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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Student Q&A: Livia Guadagnoli, Clinical Psychology PhD Program

Livia Guadagnoli

Livia Guadagnoli, a third-year student in the Clinical Psychology PhD Program, studies the role of psychological processes in the onset and maintenance of gastrointestinal disorders in the laboratory of Laurie Keefer, PhD, adjunct associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences


What is your hometown?

My hometown is in southern Connecticut in a town called Trumbull. I loved growing up in Connecticut. It’s really beautiful, has great food and is only about an hour and a half outside of New York City. I grew up eating “New Haven-style” pizza, so moving to Chicago and trying deep dish was quite the experience for me. I enjoy a slice of deep dish every now and then, but Pepe’s white clam pizza will always be my favorite!

What are your research interests?

Broadly speaking, my research interests are in the field of psychogastroenterology, which focuses on the role of psychological processes in the onset and maintenance of gastrointestinal disorders and application of brain-gut psychotherapies to reduce symptom burden. Specifically, I’m interested in psychophysiology and the impact of symptom perception on autonomic nervous system processes. My line of research is primarily in individuals with esophageal disorders and evaluating the relationship between esophageal hypervigilance, or the increased awareness of esophageal sensations, and the body’s physiological response. Hypervigilant individuals can develop fear towards even benign esophageal sensations, which activates the body’s threat system, exacerbates symptom perception and perpetuates this fear. I’m hoping to develop ways to intervene and break this cycle!

What exciting projects are you working on?

I am getting ready to propose my dissertation, which is focused on characterizing esophageal hypervigilance in patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease. I’m interested in the relationship between esophageal hypervigilance and heart rate variability, as well as other psychological factors, such as illness acceptance and resilience, that may impact hypervigilance.  

The Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology was recently awarded a program project grant that includes three R01s — one of which is focused on evaluating the role of psychological factors in esophageal motility disorders. In addition to my dissertation, my primary focus in the next year will be to work on this project. I helped write the psychophysiological portion, so I’m really excited to be able to contribute to something that I had a role in developing.

What attracted you to the PhD program?

I love the interdisciplinary nature of the Clinical Psychology PhD Program. I knew I wanted to specialize in health psychology when I was applying to graduate programs, so the fact that our program was housed within a medical setting was ideal. My research lab, which is a psychology lab, is in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. I have the opportunity to interact with gastroenterologists, basic scientists and GI psychologists who are all doing GI-related research. Clinically, it’s also such a unique experience — I’m able to see a GI patient for psychotherapy down the hall from their gastroenterologist!

What has been your best experience at Feinberg?

Spending time with my cohort has created relationships and memories I will have forever. There’s seven of us, and we are very close. They are some of the most intelligent, driven and passionate women I’ve ever met! As the years progress, schedules have gotten busier, and it’s harder to see each other. However, we make it a point to set up happy hours or fun events to go to together. I feel so lucky to be able to go through grad school with their support, and I look forward to the future with them as my colleagues.

How would you describe the faculty at Feinberg?

The faculty treat you like junior faculty, so they definitely challenge you and have high expectations, but are always there to help. In my experience, the faculty are always willing to collaborate or provide guidance on an area, even if they don’t work directly with you. I reached out to a faculty member in a different department who had similar interests as me. He gave me advice on my dissertation, and now he’s on my dissertation committee!

What do you do in your free time?

I love to explore Chicago. I’ve been here three years and feel like I’ve only experienced a fraction of what there is to do here. I love how there are always shows, restaurants, neighborhoods and other activities to explore, especially in the summer.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I plan to complete a postdoctoral fellowship and continue to pursue a career as a GI psychologist. I would love to be in an academic medical setting where I can work as a scientist-practitioner.

Connect with Livia on LinkedIn.