Meet @RowanCHASE Lab: Interview with Postdoctoral Fellow Cole Ainsworth

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Dr. Ainsworth has a Ph.D. in Health Promotion and Health Behavior (Public Health) from the University of Alabama, Birmingham. He was interviewed by Ph.D. student Kristen Pasko.

@RowanCHASELAB: Could we start with you telling us a bit about yourself? Where are you from? What are some hobbies you have?

CA: Sure! I come to the CHASE lab from the great state of Alabama, and I received my Ph.D. training at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Earning that degree has been one of my only activities in the last few years, but I am looking forward to picking up where I left off with other hobbies like reading, roller skating, and the occasional online gaming shenanigans.

@RowanCHASELAB: How would you describe your undergraduate experience? How did that lead to your graduate experience?

CA: My undergraduate experience didn’t follow a single path. In fact, I started college as a vocal performance music major! After realizing that I probably would not become a world-famous vocalist in musical theater, I sought other professional interests and ended up majoring in psychology. It gave me a foundational understanding of human behavior, which is what really drew me to the field in the first place. Still unsure of what specific career to pursue, I took a couple of courses in public health and ended up loving it so much I applied to a related master’s program.

@RowanCHASELAB: Continuing with that theme, you received your Ph.D. in health education and promotion. Can you tell us about the perspective this field has regarding applications of research and how you believe your training within this field adds a different and new perspective to our lab?

CA: I find there is quite a bit of overlap between research conducted in the areas of public health education/health promotion and psychology. For one, both are interested in behaviors that affect human health and research generally seeks to improve health outcomes by helping people realize opportunities for behavior change. As you may have guessed, public health tends to place value on understanding how to affect change at both the individual and population levels. My training has reflected the art of balancing these two – sometimes competing – levels of influence, essentially maximizing the benefits for as many people as possible.

@RowanCHASELAB: You’ve had previous experience working at MD Anderson Cancer Center as a graduate intern. That sounds like an amazing opportunity. What are some of the more unique opportunities you got working at that facility?

CA: My time as an intern at MD Anderson Cancer Center was great. I assisted with projects focused on lifestyle medicine for women in remission for certain types of cancer. First, it allowed me to see for myself how a research lab with multiple related projects actually operates. It also gave me a chance to expand my understanding of the ways mental practices like mindfulness and other behaviors like physical activity and nutrition can be modified to improve cancer-related outcomes. Lastly, I got to take the initiative on several projects, such as developing a protocol for using new physical activity assessment software and creating a price breakdown of the dietary component for one of the studies.

@RowanCHASELAB: What initially got you excited to work in the CHASE lab as a postdoctoral fellow?

CA: Dr. Arigo is doing a lot of really cool research related to social comparison in the CHASE lab. I think social comparison is a powerful tool at the disposal of health professionals, but we need to better learn how to leverage it in order to create meaningful digital health programs and interventions. The CHASE lab is a trailblazer with respect to that belief, and I am already learning so much from the brief time I have been here.

@RowanCHASELAB: What is some valuable advice you would give to students at Rowan looking to pursue a career in research?

CA: Pursuing a career in research will challenge you in many ways as an individual, but I have never looked back and regretted the path it has led me down. Don’t be afraid to be wrong. Research is often about pursuing the unknown, and even our most informed guesses about a phenomenon can be off.  In addition, a healthy sense of skepticism can go a long way in a research setting if communicated appropriately. Finally, don’t limit yourself from the start. Take time to think about how your interests – while seemingly unrelated – can tell you something new about the world if you put them together.

@RowanCHASELAB: What is it you are hoping to get out of your experience here in the CHASE lab? Any specific projects you are excited to have a hand in?

CA: I hope to develop new skills during my time in the CHASE lab. My training to date has focused on physical activity and cancer prevention intervention, and I am excited to learn more about the process of developing digital health tools and how to improve the user experience to promote long-term engagement in positive health behaviors. Project WHADE (women’s health study) is definitely one that has my attention because of the way smartphones are being used to capture the effects of timing and social comparison on health behaviors like physical activity.

