Spotlight on Alumni: Anselmian Jacki Kinsman earns Doctorate

By Dominic Bolton, ‘18image1

Jacki Kinsman, an Anselmian alumni and former psychology major, recently obtained her doctorate in School Psychology at William James College. She talked with us regarding her experiences and offered some advice to current psychology majors.

What were some of your favorite classes at the college and why?

My favorite classes at Saint Anselm College were definitely my psychology courses. My very favorite psychology classes were taught by Professor Charlene Bonner. Psychology and Law and Abnormal Psychology were by far the most interesting. I loved her style of teaching because she taught us like grown-ups- we got what we put into it and she showed the best videos! She also told us a lot of personalized work-related stories, which is actually a big part of the reason that I decided to go for my doctorate. I also really enjoyed all of the Criminal Justice classes- as I was a Criminal Justice minor. I took a class Social Justice with Professor Humphrey. It was such an interesting class and for an end of the year project we could literally do whatever we wanted. I chose to write letters to death row inmates and they wrote back; thus starting an end of the year journal project. I have always loved to get into people's minds and figure them out.

Did anything about Saint A's start you on your path to getting your doctorate?

Both Professor Bonner and Professor Finn were extremely influential in starting me on my path to get my doctorate. They were driven and loved their jobs, but most importantly they always believed in me. I knew that I wanted me to be the best that I could be and that included going as far as I could with my education. I was horrible with math and was failing my statistics class at one point. I remember setting up a meeting with Professor Finn and breaking down into tears because I just didn't think I could do it. He spent endless hours after class helping me understand the world of statistics and always reminded me that I COULD do it- and I did (just barely)! Professor Finn also told me that there was one thing that I would never ever regret and that would be getting an education. People can take your job away, but they can never take away your education. He was so right; despite my mountain of student loans, I have never, ever, regretted getting an education.

What was your senior thesis about?

My senior thesis experiment was The Overlap Between Superstitious Behaviors and Obsessive Compulsive Symptoms in College Athletes. I chose this topic because I personally suffer from anxiety and I was also a student athlete at Saint A's. I played softball and I had a lot of superstitious behaviors that mirrored obsessive compulsive symptoms. My findings revealed that a lot of student athletes, specifically athletes from Saint Anselm College suffer from similar superstitious thoughts and OCD-like symptoms.

How did Saint Anselm prepare you for the work you did post-graduation?

My education at Anselm College was HARD. Graduate school was by far easier than undergrad. I tell people every day that graduate school took a lot of my TIME, but I was doing something that I loved. I understood it. Undergrad was hard because I had to take a broad range of classes, some that interested me more than others. However, Saint Anselm instilled in me a lot of determination, a strong work ethic, and really phenomenal writing skills. Some of this stemmed from the fact that most colleges do not require their psychology majors to write a thesis, thus setting Saint Anselm College apart from other schools.

Are there any notable internship or volunteer experiences that helped you decide a specific area of Psychology to study?

I decided not to do an internship at Saint Anselm College because I spent a significant amount of time outside of class as a student athlete. However, I made sure that I got involved wherever I could. I volunteered through the Melia Center and I did a lot of work at the Youth Development Center in Manchester and Webster House, a safe haven for troubled children. Working with these troubled youth really helped me decide upon an area that I wanted to concentrate in. I decided pretty early on that I wanted to become a Child Psychologist, and more specifically do some work in schools. Since then I have branched out to also do some work in the field of neuropsychology, by conducting evaluations for children and families.

Do you have any advice for current Psychology Majors?

My advice would be very similar to Professor Finn’s. You will never regret getting an education. If you truly like psychology, stick with it! There are many jobs that people with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology go on to do.  If you truly love it, keep at it. For me, it is the most rewarding job in the world, and there is nothing else like it. If you have your heart set on becoming a psychologist, go for the gold- get that doctorate, I promise you, you will not regret it.

This last question isn't related to academics, but do you have any notable memories about the Election period that took place during your time at Saint A's? Recently the school hosted a Republican debate and the school was very busy with that.

I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I really tried to distance myself from politics, despite the fact that my best friend and four-year roommate Kaitlyn McClure '07 was VERY involved in it (at Saint Anselm College and now). I suppose my most notable memories stemmed from the work that she did. Kaitlyn's very own hard work and determination during the election period that took place during our time at Saint Anselm College got her to where she is now. A couple of years ago she was on Mitt Romney's campaign and worked on Capitol Hill in D.C. I suppose it ties to the overall theme of what I'm saying here- you can do absolutely anything with the right drive and determination- even work for a presidential candidate.

