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Lisa Velkoff

Lisa Velkoff, a graduate student in the clinical psychology program at Miami University, is the recipient of the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship award for her research on the relationship between eating disorders and suicide.“We know that a lot of people who have eating disorders are at high risk for suicide as well as non-suicidal self-injury, and I hope that my research can help to understand those behaviors so we can reduce suffering and save lives” she said.

She completed her undergraduate studies at Northwestern University, where she worked in research labs studying how people with depression or anxiety respond to different forms of stress. In this research, Velkoff learned about how thoughts, emotions, and behavior are connected, and developed a love for clinical research.

Velkoff approaches her work by viewing disordered eating, non-suicidal self-injury, and suicidal behavior as multiple forms of self-injurious behavior, based on the fact that people who engage in one of these forms of self-harm are likely to have another as well.“In a clinical setting, we need to understand when someone is at immediate risk for self-harm, but unfortunately we currently know very little that can help us to predict that. My research is focused on understanding what causes self-injurious behavior, especially in the short term, so that we can prevent it,” Velkoff said.

Velkoff, who is advised by Dr. April Smith, was awarded the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in her second year. The fellowship provides funding for promising graduate students conducting research in STEM fields.“The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship provides a stipend for me so I can focus my time in graduate school on developing research projects and learning new skills to become a better scientist,” she said.

Ms. Velkoff’s research incorporates several different methods, including self-report questionnaires, behavioral tasks such as measuring pain tolerance, and psychophysiological measures such as heart rate and blood pressure.“I've increasingly focused my research on identifying what are those things that change in a short period of time like hours or minutes before somebody does something to hurt themselves,” she said. She hopes that by using multiple methods to study self-injurious behavior, she can identify ways to better predict and prevent self-harm.

With research like that which Ms. Velkoff is doing at Miami University, we can better understand why people hurt themselves, and, ultimately, save lives.