By Rachael Flatt
Although I’ve written a few blogs for Exchanges already, I realized that I hadn’t covered what it’s like to be a graduate student working with the CEED team! To describe it briefly, it’s been incredibly rewarding, challenging, and so much fun. There are constantly opportunities to learn, develop skills, and pursue research and clinical experiences around eating disorders.
As a second-year student in UNC’s Clinical Psychology doctoral program, here’s what a typical day looks like: attend class, conduct between 1-3 therapy sessions with my clients, check in on our research projects, contact study participants, and make some progress on research papers, which could mean anything from literature reviews and working on code for statistical analyses to writing and editing manuscript drafts. With my background as an elite figure skater, one of my major research interests is athlete mental health, so I am actively involved in a number of committees for US Figure Skating and the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (including their recently announced Mental Health Taskforce) in addition to being a content expert on athletes with eating disorders for NCEED. It’s a balancing act, but I’m finding that graduate school is one of the best times to expand my horizons and explore all that excites and interests me!
With such a supportive team at CEED, I feel like I’ve been empowered as a student and as a budding researcher and clinician since day one. With Dr. Bulik as my Ph.D. advisor, I’ve had the opportunity to learn from one of the best mentors around. After onboarding to the CEED team almost two years ago, I hit the ground running. I started working on the BEGIN study (read more here), and I’ve been busy with our class load, working with clients, and honing my research interests. I’ve also had the opportunity to learn from the entire CEED team at UNC and our sister program in the Centre for Eating Disorders Innovation (CEDI) across the Atlantic at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden at our monthly research meetings. These meetings foster creativity, challenge our assumptions, and demonstrate the incredible talent and diversity across the two teams.
Recently, we’ve all had to adapt—just like you—and try to define our new normal amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. I defended my master’s thesis virtually, with Dr. Bulik at the helm leading my committee. This was the first time anyone of my committee members had done a totally virtual defense, and fortunately my presentation went smoothly. And more importantly, I passed! Between that and earning a Graduate Research Fellowship through the National Science Foundation, I’m so grateful we’ve had a few things to celebrate over the past few challenging weeks.
Next year, I will start working with Dr. Maureen Dymek-Valentine as my clinical supervisor on the UNC eating disorder inpatient unit. There, I’ll be working with other trainees from a variety of disciplines on the inpatient and outpatient teams, learning how to best treat individuals with a range of eating disorders. When we conduct research, we often have stringent eligibility requirements to isolate specific causes, symptoms, and effective treatment mechanisms. However, the people whose needs we serve in clinical practice can be much more complex and may present with many co-occurring mental and physical illnesses. This experience will be a great opportunity to expand my clinical skills and ensure that the research we do is relevant and meaningful to those seeking treatment in the community. I’m really looking forward to learning not only from Dr. Dymek-Valentine, but the entire eating disorders treatment team at CEED!
I can’t wait to keep you posted as I continue to learn and grow in graduate school, and I’m looking forward to contributing to the research, treatment, and training missions of CEED over the next three years!