Newsletter Article

Nationally Funded Award Seeks to Understand and Improve Treatment for Substance Use

Lauren McClain (Adult Clinical Area with Mary Larimer) is our latest student to receive predoctoral funding through the National Research Service Award (NRSA) and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) for her research on substance use. The background of this research award was covered in a previous article. Learn more about Lauren below!

Lauren McClain
Lauren McClain

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

My dad was in the Air Force, and we moved every couple of years, so there’s no one place I particularly consider myself “from.” However, my parents have now lived in Texas for most of my life, so that’s as close to home as anywhere can be. I did my undergrad at Harvard and my master's at Fordham in New York City.

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 working with Mary was a dream—her lab fit my research interests best of anywhere I was looking, and after meeting her I knew she’d be a wonderful mentor (and I was right!). I really like Seattle, and my favorite things about it are the scenery, the outdoor activities like hiking and kayaking, and the concerts and restaurants and dance events, at least in normal times. Seattle also has some of the best farmers markets ever, and it’s been a lot of fun to learn to cook new things and be inspired by local ingredients.

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

I’ve always been motivated by creating a more just society, and I was drawn to working with individuals with substance use disorders through realizing how our society stigmatizes and criminalizes those who struggle with substance use. This injustice is compounded through a widespread lack of compassion, and it’s made me really passionate about helping foster better understanding of people with substance use disorders and their experiences, as well as potentially creating better treatments. Right now, I am focused on doing research to help better understand the processes that lead to problematic substance use, as well as working directly with the individuals my research is geared towards understanding, so I never get too far away from the people I aspire to help.

How did you learn about your funding opportunity? Tell us about the application/waiting process.

It is fairly typical for graduate students in my lab to write an NRSA, so I had been primed to expect that I would write one since entering the program. Mary had encouraged me to start thinking about it early, but the idea made it through many rounds of changes before I even started writing up the grant. The project changed even more after I started writing it, when Dr. Kevin King (Child Clinical Area) graciously came on board as a commentor. I think I pretty much completely rewrote it at least once in the two weeks or so before the deadline in response to his feedback, which was absolutely invaluable and dramatically improved the final result. But I don’t miss the sleepless nights from that time in my life!

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

I had absolutely prepared myself to submit it again, because pretty much everyone told me to not get discouraged if I didn’t get it on my first try. I was completely convinced that I was going to have to apply at least twice and so I was completely resigned to a rejection. However, when I received my score and shortly thereafter confirmation that it was getting funded, I was at first completely shocked. It was surreal! Of course shortly thereafter I was so thrilled about the news. (As well as relieved that I didn’t have to go through the application process again!)

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

The funding is through NIAAA, and the title is “Drinking to Cope, Negative Affect, and Affect Regulation: A Daily Diary Study.”

How might your research change the world?

The end goal of my research is better understanding and better treatment for individuals who struggle with substance use. I think if my research findings can contribute to that, even in a small way, I will be incredibly happy and proud.

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

I know everyone probably says this, but start early! You’re going to have to make so many revisions, but you do have some control over whether they’re months ahead or in the two weeks before the deadline. 

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

I’m grateful that as a result of getting this funding I’ll be able to write up the results of my research and work on getting them published before I go on an internship!

What do you like doing in your spare time?

I love to knit, and I have made quite a few sweaters since I started in the program. I also really like cooking, particularly baking! My most recent creation was caramel-apple spice cookies, and they were delicious. I also really like reading for pleasure (mostly fantasy and sci-fi), when I can get the time!

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

I am a really big fan of what I like to call slice-of-life fantasy, about the lives of relatively normal people who happen to live in a magical world. I find that kind of thing really cozy and comforting to read! The last book I read in that style was called The Hands of the Emperor by Katherine Goddard.

What do you plan to do once you complete your Ph.D.?

If I were able to do anything I wanted after my graduate training, I would love to work somewhere doing treatment implementation research—seeing how small tweaks to our therapies increase or decrease their effectiveness has always been something that really interested me. But I’m still thinking about it!

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