Student Spotlight January 2024
Claire Cusack is a doctoral candidate studying Clinical Psychology.
Q: Describe your educational background.
A: I earned a BA in Psychology from Agnes Scott College in 2013 and an MA in Psychology with a Clinical Concentration from Towson University in 2021. I started PhD training at UofL in 2021.
Q: What brought you to the University of Louisville?
A: The opportunity to train with Dr. Cheri Levinson and the Eating and Anxiety Treatment Laboratory.
Q: What is your specific area of research?
A: I study the persistence of eating disorders within individual people and across time. I’m really interested in how momentary fluctuations in emotions and thoughts potentially affect downstream behavior and contribute to eating disorder maintenance. This line of work interests me because individual variability and time have largely been neglected in prior research examining eating disorder maintenance, so it is exciting to me to begin chipping away at characterizing eating disorders for individual persons in real-time.
Q: How would you describe your area of study to your grandmother?
A: Eating disorders are really dangerous illnesses, and unfortunately, we don’t have many great tools to treat them. Most of our treatments are based on what we know about groups of people with eating disorders at one or two points in time. One way to create more effective treatments is by seeing what an eating disorder looks like for the individual person with an eating disorder in their everyday environment. My research focuses here with the assumption that more accurately understanding the eating disorders for the individual will help them recover.
Q: What made you go into this field of study?
A: Our current treatments fail over 50% of individuals and that’s unacceptable to me. I think people deserve better treatments, which depends on more rigorous research.
Q: What are your long-term goals or aspirations?
A: Tenure track faculty at an R1 university
Q: What has been your favorite part of the graduate school experience at UofL?
A: My favorite part of my graduate training so far is reflecting on how my research ideas have changed and developed over time. When I started the program in 2021, I couldn’t have imagined the questions I am asking now, and I find that exciting!
Q: What do you feel is the greatest challenge that graduate students face and how have you dealt with this challenge?
A: I think one’s social location likely influences the challenges that a given graduate student might experience as “greatest.” As a white, currently able-bodied person whose gender expression is congruent with what society expects of me, I have a lot of privilege that shields me from many challenges that individuals with more systemically oppressed identities face. My greatest challenges center around a theme of feeling inadequate (e.g., feeling like I’m not doing ‘enough,’ working too slowly, worries about whether I will learn what I need to, etc). I deal with this challenge by reminding myself that academia is designed to engender these feelings, that my worth is not defined by my productivity, and intentionally engaging in activities that align with my values that are not directly related to my professional goals.
Awards, honors, publications:
- National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship
- Early Graduate Student Researcher Award, American Psychological Association
- Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences Award for Excellence in Research: Junior Level, University of Louisville
- University of Louisville College of Arts and Sciences Mentored Graduate Research and Creative Activities Grant, University of Louisville (Co-I)
- RSH Scholarship, Academy for Eating Disorders
A talent you have always wanted: A photographic memory
Favorite book authors: Margaret Atwood, Kurt Vonnegut, and Haruki Murakami
- From Robert Frost’s “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening:” But I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.
- “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.” —Angela Davis
Role Model: I don’t have one role model. I admire the way my friends and family show up to the world. They inspire me to suffer less and love more.
Favorite thing to do or place to go in Louisville: Trail running at JMF. I also enjoy spending some weekends climbing at Red River Gorge.
If you weren’t in graduate school, what would you be doing now? Hard to imagine, maybe participating in a coding boot camp.