Meet Boaz Saffer, a clinical psychology PhD student in UBC’s Department of Psychology. Boaz researches the ‘neurocognitive mechanisms that underlie suicide ideation and suicide attempts’ under the supervision of Dr. E. David Klonksy in the Personality, Emotion, and Behaviour Lab (PEBL).
In this Q and A, he shares his research, why he chose the clinical psychology program, and what prepared him for graduate studies at UBC.
Can you describe your research?
My research aims to improve the accuracy of suicide risk assessments by investigating the neuropsychological abilities underlying suicidal behaviour. Neuropsychological abilities (such as attention, memory, and executive functions) have been shown to strongly mediate the relationship between thoughts and behaviours, and are therefore uniquely positioned to explain the progression from suicidal thoughts to suicidal acts. My research uses a variety of methods (self-report measures, clinical interviews, and neuropsychological tests) to assess whether damage to higher-order neuropsychological abilities (i.e. executive functions) increases the risk of acting on suicidal thoughts. I am also interested in understanding the relationship of related constructs (such as impulsivity and decision making) as well as related behaviours (such as substance use) to both executive functions and to predicting suicide attempts.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?
The clinical psychology program focuses on developing students’ research and clinical abilities. Students in the clinical program are therefore in a unique position to apply research findings to improve psychological treatments as well as refine their research questions based on first-hand clinical experience. I find integrating research findings with clinical experience to be incredibly rewarding, and greatly look forward to continue synthesizing these sources of information throughout my graduate education.
What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?
There have been several wonderful surprises. Vancouver is picturesque, clean, and the transit system is extremely easy to use. The city also has hundreds of fantastic restaurants serving food from almost every culture. Studying at UBC allows you to enjoy one of the largest and most beautiful campuses in North America. There is very little not to like.
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
I have a longstanding interest in mental health. Completing an undergraduate degree in psychology at UBC deepened my understanding of mental health conditions and provided me with the opportunity to conduct independent research in several psychology laboratories. I found research incredibly stimulating and, after coordinating medical and psychological research for three years across four multi-disciplinary healthcare centres, decided to further develop my research abilities by pursuing a graduate education.
Why did you decide to study at UBC?
I applied to UBC primarily to work with my research supervisor, Dr. E. David Klonsky. Dr. Klonsky is one of the preeminent suicide researchers worldwide and an outstanding research supervisor. The psychology department’s international research reputation and first-rate clinical training program also guaranteed that studying at UBC would provide me with a world-class graduate education. Returning to UBC for graduate school was an easy decision to make.
What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?
The clinical psychology program’s strong research focus was central to my decision to attend UBC. Students in the clinical program complete advanced training in statistics, research design and methodology, and defend a rigorous masters and doctoral thesis. Obtaining such a comprehensive research education is essential to developing one’s research abilities and serves as the foundation upon which clinical psychologists evaluate and implement psychological interventions.
What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?
Securing employment – whether as an academic researcher or as a clinical psychologist.
How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?
The clinical program provides students with a comprehensive research education and first-rate clinical training. Students in the program also complete several in-house and external practica placements designed to refine their clinical skills and improve their chances of securing accredited internship placements. However, despite the program’s efforts, some students struggle with obtaining full-time employment after graduation. Broader and more extensive changes to structures mostly outside the university are therefore required to improve students’ employment prospects.
What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?
Working in five psychology research laboratories during my undergraduate training provided me with a broad and comprehensive introduction to research. These experiences were important in confirming my interest in pursuing further research training. Working for three years in a research setting after graduating allowed me to apply and refine these research abilities as well as develop an independent work ethic, which greatly helped me prepare for many of the exciting challenges presented by the graduate program.
What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?
Run, read, and spend time with friends and family.
What advice do you have for new graduate students?
Lose your perfectionistic tendencies. This may sound counter-intuitive but graduate school is intense and obsessing over small details will likely take time away from other projects and add unnecessary stress. Most things will also be new and challenging to master, so don’t expect to produce flawless work. You’re likely to learn more from your mistakes than your successes.
This post was originally featured on the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies website.
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