Emerging Scholar Spotlight: Amanda Griffin

March 2017

Amanda Griffin is a doctoral candidate in Human Development and Family Studies at the Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) under the supervision of Dr. H. Harrington Cleveland. She is passionate about research that uses innovative designs, such as genetically informed, longitudinal, ecological momentary assessments (EMA), to answer nuanced questions that probe person-by-context transactions. She has investigated transactional processes by examining (1) genetic influences on adolescent peer relationships, and (2) influences of individual differences on the effects of adverse environmental experiences – from child maltreatment to homelessness – on adolescent development. Her work examines transactional processes by investigating the moderating and mediating effects of individual characteristics on environmental experiences (i.e., specific genes, peers, and adversity).

As an undergraduate psychology major at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, she exemplified the University motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), by volunteering as phone support for the Raft Crisis Hotline and as an Emergency Advocate for the Women’s Resource Center. Although she thought her future was going to be dedicated to counseling and emergency services, as an undergraduate researcher her interest in the adolescent development was fostered by Dr. Caitlin Faas and resulted in her applying to and pursing a PhD in Human Development and Family Studies.

At Penn State, Amanda was selected to be a NIDA Prevention and Methodology Pre-Doctoral Fellow in the Prevention Research and Methodology Center. Her training and coursework transformed her into a rigorous and innovative scientist. She has received training in multiple genetically informed designs to examine genetic influences on adolescent peer relationships. She has used molecular genetic candidate gene-by-environment interactions to examine the moderating effects of specific genes on the association between peer relationships and later adolescent alcohol use. Her work has demonstrated that specific genes play a role in adolescent peer relationships through the process of socialization and selection. She has used a twin and an adoption design to disentangle genetic and environmental influences on peer relationships and the skills needed to form peer relationships, such as effortful control and social competence.

In the past 2 years, she has expanded her program of research to include person-by-context transactions that examine individual differences in the effects of adverse experiences on adolescent development. While collaborating with Dr. Chad Shenk – an expert in child maltreatment – she helped identify etiological pathways to child maltreatment, as well as best practices for researchers, practitioners, and public policymakers conducting research on maltreated children. With the assistance of Dr. Cleveland, an expert in using EMA designs with high-risk populations, she collected daily dairy data via smart phones from homeless adolescents to investigate individual differences in how youth negotiate the effects of risk and protective factors. This is the first study to examine the daily lives of homeless adolescents and demonstrated that there are unique effects of daily peer and teacher interactions on daily academic achievement and wellbeing.

During her time as a doctoral student, attending lectures by visiting scholars, job talks, and graduate student lunches have been extremely influential on her professional development. These experiences provided opportunities for applied learning and guidance in how to present research, but this is also where she received invaluable advice on professional development and an opportunity to network in a more intimate setting. It is important to remember, however, that the endless opportunities to meet with visiting scholars needs to be balanced with protecting your time to do research and setting realistic goals for how much can be accomplished in a day, week, or month.

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