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Hello! My name is Richie Gray, and I am a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill where I am majoring in psychology (B.S.) and minoring in neuroscience and history. I am from a small town called Belmont, North Carolina, which is just twenty minutes away from Charlotte! Before college, I volunteered with many non-profits, but one has always been close to my heart as my time with them transformed my life and sent me on my life’s trajectory to help others. Holy Angels serves those with severe developmental and physical disabilities by providing a loving home and innovative services to their residents. I became involved with this organization early in life as my brother, Stone, lived there. Unfortunately, he passed away at the age of 2, but I was able to keep his memory alive with my volunteer work. I spent countless hours volunteering with residents, writing grants, and fundraising, but my most rewarding experience was when I worked as a job coach for one of Holy Angel’s businesses, Cherubs Cafe. There I would work with individuals with neurodevelopmental disabilities, teaching them to work in a professional environment while fostering a sense of independence within each employee. These initial experiences are what sparked my interest in the field of psychology and neuroscience as these are the studies that focus on what shapes us to be who we are.

 

As a job coach, I was ecstatic to be given this opportunity, but also hesitant as I did not feel equipped for the job. “What if I wasn’t a good teacher?” When the first day arrived and I began to instruct the employees, I quickly learned that I was also the pupil. As I supervised a supported employee, Thomas, cutting broccoli, I noticed he became paralyzed by anxiety. I was able to get him to share his fear that he felt like he wasn’t doing a good job. I joked with him that I felt the same way about my job and reassured him that he was doing great and if he wanted, I could help. He replied, “No, thank you! I just needed some encouragement!” There were many more experiences like this that taught me if you are empathetic, communicative, and patient with someone, then they can learn anything – even with myself. I fostered an environment built on these principles at work where I succeeded for over a year as a job coach, even earning the award of “Rising Star.” I feel this experience will translate into my years of pursuing a Ph.D. as well – acknowledging fears, learning from others, and knowing we all bring “something to the table” no matter our backgrounds, abilities, or challenges.

 

I always found research to be extremely fascinating, as these projects are undertaken to further enhance our knowledge and may even lead to possible treatments being developed. I knew I wanted to get involved, so I applied my sophomore year to a dozen different labs and luckily heard back! My first research experience at UNC was when I worked for Fitting Lab as a research assistant, which studied the effects of phytocannabinoids on the behavior of mice diagnosed with neurodegenerative diseases. I conducted behavioral coding for the lab, noting if any mice performed a behavior called novel-object recognition. This initial experience further piqued my interest in the field of research; however, it showed me that I wanted to move away from the study of mice and focus more on studying the psychology of humans.

 

I applied for other research positions and starting my junior year I was hired to be a research assistant for the DEPENd lab. I work on two studies within the lab, focused on researching deficits exhibited by those diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) in attentional and decision-making processes. I have learned several skills while working in this lab, from creating research protocols to running research sessions independently! At first, it was quite difficult learning the ins and outs of how research is conducted, but over time, I feel I have obtained at least a decent grasp on how it all works. My experiences in DEPENd lab have shown me how psychology and neuroscience intersect when trying to understand how psychopathologies manifest within an individual and how they subsequently affect their behavior. These experiences inspired me to pursue a career in clinical psychology. This motivated me to apply for the Gil Internship Program, as I saw it as a great way to get first-hand experience within this area and luckily, I was accepted.

 

As a Gil Intern, I work for the UNC Department of Psychology and Neuroscience Community Clinic. The clinic offers high-quality and affordable psychological services to the community and campus. Furthermore, the clinic provides training to graduate students who are studying to become clinical psychologists themselves. My mentor is Dr. Jennifer Youngstrom, who is the co-director of the clinic and oversees the internal operations of the clinic. I have only been working at the clinic for about a month and it has been a rewarding experience. My responsibilities as a Gil intern include checking voicemails and documenting potential client information, working the front desk where I provide childcare for therapy sessions, and tracking the dates and length of attended appointments. Furthermore, I attend clinic meetings, where I sit in and see how the clinic operates, such as assigning clients to graduate students and scheduling training sessions for the students. My favorite part of being an intern at the clinic is the ability to organize and update psychological resources for therapists to use. I am currently going through files containing therapy video clips, where I provide a brief description of what is occurring and organize the clip corresponding to what type of therapeutic techniques are being utilized. Further down the road, Dr. Youngstrom has tasked me with updating and formatting a PDF, which provides information regarding disorder-related recommended sources. The PDF will serve as a hub for information about specific psychopathologies that future graduate students can use and study. This has been an amazing experience so far as I have been able to learn more about the graduate school process and I am excited to do more work for the clinic in the months to come!

 

A special thank you to Dr. Youngstrom and Yoyo, as they have provided me with so much guidance and support. Furthermore, I would like to thank Dr. Buzinski and Emily for providing me with this opportunity. I can’t wait to see what the following months have in store!

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One Response to “From Chopping Broccoli to Organizing and Updating Psychological Resources…A Dream Fulfilled at the UNC Community Clinic – with Richie Gray”

  1. Eleanor Tolley

    Awesome experiences and ideas. Good luck with this and all future endeavors. I’m so encouraged and proud that you are working in this field, and the way you and Liz have professions that intersect!

    Reply

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