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Psychological Sciences Grad Group Provides Diverse Research Opportunities

February 27, 2013


Graduate students Kristynn Sullivan and Chris Fradkin took distinctly different routes to UC Merced.

Sullivan left northern Virginia for the University of California’s newest campus after completing a bachelor’s degree in psychology at University of Mary Washington. Fradkin built a successful career in Southern California before relocating to UC Merced.

Today, both are pursuing doctorates in the Psychological Sciences Graduate Group at the university. With 26 students and three specialty areas, the fast-growing Ph.D. program or graduate group is one of the largest on campus. Sullivan is pursuing quantitative psychology while Fradkin is studying health psychology.

Jan Wallander, professor of psychological sciences and chair of the graduate group, said the high-level program prepares students to become independent researchers and scientists. Students are matched with faculty mentors and also often work with each other.

Both Sullivan and Fradkin say they appreciate the faculty, research opportunities and atmosphere at UC Merced.

“I really liked the idea of coming to a small school that was in its growth state,” said Sullivan, who is working toward a Ph.D in quantitative psychology. “The individualized attention has been great.”

Sullivan considered universities across the country before choosing UC Merced. She liked the faculty and program — and the stark contrast between a new, cutting-edge campus and the more than 100-year-old university she attended in Virginia.

Quantitative psychology deals with finding the best research methodology or statistics to apply to a question or issue. Sullivan concentrates on statistical analyses for evidence-based practice and also is working on a model allowing for analysis of nonlinear trends and data.

Outside the program, Sullivan serves as president of the Graduate Student Association. Officers serve on campus committees and focus on the academic experience and other issues important to graduate students.

Sullivan aims to finish her doctorate in 2014 and perhaps pursue a research career, or combine teaching and research on a university campus.

Fradkin’s research centers on obesity risk in early adolescents and the factors — such as race and socioeconomic status —that might influence that risk.

Some findings may challenge the presumption that children in better-educated and higher-income families are at lower risk for obesity. The notion of the “social gradient” as applied to weight applies to some racial/ethnic groups, but not to all, Fradkin said.

He is working with data from Houston, Los Angeles and Birmingham, Ala., but hopes his findings will generalize to the larger population. In addition to socioeconomic status, there are a number of other contributing factors that need more study, he said.

Fradkin has been published in several peer-review journals and has given many presentations. For the second time, he’ll speak this summer in London at a conference on child and adolescent psychopathology.

After completing a doctorate in health psychology — by the end of 2013, he hopes — Fradkin plans to continue to perform research and teach.

UC Merced is the latest chapter the colorful life of Fradkin, a songwriter now in his 50s. Artists such as Fergie, the Plimsouls (“A Million Miles Away”) and British blues legend Alexis Korner have performed and recorded his songs.

He also won an Emmy for sound effects editing on television’s “The X Files.”

Fradkin returned to college in 2006, first enrolling in a Spanish class and then deciding to pursue an undergraduate degree. He started at Los Angeles Valley College before transferring to California State University, Northridge, where he earned a bachelor’s in psychology.

A doctorate was his next goal — along with a change of scenery. He applied to several graduate programs, and stopped in 2008 to check out Merced while driving to his daughter’s graduation in Reno.

He liked what he saw, including a used bookstore and a restaurant with a good lunch special. The warm nature of his new hometown is an ongoing bonus.

“That’s the norm here,” Fradkin said.

James Leonard

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