Newsletter Article

Fellow's National Award Studies the Turbulent Years of Adolescence

Photo: Connor McCabe
Photo: Connor McCabe

The Psychology Department is home to many bright and talented graduate students.  We revel in their professional success!  One recent success came in the form of an NRSA received by Connor McCabe (Child Clinical with Kevin King). The background of this research award was covered in a previous article.  Learn more about Connor, his research, and hobbies below!

Let's start with the basics, where are you from and where did you complete undergrad/master's?

I grew up in the Northern California Bay Area and got my undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of California, San Diego. 

How did you wind up at UW/why did you apply here? What do you think about living in Seattle?

I applied to UW because I wanted to conduct research in the area of adolescent self-regulation, and Kevin’s (Assoc. Prof. Kevin King) interests were an outstanding match with where I wanted to go in my career. I also really valued the balance and integration between research and clinical training of the UW program. And, it was a top program located in Seattle to boot, so I had to apply!

Seattle has been a consistently wonderful place to live. The people are down-to-earth, the eateries and breweries are great, and there is no shortage of things to do. The culture here is awesome. I simply wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

What is your research interest and how did you get into it (what inspires/motivates you)?

Broadly, I study adolescent self-regulation and associated psychopathology, with particular interest in sexual minority mental health. Adolescence is fascinating because it’s a time of rapid change – arguably more so than any other period. Teens are required to navigate their independence, their sexuality, their identity, their peer groups, their heightened and variable emotions, and so many other demands – yet are the most developmentally sensitized to their environment and are still developing in their self-regulatory capacities to navigate these transitions gracefully. It’s the storm of this period that solidifies who we are from that period onward: weathering it well or weathering it poorly can have implications that could last a lifetime. I’m interested in sexual minority development because few groups experience these trials more harshly than non-heterosexual or non-cisgender teens. I’m inspired by the resiliency of this population, and I’d like to understand individual differences in risk among LGBT youth for developing psychopathology.

How did you learn about your funding opportunity and tell us about the application/waiting process?

The NRSA is pretty ubiquitous in graduate school and I can’t quite remember when I first heard about it, but what I remember thinking when I first decided to apply was “there is no way I can pull this off.” So, if you have that thought, notice it and let it pass because it’s unhelpful (and totally untrue). The waiting process can be very frustrating/anxiety-provoking, but the things to keep in mind are: 1. you are not alone; and, 2. ultimately, the process of writing it is worthwhile in itself, even if things don’t go your way in the end, so throw yourself in and engage in the process rather than the outcome.

How did you feel when you learned that your application was accepted and that you will receive funding?

Disbelief, followed by elation. It felt incredible to have a funding agency validate your thinking and your research idea, and to effectively communicate “we’re experts, and yes, you know what you’re talking about – or at least you will by the time we stop throwing money at you.”

What is the name of your project and the funding source?

“Developmental Pathways of Substance Use among Sexual Minority Women.” Funding was provided by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Do you have any advice/tips/suggestions for others who may apply to this opportunity? About graduate study in general?

I have many, but perhaps the most important thing I’d recommend is to find the synthesis between what you love and what would be feasible to fund. Practically, getting funded is important because you cannot pursue what you care about without it, but it’s equally (if not more) critical to keep in mind that this is also the topic that represents you; it reflects the career you hope to grow in to. Doing anything less than that is not in your (or the funding agency’s) best interest, and it would be grueling to spend years on a project that you are not intrinsically excited about. The same can be said of graduate school in general I think. Remember that building a research career is part of building how you want to spend part of the rest of your life, so make it count, and make sure it’s bringing you closer to what you want to do and who you want to be.

What do you hope to accomplish with the funding and/or while in the UW Psychology graduate program?

My research goal for my grant is to help our understanding of LGBT substance use via psychological mechanisms from a developmental psychopathology framework. We cannot hope to reduce disparities without knowing what to target, and what characterizes individual differences in risk in an at-risk – yet largely resilient – population. In terms of career growth, I want to learn more about the etiology of substance abuse, LGBT identity development, neurobiological aspects of adolescent development, and emotion regulation; I think there is much to be gained in synthesizing these literatures, and I want to use this project to do it. Moreover, I want to become expert in advanced longitudinal methods, as I think good researchers and good instructors in quantitative psychology are very much needed in the field right now.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

I like to home brew, work out, play video games, and play table tennis. I also really enjoy going out dancing when I need to let out some stress. I’m also really into the Seattle brewery scene; the nanobreweries here are my favorite places to hang out.

The last book and/or movie you saw and enjoyed?

Good question! I’m a huge superhero fanboy, and I recently re-watched Captain America: Winter Solider. I also recently re-watched the original Star Wars trilogy, which really never gets old.

What you plan to do once you complete your PhD?

I plan on pursuing a faculty position where I can continue doing research in adolescent development and continue fostering, applying, and teaching quantitative methods. Within that, I would love to teach a graduate regression or HLM course in the future as well, as I’ve had a lot of fun as a TA in grad stats so far!

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