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Student Q&A: Geneva Jonathan, Clinical Psychology PhD Program

Garret Eickelberg

Geneva Jonathan, student in the Clinical Psychology PHD Program, is interested in using mobile health technology to better understand and treat psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder. Under the mentorship of Evan Goulding, MD, MPH, ’11 GME, assistant professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Jonathan is working on a study that evaluates the ability of one such mobile app to increase access to psychosocial interventions.

Read a Q&A with Jonathan below.

Where is your hometown?

I was born in Honolulu but relocated to the contiguous states before pre-school. I spent the majority of my childhood growing up in Williamstown, MA as the child of a college professor and pastor. I think growing up in a college town and being the child of a professor influenced my choice to pursue a graduate degree.

What are your research interests?

I am passionate about applying and integrating mobile health (mhealth) technologies into real-world mental healthcare settings — specifically, porting evidence-based psychotherapies for serious mental illnesses to smartphones. Digital mental health interventions have the ability to bring the same therapies available in clinic-based treatment into the hands of the people who need it most. I am also interested in learning how passively collected data from our smartphones can monitor, predict and help us better understand illness trajectories and clinical outcomes.

What exciting projects are you working on?

Right now I am working on a study, under the mentorship of Dr. Evan Goulding, that evaluates the use of a smartphone intervention, LiveWell, to better understand and improve the treatment of bipolar disorder. The study aims to increase access to psychosocial interventions as well as improve their effectiveness in reducing symptoms and mood episodes.

While the study primarily focuses on a user-facing smartphone intervention, the application also passively collects behavioral data in an effort to explore whether there are unique behavioral patterns among individuals with bipolar disorder that can help us better understand illness features and trajectory. The data collection period ended in April 2020, so it has been very exciting to start examining some of the data and preliminary findings.

What attracted you to your program?

Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine's clinical psychology doctoral program is one of the only of its kind based in an academic healthcare system. Before Northwestern, I was a research assistant at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College, another academic healthcare system. Because I am familiar with the environment, culture and unique access to clinical settings for research that an academic healthcare system can provide, Northwestern seemed like a natural choice and good fit.

I felt that Northwestern's location meant that I truly would get an opportunity to balance my research interests with access to clinical training steps away from where we take classes each day. I was also eager to come to Northwestern because, at the time I applied, mobile health for mental health was a very nascent field. Though many programs wanted to recruit students to do this type of research, there were only a few programs, including Northwestern that I felt I could attend and receive strong support and mentorship.

What has been your best experience at Feinberg?

I think my best experience at Feinberg was getting support from my mentor, Dr. Goulding, very early on to apply for funding support from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). As a first-year graduate student, I was eager to apply for funding as I knew it was an important skill for a student interested in a research career. I applied for and was awarded a diversity supplement from NIMH which allowed me to develop independent research aims that were aligned with my mentor's current research project.

The independence and mentoring experiences that the supplement outlines, in many ways, have encouraged and fostered significant self-growth as a researcher and student. The funding support has also allowed me to travel and present work from the LiveWell research study at NIMH and the International Society of Bipolar Disorders annual conferences, both domestically and internationally.

How would you describe the faculty at Feinberg?

Extremely considerate and accommodating. Given that I started my Ph.D. in 2017, I am familiar with what our program looked like before the pandemic, and every year I feel lucky to be in a program where support for the students is cultivated in almost every way imaginable. Dr. Jason Washburn, the director of the clinical psychology programs at Feinberg, bends over backward to meet students’ unique training requests and provide collaborative opportunities. When the pandemic began, even though it was a very uncertain time, I was extremely confident that the faculty at Feinberg would do everything they could to support students. I have not been disappointed.

What do you do in your free time?

Run! In 2020 I ran about 2600 miles, and I am looking forward to shooting for somewhere around 3000 miles in 2021. When I'm not running, I like to FaceTime my twin sister, Orelia, a doctoral student in education at Harvard University. I am her biggest fan.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I would really love to stay in research. The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the need for mobile, accessible mental health care more than ever, and I cannot think of a better field or position to make an impact. I hope to continue conducting research either in an academic setting or in an industry that works to make it easier to monitor and self-manage mental health difficulties without frequent visits to the clinic. I believe the future of healthcare is already in our hands, pockets, and staple in our everyday lives — our phones! I hope to someday be in a position where I can help implement evidence-based smartphone interventions into clinical practice.