Anne Kalomiris, a docotoral student in clinical psychology, is the first Miami University student to receive a Ruth L. Kirschstein Individual National Research Service Award (NRSA) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
According to NIH, the purpose of this prestigious fellowship is to “enable promising pre-doctoral students with potential to develop into productive, independent research scientists [and] to obtain mentored research training while conducting dissertation research.”
The dissertation research project Kalomiris proposed as part of her application examines whether young children’s temperaments and their mothers’ parenting styles affect their risk for developing anxiety. As part of this study, Kalomiris will analyze saliva samples and electroencephalogram (EEG) data from children about to enter kindergarten to search for neurological markers of anxiety risk.
The funding Kalomiris receives from the NIH will allow her to attend “spit camp” and receive other training. At spit camp, she will learn how to measure how much of the stress hormone cortisol is in the saliva samples she collects. She will also attend training focused on statistical analysis, and she’ll visit a mentor at Penn State who will help her better understand EEG methodology and teach her about functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Because Miami doesn’t have any fMRI equipment, Kalomiris would not have an opportunity to learn about this technique for measuring and mapping brain activity without access to outside training. “This fellowship is broadening what’s available to me and opening doors for what I can pursue in my future career,” she says.
In addition, because of the stipend she will receive from NIH, Kalomiris will not need to teach or do clinical work to support herself. “It protects my time,” she says. “I’m excited to be able to just focus on my research and on my training.”
Kalomiris’s study piggybacks on a longitudinal study conducted by associate professor of psychology Elizabeth Kiel, who is also Kalomiris’s research advisor. In her study, which began in 2011, Kiel brings children and their parents into the lab at annual intervals, beginning when the children are a year old.
This summer, Kalomiris will collect data from a cohort of children from Kiel’s study who will be entering kindergarten in the fall. This phase of the study will focus on examining how the children’s brains respond to making simple mistakes because this is relevant for anxiety risk. She will use data from when those same children were toddlers to understand how the interaction between the children’s temperament and the parenting they received in toddlerhood influences the way their brains function just before kindergarten.
Kalomiris expects to find that specific parenting behaviors may contribute to or protect against the development of neurological-markers of anxiety in children, particularly for those children who tended to react intensely to new things in toddlerhood. She says that identifying links between early parenting, temperament, and anxiety risk could help clinical psychologists customize treatment for their patients.
“If we find that only kids with certain temperaments are really susceptible to certain parenting behaviors,” Kalomiris says, “then we can target parental behavior interventions to the families that are going to be most benefitted.”
But Kalomiris’s fellowship is about more than laying the groundwork for a single intervention. Unlike with most NIH grants, the Kirschstein-NRSA supports an individual, rather than a project. NIH has funded Kalomiris, not because they think she has one good idea, but because they think she has the potential for many more. It’s a huge vote of confidence for any young researcher, but Kalomiris has taken it in stride and is already thinking about giving back.
“I’m still surprised and honored I was even given the opportunity,” she says. “I’m hoping someday I will get to mentor graduate or undergraduate students myself, and can help them get excited about research.” That’s just one more way NIH will see a return on its investment in Anne Kalomiris.
Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director of Research Communications, Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship, Miami University.