Early Career Profile: Erin Dowdy

November 3, 2015

What are your current position and responsibilities?

I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I conduct research, teach, mentor students, and provide service to the university and local community. I spend roughly 50 percent of my time conducting research, 30 percent teaching and mentoring, and 20 percent engaged in service activities.  I am also currently the Director of Clinical Training and provide oversight and leadership with regards to clinical training. Specifically, I am responsible for APA reports, supporting students with their applications for predoctoral internships, and monitoring communications with professional training organizations on matters related to APA accreditation.

What are your primary research interests and activities?

I am primarily interested in prevention, early intervention, and early identification of emotional and behavioral risk and student strengths. I work a lot with schools to think about how to efficiently and effectively identify students who may be in need of additional assistance. In the beginning of the year, this usually entails asking every student (in high schools) or teacher (in elementary schools) to fill out some information about how students are currently functioning. Then, we analyze school results to look for patterns and also put supports, both schoolwide and individual, in place to help. For example, at one of our local schools we implemented a mentorship program pairing undergraduate and graduate school psychology students with high school students that were identified in the screening process. I have also conducted a variety of research examining the psychometrics of the screening forms that we have used. As I am interested in longitudinal research, I aim to establish collaborative relationships with the schools I work in so that we can work together for many years. I think we both learn a lot from each other and I have benefitted tremendously from working with fantastic practitioners in the field.

How did your training/prior experiences prepare you for your current position? Were you mentored for an academic career?

I received my Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Georgia, completed a predoctoral internship at the University of Southern California/Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and then worked as a school psychologist for a school district south of Los Angeles. My graduate school mentors told me early on how fantastic careers in academia were, but I had to figure it out for myself. Turns out, they were right. In graduate school, I was informed and invited to participate in the various roles that are often a part of a faculty position. For example, I engaged in departmental committee work, co-reviewed articles submitted for publication, and received mentoring around grant writing and publishing research. My research advisor provided me with a lot of guidance and support when searching for faculty positions. He helped me prepare application materials, reviewed and provided feedback on my job talk, and discussed the pros/cons of different types of faculty positions (i.e., more research or more teaching focused). Additionally, once I secured a faculty position, I continued to work with my graduate advisor on research projects, grant writing, and publishing empirical studies.

Are there any training or mentoring experiences you wish you had early in your career?

Had I known that I would have been in a faculty position at a research university, I would have taken more advanced statistics courses. Luckily, I am in a place where I can continue to learn (often from my students) and have worked with some excellent methodologists, but I realize now you can answer many more sophisticated questions with more sophisticated skills.

How do you balance your teaching, research and service responsibilities?

I took the advice that in a research institution, you have to focus on research if you want to get tenure. I spend a lot of time writing and conducting research, and try to schedule full days that I can work from home writing and without interruption. I generally work solely on writing projects for a full day a week. Then, I spend another day a week in a variety of other research support activities (e.g., contact with schools, data collection, analyzing data, preparing reports, writing grants). I also find myself catching up over breaks or in the summer on writing projects or grant writing, when there are less teaching responsibilities. I also really enjoy teaching and mentoring and consider this to be one of the most important aspects of my job so I always find the time to hopefully do it well.  I spend about two days devoted to teaching. Depending on the quarter, I may teach two mornings (9-12) and then spend another half day or so preparing and grading. If I have a new course to prep, it obviously takes more time.  To me, service to my community and profession is also incredibly rewarding.  I try to connect service and applied research by making meaningful connections in the community, and I find that service to the profession improves my own research. I haven’t found the perfect magic to balance; I just try to do it all!

How has mentoring or collaboration advanced your research? 

Working with others is always more fun than working alone. I have been extremely fortunate to have generous and intelligent mentors and colleagues to work with and enjoy the collaborative process.  I try to find others with similar working styles and complementary skill sets.

What strategies, resources, or practices contribute most to your success?

Work-life balance is key for me. I am a better academic (and person) when I find time for my family, my friends, and myself. I wake up early before my family wakes up, multitask reading emails and working out, and then spend time with my kids before they go to school. In the evenings, I put my computer away and try to be present. At work, I aim to be efficient – I try to stay focused, keep moving forward, and do what I am passionate about – helping children succeed. One concrete thing I do is to spend a day at the beginning of each quarter and academic year mapping out what I think I can realistically accomplish during that period. Then, I continually refer to those goals to remind myself what I thought was important to work on. In terms of writing projects, I try to have one manuscript I am currently working on, one submitted or in the revision process, and one in press. I have a “pub club” with other scholars in the field where we map out and work on writing projects together.

Lastly, please tell us something unique about yourself and how this has been influential on your career.

I think I just answered that one! I have young children so they keep me busy and focused. It’s a great feeling when you see educational practices change that will ultimately benefit the next generation of students in schools.

I feel very fortunate to work in a place that has excellent family leave policies that allow for reduced workload after the birth or adoption of a new child. For example, after the birth of each child I was given a release from teaching duties for two quarters (roughly 20 weeks). I was also given the option of delaying the tenure clock for up to a year after the birth of each child. Considering what we know about the importance of nurturing and attachment, does your work place offer adequate flexibility and opportunity for you to take care of your young children? 

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