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Teaching Adolesence

Emerging Scholar Spotlight: Julie Cristello

October 2017

Julie Cristello is a doctoral student in the Clinical Science Program in Child and Adolescent Psychology at Florida International University. Under the mentorship of Dr. Elisa Trucco, she is working to develop a better understanding of the role that environmental contexts and social networks have on adolescent substance use. As part of Dr. Trucco’s Research on Adolescent and Child Health (ReACH) lab, she is working on a project funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) which examines social, biological, and individual etiological factors of adolescent substance use, as well as a project evaluating risk and protective factors that lead to electronic nicotine delivery systems use in youth.

As an undergraduate student at Saint Anselm College, Julie’s academic background in both psychology and chemistry provided a strong foundation on which to pursue substance use research. Under the direction of Dr. Lisa Bonner and Dr. Joseph Troisi, she received grant funding from the New Hampshire IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (NH-INBRE) to foster a collaboration between the departments. Through this grant, she conducted a study to synthesize and test the quaternary form of mecamylamine. At the same time, she began volunteering as a youth mentor at the Drug and Alcohol Unit in the John H. Sununu Youth Services Center. It was during this experience that she began to realize how various environmental contexts can influence behavior.

After graduating in 2012, Julie began working as a Research Coordinator for Dr. John Kelly at the Recovery Research Institute/Center for Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). As a Research Coordinator, she managed a project funded by NIAAA designed to develop a twelve-step facilitation (TSF) manual for adolescents and young adults with substance use disorders. The primary aim of the project was to test whether this novel TSF intervention improved outcomes and increased twelve-step participation compared to an existing evidence-based treatment. During her time at MGH, she was responsible for recruiting, enrolling and assessing participants from area high schools, the juvenile justice system, inpatient and outpatient treatment programs, addiction recovery community centers, and community-based support groups such as the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance and the Learn to Cope organization. These experiences have provided her with a great appreciation for community-based participatory research, requiring careful attendance to many of the challenges faced in its implementation.

Julie has also had several opportunities to complete publications and present her own independent research. As such, she has experience and training in contributing to scientific manuscripts and presenting results at national conferences. In addition to working as a Research Coordinator, she was the Grant Administrator for Dr. Kelly’s lab, and responsible for the submission and ongoing management of all NIH awards. She also volunteered as an Institutional Review Board (IRB) Committee Member at MGH, providing her with substantial knowledge on conducting and monitoring research studies, as well as the protection of the rights and welfare of human subjects. She currently volunteers as a student representative for the American Psychological Association’s Division 50 Society of Addiction Psychology.

Throughout her experiences, Julie often observed adolescents and young adults attributing their substance use to normative youth behavior, citing alcohol and drug use as a means to avoid rejection by substance-using peers, to have something to do after-school, or to gain peer approval or self-affirmation as measured by “likes” on social media. Her program of research will focus on the influence that environmental contexts and social networks (both online and face-to-face) have on alcohol and drug use among adolescents. The long-term goal of this work is to inform community-based prevention programs that will improve substance use outcomes and promote positive youth development.

Julie’s advice for those who are pursuing graduate school is to follow what you’re passionate about, and think creatively about questions and research topics that you’re interested in. It’s also important to network and familiarize yourself with research being done in the field. Additionally, collaborations are crucial in promoting advancements in our understanding and treatment of adolescent substance use.



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