Div. 37 Interview

Interview with Stephanie Block, PhD

Assistant professor in the department of psychology at University of Massachusetts Lowell and former recipient of the section's dissertation award, Stephanie Block, PhD, offers her advice to graduate students in child maltreatment research.

By Michelle Brown, MA

Stephanie Block, PhDWe are excited to follow up with section award winner Stephanie Block, PhD. She was awarded the section dissertation award in 2006 for her dissertation examining different types of false memory in sexually abused and nonabused adolescents and adults, and investigating the effects of trauma and memory. Block earned her PhD in developmental psychology from University of California, Davis in 2008 where she worked with Gail Goodman, PhD. She then went on to complete a three-year postdoctoral fellowship, funded by an NIH T32 at the Center for Developmental Science and the Injury Prevention Research Center, both at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. During her postdoc, she primarily worked with pediatrician Desmond Runyan, MD. Block is currently working as a tenure-track assistant professor in the department of psychology at University of Massachusetts Lowell. She is also the current secretary for the Section on Child Maltreatment and previously served as the program chair for APA Div. 37.

During her graduate career, Block focused her research on children's memory for trauma and their experiences in the legal system. Her dissertation incorporated memory research that examines people's susceptibility to false memory for word lists by counting the number of false reports made. Through a series of experiments, she created her own Desse-Roediger-McDermott (DRM) paradigm – an oral presentation of a list of related words to study false memory – that was specific to child sexual abuse (CSA). The purpose of her dissertation was to see if people perform different on CSA-specific lists vs. neutral lists. For this study, she recruited adolescents and adults with and without histories of CSA. Her findings indicated that the group of adolescent CSA survivors with high post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptomatology had higher rates of false memory compared to both nonabused controls with high PTSD symptomatology and the CSA survivor group with low PTSD symptomatology.

Block describes her current position as an assistant professor as 40 percent research, 40 percent teaching and 20 percent service. She teaches undergraduate- and graduate-level courses in child maltreatment, psychology and law, and an honors introductory psychology course. She will also be taking on her first doctoral students this year for a newly created PhD program in applied psychology and prevention science. Block continues to conduct research on child maltreatment, and because of her work she has the opportunity to occasionally help with the legal piece of CSA by disseminating the latest findings on survivors to attorneys.

She was also recently awarded her first large federal grant working with district attorneys in Massachusetts looking at 500 cases of CSA survivors to examine the types of evidence, demographic factors and family factors that determine who gets charged and prosecuted and why - considering that very few CSA cases make it to trial.

In addition to research, teaching, and advising students, the service aspect of Block's position includes starting a club called the NAVIGATORS (alongside colleague Doreen Arcus, PhD) at her institution for young adults who have aged out of the foster care system. This club helps former foster youth navigate the college system. Through this club, Block and her collaborators were able to open up a food pantry on campus and change housing policies to have 12-month housing options for students who do not have a place to go during breaks. They have also established a system for these students to identify faculty who are willing to mentor and be supportive of them. She cites the creation of this club as one of the things she is most proud of.

Given her impressive work in the field of child maltreatment and ongoing research, teaching, and service efforts, we asked Block what advice she would give to graduate students doing research in child maltreatment. Her response was to simply do it. She states that this is such an important field and she has been very fortunate and lucky to have such amazing, brilliant and supportive mentors. The best advice she could give is to surround yourself with good strong mentors. Further, Block feels that in order to really do applied, meaningful work, we have to collaborate with communities, practitioners and people who are not just academic psychologists. An interdisciplinary approach with pediatricians, lawyers, those in public health and others is essential for change, despite the challenges associated with it.

Thank you, Stephanie Block, for the sound advice and for your contribution to the field of child maltreatment.