These faculty members guide students through the research process

Debra Bendell and Tiffany Field have known each other for three decades, and though they live on opposite coasts, they’ve been conducting research together for nearly as long.

The Clinical Psychology faculty colleagues have teamed up to study pregnant women, immigrant families, preterm infants, and more.

Dr. Tiffany Field

“One study that we both worked on was massaging premature babies to help them grow,” says Field, PhD.” Debra used to be in charge of the neonatal intensive care unit where they evaluated and assessed these babies. We massaged them and they gained 47% more weight and were discharged six days earlier on average than infants who weren’t massaged.”

Dr. Field now runs the Touch Research Institute in Miami, studying the effect of massage on chronic pain, autoimmune disorders, PTSD, and other conditions. Bendell, PhD, lives in California, where she is well known for her work in attachment theory, and also supervises research projects at UCLA.

Together, these research veterans help Fielding students navigate the research process. They teach a course at Fielding’s national sessions called Dissertation Bootcamp. “Students tell us where they’re stuck and we consult with them about how to move the process forward,” says Dr. Bendell.

They also guide their cluster students through year-long research practicums—which, for Clinical Psychology students, entails 200 hours of research.

Dr. Debra Bendell

“They work 10 hours a week on their own and then we meet with them twice a month,” Dr. Bendell says. “We help them formulate research questions. Research is a process. You don’t just get up one morning and suddenly you have terrific insight. It usually comes from a familiarity with a population that then leads to questions and answers.”

Dr. Bendell and Dr. Field have tapped into a terrific tool that provides that population familiarity. It’s Princeton’s New Immigrant Survey, a database of surveys of 6,000 legal US immigrants dating back to 2003. Fielding students can access the database and find vast amounts of data to use in their research—rather than having to conduct interviews or surveys themselves, from scratch.

“Immigrants are important as we look at the political situation and the changing demographics of the United States,” says Dr. Bendell. “There are a dozen studies that have been done on this multicultural database with very interesting results. For example, 13 Fielding students all over the country are working together to research immigration issues, including the effects of stress on parenting.”

Both instructors are delighted with how students have made use of the information at their fingertips. “They come up with interesting topics,” says Dr. Field. “They say research is ‘me-search’ so a lot of students glom onto questions that are personally relevant to them.”

Their teaching assistants have both had significant work come out of the database: Student Harry Voulgarakis had a poster and a publication around access to prostate cancer screening among legal immigrants. Student Riwa Kassar looked at English proficiency within the immigrant sample and found that those who didn’t learn English were more depressed than those who did.

Some students will go on to publish their research. The hope is always that any new findings will be used by clinical psychologists in their therapeutic work with patients.

“Research,” says Dr. Field, “is the bottom line for solving problems and providing solutions for people, and for the world.”