Veronica Cole, Ph.D. is a graduate of our Quantitative Psychology program in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience. She is currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Center of Developmental Science at UNC Chapel Hill and, in July, Veronica will start as an Assistant Professor in Wake Forest’s Department of Psychology.

In her current role, Veronica applies quantitative methods to help elucidate pathways to substance use disorders in adolescents. Her research focuses on using novel methods to measure some of the more subtle precursors to developing substance use problems later on. In the fall, Veronica will bring this focus and research to Wake Forest, where she will also be teaching methods and developmental courses as an Assistant Professor.

Her path to becoming an Assistant Professor started here at Carolina. “The training I received from UNC, both in quantitative methods and the craft of research more broadly, has been invaluable,” Veronica shares. “First and foremost, my training helped me to develop a firm understanding of the quantitative knowledge I need to be successful in applying, assessing, and developing statistical models for behavior. I also got great training in practical skills that form the toolkit of any scientist – such as applying for grants and navigating the peer review process. Finally, the chance to work with faculty, such as Dan Bauer and Patrick Curran, who are experts in both quantitative and substantive fields, helped me to develop a strong sense of where the interesting problems are in social science research. This was particularly important for me because, while some people’s interests fit neatly into one area, mine are at the intersection of quantitative methods and developmental psychopathology. Without the support and guidance I got from my mentors, I would not have been able to integrate these two interests successfully.”

Choosing a graduate school can be challenging, but Veronica valued the relationships between faculty mentors and their graduate students here at UNC. She shares, “The people struck me right away as colleagues I really wanted to work with. I immediately noticed that students and faculty worked together to solve interesting problems, rather than a more didactic model in which faculty set the agenda for each project and students fall in line. Frankly, there are probably other things I should have considered in making my decision. For instance, I should have chosen UNC based on the fact that is offers formal training in quantitative methods you can’t find in almost any other graduate program. I also probably should have noticed the extraordinary success rate of UNC faculty and students at obtaining external funding from both NIH and NSF – by my count, I was one of 3 recipients of NRSA fellowships from NIH in Quant just in the time I was there, and we had students successfully compete for NSF fellowships as well. Fortunately, if I had based my choice of a graduate school on these other metrics rather than choosing the place with the best prospective colleagues, I would have wound up at UNC anyway!”

Beyond choosing the right graduate school, prospective doctoral students need a strong sense of purpose to be successful in completing a Ph.D. program. Veronica advises, “A Ph.D. takes a long time to complete! If you are choosing to spend five to six years pushing yourself to learn new theories and skills, you will necessarily have some frustrating days. A strong sense of intrinsic motivation is key. If you have a strong sense of purpose around the problem you are working on – and you are part of a scientific community that you really enjoy – that really helps.”

As Veronica transitions from a Postdoctoral Fellow to an Assistant Professor, she will continue her important work on developmental psychopathology among adolescents. Her research examines self-reported data and novel data sources, such as text messages and social network data, to understand the affective and social experiences of adolescents. In addition to further pursuing her research at Wake Forest, Veronica will be teaching an intermediate-level Developmental Psychology course this Fall. Our graduate students often receive teaching mentorship during their time at Carolina, and Veronica led a recitation section for the graduate introductory statistics course. “Teaching the recitation section was one of my favorite responsibilities at UNC,” shares Veronica. “I enjoy watching people develop confidence around their mastery of difficult subject matter.”

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