty mentor, you need to be sure you are going to get the experience you will need in order to excel after you graduate.
What else would you like to share?
Skills you learn as a doctoral student are transferable skills. The VCU Department of Psychology rears students to be academics, which is great for individuals who are interested in the academy, but these skills can be utilized in a number of different capacities beyond academia—at private and public institutions, hospital settings, in governmental agencies, tech companies and entrepreneurial endeavors. In addition to working in academia, Michell Pope, Ph.D., and I launched Research Unlimited, a fast-growing, Richmond-area startup that provides research assistance to academic researchers, nonprofits and businesses. We specialize in the recruitment of "hard to reach" populations, community engagement and program evaluation.
I’d also like to speak to the importance of balance. I think graduate school is a place where it’s hard to both achieve balance and to find models for what it looks like. It’s a journey I’ve been on, and one to which I encourage people to dedicate themselves throughout their graduate careers and beyond. Ask yourself, “What are my personal goals?” Students need to find ways to define boundaries between themselves and their work, as well as to think through the tasks they take on and whether or not these are helping them achieve their goals. Always be willing to reconsider.