Early Career Profile: Anisa Goforth

November 3, 2015

What are your current position and responsibilities?
I am an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Montana. I am one of three faculty members in the Educational Specialist and Doctoral School Psychology Programs, which are housed in the Department of Psychology. As a department, we have a strong emphasis on both teaching and research. In fact, there is a strong emphasis on teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels, so I have a 2-2 load and typically teach one undergraduate course and three school psychology graduate courses (practicum and educational assessment and intervention) per year.

I am also involved in research and created a lab called the Culturally Responsive Evidence-based Practices in School Psychology (CRESP) lab. CRESP Lab includes my doctoral students in school psychology as well as 3 to 5 undergraduate research assistants. My undergraduates are expected to learn about the science of school psychology and disseminate presentations at our university research conference as well as regional or national conferences. I am also involved in service, particularly at the program and departmental levels. I am in several national committees (for example, on the Trainers of School Psychologists board and member of the NASP Research Committee).

What are your primary research interests and activities?
I am interested in understanding ways that school psychologists can use evidence-based practices to meet the academic and mental health needs of children and families from diverse backgrounds. I am also interested in furthering school psychologists’ professional development as it relates to cultural competence and use of technology and social media. A third line of research also focuses on evidence-based practices within group social skills interventions for children with autism and related disorders. In collaboration with a faculty member in communicative sciences and disorders, I developed Youth Engagement Through Interventionwhich is a framework for conducting group social skills interventions using a modular approach.

How did your training and experiences prepare you for your current position? Were you mentored for an academic career?
As a doctoral student at Michigan State University’s school psychology program, I had a number of training experiences that prepared me for an academic career. I had the opportunity to be the primary instructor for an undergraduate course on applied psychology, which helped me develop my skills in course development and pedagogy. Teaching as the primary instructor in the course (rather than a TA who primarily graded) was very important in furthering my skills.

An important experience was being part of an Office of Special Education Program (OSEP) Leadership Training Fellowship. Through this fellowship, I had opportunities to participate in a seminar about being a faculty member and was encouraged to disseminate papers. I published a couple of peer-reviewed journal articles as either a first author or co-author that introduced me to the process (and challenges) of submitting manuscripts. My primary mentor and advisor was Dr. Evelyn Oka who specialized in researching underserved youth. She provided me with the support to become a faculty member as well as supported my interest in research with culturally and linguistically diverse youth. Dr. John Carlson also played an important role as a mentor, providing advice about ways to be successful in graduate school to prepare for a faculty role.

Finally, I was also a pre-doctoral intern at the Psychological Services Center through the Illinois School Psychology Internship Consortium where I did the assessment, treatment and consultation for children and families, but also had the opportunity to teach an undergraduate course on psychology and diversity. These activities allowed me to prepare myself as a psychologist as well as an academic. Specifically, I had opportunities to supervise ISU graduate students under the supervision of Dr. Mark Swerdlik that allowed me to practice some key supervisions kills (e.g., providing feedback on clinical skills).

Are there any training or mentoring experiences you wish you had early in your career?
Ultimately, I felt very prepared to become a faculty member. The mentorship and training I received at Michigan State University prepared me well, especially through the Leadership Fellowship, which had a primary goal of preparing future faculty. I do wish I had participated in a grant-writing course, which would have prepared me with the skills and knowledge of applying to competitive R01 grants. Some of my students take a grant-writing course at UM and I’d take the course myself if I wasn’t so busy!

How do you balance your teaching, research and service responsibilities?
Balancing teaching, research and service is always a challenge. At UM, we are evaluated primarily on our research and teaching, although there is a general trend to put more emphasis on research and obtaining grants. As a result, it can be difficult to ensure that I make time to conduct my research. I have created ways to ensure I give myself time to write (see strategies below) which have allowed me to be productive. I have begun to have more and more doctoral students in my lab, and that has also helped me conduct my research.

I have been very purposeful in choosing my service activities. We have a small school psychology program (3 faculty members), so my primary efforts are dedicated to administration and service associated with our Ed.S. and Ph.D. programs. When I first began my career, I also valued connections with colleagues and networking was a priority. As a result, I joined several committees in NASP and APA to facilitate this. Thus, it was an opportunity to maintain professional relationships while also providing service.

How has mentoring or collaboration advanced your research? 
One of the most rewarding ways I have been able to make time for my research is doing more collaborative writing with colleagues. I have realized that if I am accountable to a colleague, then I am more likely to accomplish the tasks on time and more efficiently. For example, I am currently writing a manuscript with Andy Pham at Florida International University. We are both Michigan State alum and knew each other prior to becoming faculty members. We also both participated in the School Psychology Research Collaboration Conference (SPRCC), which is hosted by SSSP, and that collaboration has led to two manuscripts being published or submitted. I have also been collaborating with Natasha Segool at the University of Hartford (also a Michigan State alum!). Through our discussions of professional issues, we became interested in examining ethical challenges associated with social media use among school psychologists. These discussions have led to a large project and a few publications.  Collaborations have made research a great deal more fun!

What strategies, resources, or practices contribute most to your success?
One specific strategy I have used to make sure that my research is a priority is through a scheduling. I delegate a minimum of 2 hours each morning (8:00-10:00am) during the week in which I only allow myself to do writing activities related to research (manuscripts, grant submissions, etc.). I have recognized that my best writing occurs in the morning (I also go to bed early and rise early) and that my energy and motivation significantly decreases in the afternoon. As a result, I schedule my student and faculty meetings after 10am.

My typical schedule is as follows: When I arrive at my office, I close my door and give myself 15 minutes to get into a mindset to work. I turn off my email during these two hours so I don’t get distracted. I also have my rituals, which involves having a cup of coffee, a clean desk and writing a to-do list of what I want to accomplish for the day. I’m very specific. For example, I might write, “Complete one paragraph of introduction” or “Finish Table 1 and Table 2.” I usually underestimate what I accomplish so if I do more (like complete 2 paragraphs), I feel really good and reward myself (usually with a latte or a cookie). I also recognize when my mind wanders or I get tired, so when this happens, I transition to completing writing tasks that are less mentally taxing. For example, I might start with writing paragraphs and when I get mentally fatigued, I change to working on other parts of the manuscript like creating tables or figures.

Lastly, please tell us something unique about yourself and how this has been influential in your career.
The reason I accepted a position at the University of Montana is because there was an intrinsic culture in the department of a good work-life balance. Most faculty members in our department are outdoor enthusiasts—mountain bikers, backpackers, hikers, skiers—so there is a real passion for working hard and playing hard. I knew UM was a perfect fit.  I work very hard during the day, but when I go home at the end of the day, I enjoy time with my fiancé and go for hike with my dog Luna.

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