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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Student Q&A: Allison Carroll, Clinical Psychology PhD Program

Allison Carroll

Allison Carroll, a sixth-year student in the in Clinical Psychology PhD Program, studies the association between smoking and depressive symptoms in relation to cardiovascular health in the laboratory of Brian Hitsman, PhD, associate professor of Preventive Medicine and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

Carroll earned her undergraduate degrees in Biopsychology and Spanish from Monmouth College in Monmouth, IL and completed a post-baccalaureate program at the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Baltimore, Md. She is currently completing her clinical internship at Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, S.C.

Where is your hometown?
I was born and raised in Iowa City, Iowa.

What are your research interests?
Throughout graduate school, I have worked on a range of clinical and public health projects related to tobacco use in high-risk populations. I've become particularly interested in how comorbid health conditions and risk factors may synergistically (rather than additively) cause poor cardiovascular outcomes. For example, we see synergistic associations between concurrent cigarette smoking and depressive symptoms with increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Although these single, bidirectional relationships are well established; few studies have looked at the synergistic effects of multiple risk conditions with cardiovascular outcomes.

What exciting projects are you working on?
I am using the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) dataset to examine the relationship between patterns of depression over time and longitudinal cardiovascular health outcomes and how that relationship is influenced by different patterns of smoking. I am also using a clinical trial of smoking cessation among adults with lifetime major depression to determine whether cardiovascular health can be improved by a short-term, targeted intervention for these two prominent risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Understanding these complex relationships will provide insight into the timing and content of interventions for high-risk individuals.

What attracted you to the PhD program?
I was really drawn to the program at Feinberg because it is housed in an academic medical center, which is really unique for a clinical psychology program. This setting offered me myriad research and clinical opportunities that I would not have had access to in another program. But I also have to admit that another large draw was Feinberg's location in Chicago and being back in the Midwest.

What has been your best experience at Feinberg?
More than a singular best experience, my overall experience at Feinberg has been great because of the variety of exposures and opportunities I have had for both research and clinical experiences. For example, I took a trip to England to visit another research lab, I have learned a number of useful data analytic techniques for large, longitudinal datasets, and I have worked on clinical trials from start to finish. Clinically, I have had opportunities to work in both inpatient and outpatient settings, I have worked as a therapist on clinical research studies, and I have been exposed to and trained in a variety of evidence-based treatments.

How would you describe the faculty at Feinberg?
Everyone I have worked with has been extremely supportive, and I always feel as though the faculty I work with are looking out for my best interests. I really can’t say enough positive things about my experiences with the Feinberg faculty.

What do you do in your free time?
In my free time I like to run, enjoy nice weather outdoors, cook and bake, and spend time with my friends, family and cats.

What are your plans for after graduation?
After graduation, I hope to obtain a research post-doctoral fellowship that will prepare me for to be a health psychologist in an academic medical center. I would like to continue my line of research developing and evaluating treatments for psychological and behavioral conditions among patients with medical illnesses. I hope to have a clinic within the hospital as well, most likely in either oncology or cardiology. In addition, I plan to mentor and teach psychology and train up-and-coming health professionals.

Connect with Allison on LinkedIn.