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Three psychology graduate students receive prestigious NIH grants

Devin Banks, Alexandra Hershberger, Danielle Tometich | Psychology, Graduate | Department of Psychology Students credit IUPUI faculty for their success in obtaining these grants

It takes a lot of hard work to earn a prestigious Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award, an individual predoctoral fellowship from the National Institutes of Health.  This year, three graduate students in the Department of Psychology at the School of Science at IUPUI each earned one of these grants—something that is simply unheard of.

  • Devin Banks, psychology graduate student, earned the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award, National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • Alexandra Hershberger, psychology graduate student, earned the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
  • Danielle Tometich, psychology graduate student, earned the Ruth Kirschstein National Research Service Award, National Cancer Institute

The purpose of the Kirschstein-NRSA grant is to help graduate students receive the mentored training they need to become successful research scientists.  The grants fund a large portion of the students’ research training; to receive the grant, students must submit an extensive proposal that details how the funds will be used for both research purposes and additional training.

Banks, Hershberger and Tometich all credit their faculty mentors as one of the reasons several students at IUPUI were awarded these grants.

“Three students at IUPUI in the psychology department receiving these awards reflects the incredible quality of the mentorship and institutional support provided to clinical psychology doctoral students,” said Danielle Tometich.

“It means that we have quality training,” said Devin Banks.  “We have faculty who are willing to support students with their own resources, and when they cannot, who are willing to source other resources to help students meet their training goals.”

Devin Banks is studying racial disparities as it relates to substance abuse.  Substance use is changing among adolescents, and it’s becoming much more common for adolescents to use both alcohol and drugs.

“My research will help identify patterns of co-use that warrant intervention and identify adolescents who may be at high risk. It also will identify reasons why adolescents use multiple substances. Results of this research will help guide aspects of prevention programming for adolescents and identify those adolescents at highest need for such programming,” says Banks.

Alexandra Hershberger uses oral alcohol self-administration, eye-tracking, and in-lab e-cigarette use to examine factors related to nicotine and alcohol use.  Nicotine and alcohol use are mutually reinforcing substances, which means that when someone drinks more, he/she also smokes more (and vice versa).

“Understanding how and why this happens is important to determining the best interventions for nicotine and alcohol use, particularly recommendations for co-use, to improve substance use treatment outcomes,” says Hershberger.

Danielle Tometich is studying the difficulty concentrating or problem solving often experienced by cancer survivors. These thinking problems may lead to lower physical exercise because cancer survivors may have difficulty motivating themselves or figuring out ways to help themselves become and remain active.

“My research is important because exercise can help cancer survivors feel better and live longer, but many of them are not exercising enough, so my research can help to figure out why they might not be exercising enough,” says Tometich.

The students agree that these grant awards speak volumes about the quality of the psychology programs at IUPUI.

“The IUPUI psychology department has an excellent record of receiving research funding and disseminating important research in the field, and the fact that three graduate students from our department have F31 funding currently further supports the department’s excellence in advancing clinical psychological research,” says Hershberger.

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