@RowanCHASELAB: Lastly, what are your plans for after you leave this lab, and how will the skills you learned in the CHASE lab help you in your future endeavors?

CA: I am never ever leaving this lab! Joking aside, I really want to take my experience and interest in communication, human behavior, and digital technology and develop solutions to the problems facing our world today. That plan could come to fruition in many ways, via institutional research, consulting, or even entrepreneurship. I am keeping an open mind about it. My appointment as a postdoctoral fellow in the CHASE lab has allowed me ample opportunities to hone the research skills I began learning during my graduate training. Even more, I am gaining exposure to the duties of an independent research scientist like mentorship and project management. I have no doubt that whatever the future holds, my time in the CHASE lab will serve as a momentous stepping stone in the right direction.

Meet @RowanCHASELab: Interview with Research Assistant Emily Vendetta

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Emily Vendetta is a senior Psychology major at Rowan University. She was interviewed by Laura Travers, a first-year Ph.D. student in Clinical Psychology.

@RowanChaseLab: Let’s start off with the basics! Would you mind telling us about your undergraduate experience and how you were introduced to psychology research?

EV: I have known throughout most of my undergraduate experience that I wanted to get a degree in psychology. But it wasn’t until the past two years that I was very dedicated in continuing my career and getting my masters in school psychology. Knowing I wanted to go into a masters program, I wanted to get the most experience and knowledge out of my undergrad that I could to help prepare me. That’s when I looked into joining a research lab. I thought, “what better way to expand my knowledge than getting a first hand look at how research is performed?” 

@RowanChaseLab: Continuing with that theme, since this is the first time you have worked in a research lab, what are some valuable skills you’ve learned? 

EV: There are so many valuable skills that I will carry with me throughout my career. Time management is an important one. Not only scheduling your time dedicated to the lab but also being able to manage more time-sensitive research tasks. Another one is being flexible and understanding that things change in the lab and being able to take direction well. I have definitely improved on my literature searches and getting the most out of literature databases. 

@RowanChaseLab: Since you are also interested in school psychology, how does this experience relate to your specific research interests? How have they changed since then?

EV: Health psychology, (CHASE lab’s main interest) can be used in so many aspects of our lives. Taking the information I’m learning about how we can help change behaviors and lifestyles can be applied to all ages. I hope to help children start healthy habits young and make good choices from a young age. This will help set the path to a healthier lifestyle as they grow up. I can also focus on their parents and help guide a healthier lifestyle for the whole family. 

@RowanChaseLab: What initially got you excited about working in the CHASE lab as a research assistant?

EV: I was thinking about joining a research lab when I came to Rowan and I remember getting an email from the psychology department about the CHASE lab taking applications. I knew it didn’t directly focus on what my specific research interests were, but I knew no matter what, I would learn valuable skills that can translate to any career. I was excited to have this opportunity to work with such intelligent women and learn from them. I was very eager to just help out in whatever way I could. 

@RowanChaseLab: What is some advice you would give to other students at Rowan looking to pursue a research assistant position?

EV I would say to definitely take the risk and apply to a lab even if you think you might not get it. It doesn’t hurt to try and you never know the people you will meet who are willing to help you. Also, make sure you are available and flexible. The professors and students running the research are counting on you and trusting in you. Believe me, you are very important to them and they value your work and time. 

@RowanChaseLab: What is something you want to do or are excited to learn about while working in the CHASE lab?

EVI am excited that I have the opportunity to take over one of our projects, #Fitspiration. I will be the one responsible for making sure this is running smoothly and keeping up with data management. I feel very honored to have this experience. I also can’t wait to see how we will keep expanding our studies and learning from the data collection. 

Emily presenting our pilot data for the #fitspiration study at Rowan Psychology Research Day (April 2019)

@RowanChaseLab: Lastly, what are your plans for after you graduate, and how will the skills you learned in the CHASE lab help you in your future endeavors? 

EVI plan to enroll in the School Psychology masters program here at Rowan University and become a school psychologist. My time with the CHASE lab has helped me to improve my knowledge and understanding in research which is definitely something I will be using in my masters program. I can use this information to help me understand new research within my field.