CBAM takes great pride in its training and mentorship activities, working to foster the next generation of clinicians and researchers. This summer, Anali Torres, a student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas joined CBAM as part of the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) Summer Intern Program for underrepresented minority students. Ms. Torres worked with the CBAM research staff to look at medication adherence results in our clinical trial of Varenicline for methamphetamine dependence. Her final presentation can be viewed here. Anali will be presenting her work at the NIDA headquarters next month. Before her internship ended, she sat down with us to talk about her experience.
Tell me a bit about what you’re studying.
I am an undergrad at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas majoring in psychology and minoring in marriage and family therapy.
Tell me about what you’ve done so far research-wise at UNLV.
I started not too long ago. I’ve been in one lab this past year. It’s a family-based therapy lab with an emphasis in sports psychology. I have also done an internship at the mental health clinic on my campus, the UNLV Partnership for Research, Assessment, Counseling, Therapy and Innovative Clinical Education (PRACTICE). I will be joining another lab later this year, which focuses on research on grief, specifically with older adults in the Latino population.
How did you get interested in psychology?
It took me a while. I started off as a biology major hoping to get into dentistry. I realized biology wasn’t for me, so I was degree-seeking for two years and took psychology classes and really enjoyed them. It didn’t become very clear that I wanted to go to grad school until well into my junior year and that’s when it all hit me: I need experience in research. So gradually, I started talking to people and I put myself out there and let go of other responsibilities to gain other experiences on campus, and it has pretty much been like that the last two years.
Tell me about what you have done at CBAM this summer.
This summer, for the first time ever, I was able to work in a completely different field than I was used to. Back home, my lab worked a bit with substance abuse, but not to the extent you do here at CBAM, who working with a population with severe drug dependence and working with medication development. I was very involved with the people here and I got to see their day to day work, attend meetings, workshops, shadowed clinic, and worked on a presentation related to a clinical trial testing the medication Varenicline for methamphetamine dependence.
Amongst everything I got to experience this summer, it was great to gain exposure in areas that I didn’t think I had the possibility of working in, such as medication development. I also attended a clinician-facilitated workshop on mindfulness which was relatively new to me. I also attended weekly mindfulness meditation sessions. In the various meetings I attended, it was interesting to see how people collaborate on large projects.
What’s next for this fall?
This fall will be quite busy. It’s my fifth year in undergrad so I’ll be taking a full class load and involved in 2 research labs. I do want to start preparing for the GRE and to prepare for applications to grad school next year in the fall.
Also, the people I’ve been working with here at CBAM nominated me to speak at the NIDA Headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland as part of the summer intern research program.
What kind of graduate school programs do you plan to apply to?
Clinical Psychology and Counseling Psychology PhD programs. It’s always changing, but when applying I’m not going to make one specific goal. I won’t cancel out Masters programs so I will be applying to Social Work programs as well. I want to give myself a chance to have options. I want to work in something that I love, and that’s what I keep coming back to.
Do you think this program enhanced your interest in doing research?
Absolutely. I have a much greater value of and interest in it. I had a great group of people here at CBAM who dedicated time and patience to helping me understand. Having someone guide you along the way and listen to what you have to say has been awesome; every question/concern was always answered in a variety of ways. It opened my mind to all of the possibilities. I’ve gained a lot of appreciation for research and I can see its impact overall on people. Before coming here I had an idea that research was just working in a lab and not doing clinical work (i.e., sitting with someone and helping them feel better). But here, you can see the impact that medication development research can eventually have. It makes more of a clear impact. It also opened my mind through talking to people that psychology is huge and there are so many different research interests, not just one you have to go towards. The more creative you get, the better. That’s been great too because I know that I have options.
Anything else you wanted to add? Advice to people who are just starting out thinking about their interests in psychology? Incoming college freshman?
I think the most important part is just really informing yourself about what this field can offer and the different paths you can take to do what you want. You could say that you want to be a psychologist, but what does that imply? What kind of program, especially because these programs are so competitive, are you interested in? There are a lot of things you can start taking into account very early. Join research labs and get experience early on, rather than leaving it for last minute. I would have loved someone to tell me that: that even if I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, I could get involved. On your campus there are always going to be different colleges from accounting to music and when it comes to psych, they all have their own communities. If you look within them there are tons of opportunities. I didn’t assume I could get into a research lab—I thought it was impossible, but really all it took was showing your interest in it. Always show huge interest and enthusiasm to learn. There are plenty of people who want to see you do well. Don’t give up!