Meet Michelle. She is hard working, innovative and relentless. She is pursuing a PhD with a focus on adolescents who have been maltreated in their pasts and have gone on to be later revictimized. Her pursuit of a better life for children and adolescents moved me beyond words. Her passion for research and action oriented outcomes moved me beyond words. While some choose to fixate on the problem, Michelle is fixated on the solution. And she’s fun, and she’s kind, and she’s Blooming.
HOW WILL YOU BLOOM IN THE NEXT YEAR?
I am currently pursuing a PhD in Clinical Child Psychology and my research area is with children who have been maltreated or victimized in their pasts. I am interested in understanding factors that influence the trajectory of kids who have experienced various forms of victimization whether it be abuse, neglect, dating violence, bullying, etcetera and I want to know what can help them to develop positive outcomes instead of focusing only on risk factors.
I recall always wanting to work with children even when I was a child. I went to undergrad at Wash U as pre-med and I knew that I wanted to be a pediatrician. However, as I took more courses, I realized that I wanted my path to be in the field of clinical psychology. Through different volunteer exercises I realized that I was most passionate about clinical psychology with at-risk youth.
During and after college, I interned and went on to work full time with an organization in Memphis where I worked with kids with severe mental health and behavioral problems that needed an intervention or would be at risk of entering state custody. What I noticed about the teens I worked with was that many of them had experienced significant trauma such as child abuse and neglect—experiences that no human or child should ever have to go through. It was an extremely common theme and I started to become interested in therapy that focused on that previous trauma and further, explored how to confront it in order to prevent similar sufferings down the line and help them to heal.
With regards to how I would like to Bloom this year, I am entering my fourth year of my PhD program which means that this fall I will propose my dissertation. I have worked on research projects with my advisors and also conducted my own study with young adult women living in a domestic violence shelter. I worked with them and discussed their histories of victimization in both their childhoods and adulthoods. Young and poor women are a group that is often overlooked in psychology research.
With proposing my dissertation, I am approaching what I truly want to do with my life. This dissertation will study adolescents aged 13-17 and we will talk about their lifetime experiences of victimization and instances of later victimization and then further, discuss how this trauma affects them on many levels. By levels, I mean to say that trauma does not only manifest itself emotionally but can also affect people on a physical level which is something that we do not always consider. I would like to bring in parents or primary care givers to assess the quality of their parent-child relationships and friendships. I would then measure their stress levels with the assumption that if they have strong parent-child relationships, healthy friendships and an ability to manage stress levels, these adolescents can develop a method to protect themselves from later victimization. I’m excited about this research. What is important to me is thinking about actions and how I can better equip them protect themselves. We can enhance their interpersonal skills to teach them how interact better. We can equip them with methods to manage their stress. Often we focus so much on the actual trauma, that we don’t take it to the next level and develop actionable outcomes.
DESCRIBE AN OBSTACLE THAT YOU HAVE OVERCOME.
Getting into graduate school was an unexpectedly long process. I wanted to start a PhD program immediately after graduating from undergrad and while I got a number of interviews I ultimately did not get any offers. I was so disappointed but with disappointment can come opportunity. I ended up working for a fantastic company that gave me hands-on experience in the mental health field, even more amazing was that I was surrounded by fantastic people with Masters in Social Work and other related fields. But at the back of my mind, I knew that I wanted this PhD. My path was to have this degree and in order to get it, I knew that I needed more clinical research experience.
After hitting so many walls, my prayers were answered when I was offered a job as a research assistant at a reputable university. I was ready for this opportunity that would allow me to gain valuable experience to help me get into grad school! Unfortunately, the experience was a very exclusionary and hurtful process. I was treated like an outsider and it became clear that my supervisor was not interested in our mentorship. Three weeks before the letters of recommendation were due for my PhD program applications, my supervisor decided that she could no longer write a letter for me.
At last, I got into two schools and was admitted into the University of Minnesota under a fantastic advisor who is well known in the field. Even though I faced hurdles with regards to not getting into a program the first time around, I wouldn’t stop working for this. Whenever I was low, I held onto my belief that things do work out how they should.
HOW WILL YOUR RESEARCH INSPIRE CHANGE?
While interviewing women at domestic violence shelters, I found that even though we were talking about rape, sexual violence and abuse, they would find a moment to express excitement and gratitude about the research I was doing. They were so grateful because again, many research studies overlook low-income women to focus on more privileged backgrounds. I am changing the dialogue by highlighting a population that is often left out.
Michelle recently participated in and won a competition hosted by the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development. Competitors had three minutes to concisely and effectively explain their research project in language appropriate to a non-specialist audience.
I am committed to speaking out against violence against women. There is a general lack of education on sexual violence and the corresponding effects. For example, the question, Why did she stay?, is inappropriate and underlines a complete lack of understanding about the types of dialogue that we should be having. Further, asking about someone’s sexual history when discussing a new instance of sexual violence is unfair, it insinuates that if a woman has a sexual history, she somehow invited the new instance of violence and tries to bring into question if she was truly raped or not. Even outside of my research, I educate and speak out when I can. I need to call people out when they say things that perpetuate the cycle.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADDITIONAL LONG TERM GOALS?
I want to stay involved in research. I love that I can use research to reach a broader audience. I want to conduct prevention and intervention research with children and adolescents that have experienced victimization and additionally, I want my research to influence how we discuss victimization and serve to further modernize the dialogue.
In my personal life, I will be getting married next year. I want to enjoy quality time with my husband and embark on this new journey in married life and enjoy our dialogue, travel and ability to constantly learn from one another.
A KICK BUTT FORUM THAT AIMS TO INSPIRE, COMFORT AND UNITE INCREDIBLE WOMEN (& DUDES) THROUGH DYNAMIC INTERVIEWS