Ben Buck, Ph.D. is a graduate of our Clinical Psychology program in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience. He is currently an Acting Instructor at the Behavioral Research in Technology and Engineering (BRiTE) Center in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington.
At BRiTE, Ben currently leads a program of research on using mobile health (i.e. technology installed on smartphones) to enhance the assessment and treatment of schizophrenia-spectrum disorders and other related phenomena. Most recently, Ben has focused specifically on developing digital interventions that reduce the duration of untreated psychosis (DUP) by providing support and information to young adults at risk for psychosis and their caregivers. He also performs clinical work in the Outpatient Psychiatry Clinic at University of Washington Medical Center. Of his mHealth work, some of the technologies are designed for assessment, including symptoms and other experiences in real-time, and other technologies are utilized for treatment, such as providing a training sequence for mHealth clinicians in community mental health centers. Ben says, “My emerging primary focus is developing mobile technology that connects people with early psychosis to treatment, both by engaging them directly and by engaging their caregivers. There’s a lot going on, but it’s really fun work.”
His graduate training at UNC helped him prepare for his current position and his multi-faceted roles at UW. Ben shares, “The clinical program at UNC provides a super rare combination of strong clinical and research training. It’s perceived by some that an emphasis on high-quality clinical training presents a trade-off in training in the quality of research training and vice versa. In my experience at Carolina, this was not the case. I thought both of those sides of my training were excellent. I’m really grateful for that. I think another big way that UNC helped prepare me for the work that I’m doing now is by helping me grow initiative to lead a research program rather than just contribute to an existing one. Clinical research can be very individual and entrepreneurial. It requires plenty of skill and commitment but also confidence to take ownership of something and run with it. Sort of paradoxically, I think it requires a supportive collective environment to allow individuals to feel the confidence required to just try things out. I knew that I had mentors who believed in me who would take the time to pick me up if and when I struggled. That really helped me grow into an independent researcher.”
Ben decided to pursue his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology because he wanted the opportunity to practice psychotherapy and do research. He says, “I loved that this degree allowed me to do both. I had previously worked with researchers at the VA in Indianapolis – where I’m from – and had really meaningful work experiences supporting research on schizophrenia. I chose UNC because I was fascinated by David Penn’s (my mentor’s) work in that area and I loved the community in the lab and the program broadly. At the time, I was also an undergraduate RA hoping to stay as a graduate student, so I had the advantage of applying ‘from the inside’ so-to-speak. I already knew as an applicant what it was like to be a UNC clinical student and a member of David’s lab.”
Carolina was home to Ben and he loved many things about his time here, including his friends, his mentor David Penn, the work, Chapel Hill, Tar Heels basketball, Carrburritos, and more! As a graduate student, Ben says, “First, I loved being a part of a community of people who could be both so smart and mission-driven about their work while also being just humble, laid-back, and fun to be around. I think of our Friday lab meetings at the Penn Lab and how much I looked forward to them – both because it was a fun opportunity to catch up with friends at the end of the week, and also because we spent time discussing things – presentations, journal clubs, practice dissertations – that I just found fascinating. Second, I really enjoyed clinical supervision. Taking time to think deeply about a client and the psychotherapy process is just naturally an enriching and growth-promoting exercise. And our faculty is full of people who think hard about training and supervision.”
Prospective doctoral students can choose from six programs in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, including Behavioral and Integrative Neuroscience, Clinical Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Quantitative Psychology, and Social Psychology – however, students and faculty overlap in their research interests and collaborate often! Ben shares that, during his experience at UNC, he was able to build great relationships with faculty and graduate students in other programs than his home program of Clinical Psychology. He says, “I enrolled in a cognitive psychology course with Peter Gordon – mostly to fulfill an APA breadth requirement – but I learned a lot from the course, and Dr. Gordon helped me draft a manuscript in my area using linguistic analysis methods he taught. Later, I took Keith Payne’s social cognition course, which – in addition to being one of the most interesting and engaging classes I’ve ever taken – led to a meaningful collaboration with faculty and students in the social psych program, including Keith Payne and Kurt Gray – who both ended up being on my dissertation committee – as well as Dr. Gray’s student Neil Hester. Each of these collaborations really expanded my thinking and led to multiple publications using methods I learned from them.”
If you are a student considering a Ph.D. or are currently pursuing a Ph.D., Ben advises: “Enjoy being a student! Just about all of your experiences as a grad student have been designed to be as approachable, engaging and instructive as possible. When you’re in it – and worried about managing a client caseload, preparing your proposals, trying to get published, and so on – it can be easy to forget that. As a faculty member now I have a new appreciation for all the thoughtful work that goes in to building a curriculum and set of training experiences. All that stuff is designed for the students, and that’s a great privilege. So speak up in class discussions, take on challenging cases, do a practicum or two that are out of your area, build collaborations with other folks in the department. Faculty members have thought hard about how to scaffold your ability to put yourself out there and grow.”
Our Meet an Alum series spotlights alumni from our six doctoral programs in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, including Behavioral & Integrative Neuroscience, Clinical Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Quantitative Psychology, and Social Psychology.
Graduates from our Department are part of an extraordinary roster of alumni. We’re proud of our alumni and their accomplishments as knowledgeable leaders in their fields. Become inspired by the possibilities and meet more of our alumni online!