MHDI FACULTY SPOTLIGHT
Tim NelsonProfessor of Psychology, Associate Director of the Nebraska Rural Drug Addiction Research (RDAR) Center, Associate Director of the UNL Clinical Psychology Training Program
Date that you joined UNL: August 2009
Hometown: Born in Detroit, grew up mostly in Jersey City and New York
Describe your research and how it contributes to alleviating or understanding health disparities?
My research interests are in pediatric health neuroscience. Essentially, I’m interested in how individual child cognitive development and environmental factors combine to affect the development of key health behaviors (like diet, sleep, and substance use) and related outcomes. My hope is that this research will point to new prevention and intervention targets for conditions like obesity, and to reduce long-standing disparities in these conditions.
What inspired you to study health disparities and/or your field of research?
I started graduate school fully intending to become a practicing clinician. But, while I enjoyed my clinical work with children and families, I became frustrated by the limitations of existing treatments and saw the need for research that might lead to new and more effective approaches. I also saw how problems like obesity are not equally distributed – how race, socioeconomic status, and neighborhood can impact health – so it is critical to understand why these disparities exist and how they can be reduced.
What advice would you give to incoming students (graduate or undergraduate) who are interested in studying health disparities?
Get involved in research early. Be assertive in seeking out diverse opportunities. Reach out to faculty who are doing interesting work, and make yourself indispensable to a lab. Opportunities often go to the people who are “around” at the right time, so try to be physically present in your lab as much as possible.
What advice would you give to incoming faculty who are interested in health disparity research?
Start building connections with other faculty and community leaders from the beginning. Take the time to learn about their interests and skills, and to nurture those relationships. Even if there isn’t an obvious collaboration right away, it’s worth investing in relationships. You’ll get to know some great people, and you never know when a collaboration opportunity may come along.
What would your colleagues/students be surprised to learn about you?
I HATED school growing up. I was always a good student – my parents didn’t give me a choice about that! – but I just really didn’t want to be in school. As a kid, my life revolved around sports. I played baseball and basketball and was a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. In college, I started playing team handball and ended up playing for the US National Team. It’s ironic that I stopped playing sports so that I could…go to grad school!