Research In Action

Research In Action

Amanda Parks
Making a Career of Preventing Youth Violence
February 2, 2016

During the summer of 2012 as an Injury Science Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) student intern, I had the incredible opportunity to work under the mentorship of Dr. Stephen Leff on translational research projects surrounding the development and evaluation of violence prevention programs for urban youth. After teaching in a West Philadelphia elementary after-school program for several years in college, this project matched my interests perfectly. Through my teaching, I witnessed many children struggle with severe emotional and behavioral problems, and I often left for the day with larger, unanswerable questions.

Dr. Leff’s team introduced me to the process of examining these questions in order to advance outcomes for children. Under the guidance of a postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Courtney Baker, I helped conduct a literature review on social-emotional interventions for urban, low-income preschoolers. I gained valuable exposure to the fundamentals of the research process, including utilizing relevant statistical databases (e.g. SPSS), learning simple data analysis, and effectively performing searches that aided in the development of a grant dedicated to teaching cyberbullying prevention to primary care physicians and families.

Finding A Career Path

My experiences during my time as an REU intern were significant in solidifying my career path and research interests. During that summer, I was first exposed to prevention science and community-based participatory research. Due to my experience in urban schools, Dr. Leff’s commitment to conducting research in a culturally competent and collaborative manner fit my interest and values, propelling me to desire a career in this subtype of research.

The REU program allowed me to develop skills through trainings on scientific writing and effectively presenting to academic audiences. REU was also instrumental in expanding my professional network in my desired field of Clinical Psychology. I was able to work closely with psychologists and clinicians when conducting meaningful and progressive work, and I gained exposure to injury research in other fields through REU field trips. I was also able to learn from and form lasting connections with other students in my REU class. 

As a result of my research experiences with the REU program, I have been a Clinical Research Assistant with Dr. Leff’s and Dr. Joel Fein’s Center for Violence Prevention for the past two and a half years. I serve as a Clinical Facilitator for Dr. Leff’s evidence-based aggression prevention programming in Philadelphia public schools, and I help coordinate Dr. Fein’s work evaluating effects of a community-based violence prevention mentoring program on assaulted-injured youth referred from CHOP’s Emergency Department.

Motivated by my experience on these two research teams, I applied to Clinical Psychology doctoral programs that conduct violence and aggression prevention research in underserved communities this past fall. I am excited to build upon the research skills cultivated at CIRP@CHOP in graduate school so that I can one day serve both the academic field of Psychology and partner with underserved communities. I know that this intersection is possible thanks to my profound introductory experiences in community-based participatory research as an REU student.