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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Research

Student Q&A: Sarah Bassett, MA, Health Sciences Integrated PhD Program

Sarah Bassett, MA

Sarah Bassett, MA, a third-year student in the Health Sciences Integrated PhD Program, studies how emotions and coping impact health and disease outcomes in the laboratory of Judith Moskowitz, PhD, professor of Medical Social Sciences. 

Where is your hometown? 

I grew up in a little town called Hays, Kansas, about halfway between Kansas City and Denver. However, my family is from Boston and I lived there after completing college at the University of Kansas. 

Coincidentally, my parents moved back to the Northeast at the same time that I moved to Massachusetts. I definitely consider Boston to be my home base, and I am happy to have wonderful friends and family members there.

What are your research interests? 

I’m interested in how emotions and coping impact health and disease outcomes. There are both direct and indirect pathways through which this occurs. For example, our emotions can directly impact our stress hormone levels, resulting in immune system changes. 

Indirectly, emotions can impact health behaviors, which subsequently impact health outcomes. For example, if you feel happy, you might be more likely to get out and take a walk, which would impact your energy output and help you maintain a healthy BMI.

What exciting projects are you working on? 

I’m currently finishing up two papers. One looks at a pilot study of a positive emotion intervention for people living with co-morbid HIV and depression. 

The other is a systematic review of the relationship between positive emotion and medication adherence. The second paper was for a qualifying exam that I did for my program, and it feels good that this milestone has a product that will be useful for my career.

What attracted you to the PhD program?  

The quality of the education and opportunities I would be able to take advantage of and the people that I would be working with were both crucial components of a PhD program for me. It was not difficult to see that the quality of education I would obtain through the Health Sciences Integrated PhD Program would be stellar.

Equally important, and much more nuanced, I found the students in the Health Sciences Integrated PhD Program to be truly inspiring. I knew that I wanted to be around them and be pushed to grow alongside them. 

What has been your best experience at Feinberg? 

My best experience at Feinberg has been seeing how much my research skills have improved over time. I believe this growth has been driven by the T32 training grant that I’m on. The grant is a collaboration between the University of Chicago and Northwestern.

Trainees from both campuses meet together monthly and give work-in-progress talks or job talks. Seeing the questions that other people ask and how they investigate the answers has broadened my thinking and creativity.

How would you describe the faculty at Feinberg? 

The faculty at Feinberg are kind and curious scientists. They treat doctoral students as junior colleagues. This creates an atmosphere of professionalism and collegiality that makes me feel comfortable speaking up and sharing my ideas, even as an investigator-in-training. 

What do you do in your free time? 

In my free time, I enjoy running along the lakefront, experimenting with gluten-free baking and doing Kripalu yoga. I also really enjoy exploring the city with great friends. 

What are your plans for after graduation? 

I’m looking into both private sector positions as well as post-doctoral positions. I want to use my knowledge and skills to help people solve difficult, high-impact problems, and I’m so happy that I’m obtaining the ability to do so.