Psychology Students Compete in "Edible Brain" Competition

Students in Professor Flannery's Neuropsychological Assessment Course competed in an Edible Brain Competition this semester as part of their coursework.  Students worked in teams to identify a syndrome or concept in Neuropsychology and translate it into something we can enjoy eating, e.g., the brain’s neural circuits for Prosopagnosia vs. Capgras syndrome.  The students then researched the syndrome or concept and documented the process for creating their Edible Brains. Students were prepared to discuss their projects with classmates and judges from across the campus.

Innovative Addiction Study on the Hilltop

by Abigail Mark, '18

Tucked behind a heavy, white door in the Psychology Department at Saint Anselm College is a maze of hallways. Entering the first door, one is bombarded by the clanging sounds of machinery and the squeaking of rats which echo off the walls. Enthusiastic students dart in and out of small rooms, gloved hands gripping syringes and bottles of carefully measured solutions. Here, these students, along with Psychology professor Dr. Joseph Troisi, are using rats as test subjects in a series of experimental research related to drug addiction.

ratlab pic3Students’ eyes light up when asked about the time they are spending working in the lab. Patrick Conley, a senior Psychology major, says he is particularly interested in using his major for animal research. “Reading an article on this kind of thing is boring, but doing it in person is wicked cool. I think it’s awesome that we have this accessibility to the rats here.” Olivia Koporek, also a senior Psychology major, agrees with Patrick. She says, “Without Dr. Troisi's passion for the research and the Saint Anselm Psychology Department's generation of resources, I find it hard to believe I would have this opportunity at any other college. Many friends I've spoken to who attend other schools, large and small, are not aware of any similar opportunities.”

The rats experience counterbalanced, varied states of consciousness – neutral or under the influence of caffeine or nicotine. Under each condition, the rats undergo a form of operant conditioning in which they are reinforced with food pellets by pressing their nose to a lever in their chamber. The twist is this: some “nose touches” are rewarded by food; others are not. Professor Troisi explains that “for some animals, the drug state is used to indicate that their behavior in the operant chambers will be reinforced. For those same animals, the non-drug state is used to indicate that responding won’t be reinforced.” Rats are also tested on days where there are no pellet rewards under either condition. On these test days, a highratlab pic4er response – a larger number of “nose touches” – is found in rats who experienced the drug condition which was rewarded with a food pellet in the past. A lower response – a smaller number of “nose touches” – is found in rats who experienced the drug condition with no reward in the past. Because the rats experience reward – and lack thereof – in both the drug condition and the non-drug condition, their tendency to “nose touch” for a reward is related to whether they received a reward in the past rather than directly related to how the drug makes them feel. In this way, the tendency toward behavior due to the drug state alone and the tendency toward behavior due to experiencing reward are separated – the drug and the environment become two different factors entirely.

ratlab pic2As Professor Troisi notes, “Environmental cues interact with interoceptive cues to regulate behavior – it’s not one or the other. When a person engages in a behavior for taking a drug, they’ve learned a relationship between the emotional state that occurred before it, the behavior that occurred under that state and the reinforcing effect of the drug.” More simply put, focusing solely on extinguishing the behavior of taking the drug is insufficient. What Professor Troisi and his team of students have come to believe is necessary is  “extinguishing the behavior in the presence of those cues, but also in the presence of other environmental and internal cues that have no relationship with the drug.” At the same time, it is important to create new habits and behaviors which provide alternative types of reinforcement – rather than drug effects – when those environmental and internal cues are present.

ratlab pic1This multitude of valuable, innovative research has incredible translational importance in the arena of drug addiction and related psychological therapy. It is an unfortunate but true fact that drug addiction, in numerous forms, is a continuing problem in our country – even particularly in the city of Manchester. Noelle Michaud, a junior Psychology major, is a newer member to the student team of researchers. She says, poignantly, “A vast majority of people have experience with family or friends being affected by addiction. It is something that will always be relevant because addiction will always exist. This research is a huge contribution to better understand both the psychological and biological processes that come into play for those with an addiction- with the ultimate hope to form effective solutions to extinguish them.” As psychologists, the goal is to examine every element of the issue and target areas to focus on for decreasing its prevalence; this is exactly what Professor Troisi and his team of students have attempted to accomplish in their research. “It’s not just the environment, it’s not just the emotional state, it’s both,” he says. That means working with patients over long periods of time, in multiple contexts, in lots of different situations, and that’s probably the best way to treat drug addiction rather than to treat it just with drug replacement therapy. That’s why we’re studying it.”