IMPACT Post-Doctoral Program
The IMPACT two-year, NIMH-funded training program matches creative and energetic post-doctoral (MD, PhD, DO, or MD, PhD) fellows in mental health-related disciplines with faculty members who provide mentorship across an array of approaches and methods, including fMRI, genetics, statistical modelling, treatment evaluation, and implementation science. In addition, we provide resources for travel, coursework, and pilot research.
The program, which has been funded continuously since 1990, aims to develop clinical scientists who can formulate original and significant research in areas such as:
- Mechanisms of pathogenesis, persistence and treatment response
- Translation of basic research findings into clinical interventions
- Identification of individual differences in treatment response that leads to personalization and optimization of treatment
- Implementation of effective interventions in community settings
- Strategies for the dissemination of effective treatments
Fellows at Western Psychiatric Hospital at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have an opportunity to work with respected, multi-disciplinary faculty in one of the strongest child and adolescent psychiatry clinical and research programs in the United States. The majority of our graduates go on to obtain academic appointments, secure external funding, and become leading researchers themselves.
Candice Biernesser, PhD, LCSW
Mentors: David Brent, MD & Shaun Eack, PhD
Dr. Biernesser is a licensed clinical social worker and received her PhD from the Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. Prior and during her doctoral study, she worked alongside her long-standing mentor, Dr. David Brent. She took a leadership role in the conduct of his longitudinal studies on the transmission of suicidal behavior in families, and clinical trials focused on adolescent suicide prevention. As part of her work with Dr. Brent, she co-invented the Brite app, a safety planning and emotion regulation smartphone app that aims to reduce suicidal risk among adolescents. Through her dissertation research, she completed a systematic review, a qualitative study, and developed an ecological momentary assessment measure, which together investigated the influence of social media experiences on offering risk and protection for adolescent suicide as well as novel opportunities for prevention. As a Postdoctoral Scholar, she is Co-PI of the Social Media Assessment of Risk in Teens (SMART) study (funded by the Once Upon a Time Foundation), which explores the feasibility of using a natural language processing algorithm to detect suicidal risk from adolescents’ social media data and is contributing to the Upstander Junior project (funded by AT&T), which aims to develop an online cyberbullying prevention intervention. She is currently preparing to submit a proposal for a K23 award to the National Institute of Mental Health under the primary mentorship of Dr. Tina Goldstein on which she will develop and test a chatbot-based suicide prevention intervention for cyberbullied adolescents.
Laura Cabral, PhD
Mentor: Beatriz Luna, PhD
Dr. Cabral received her PhD in developmental psychology from Western University, Canada. Her research focuses on normal adolescent development with the goal of better understanding how brain connectivity and brain tissue iron, thought to be a proxy for presynaptic dopamine, change throughout early adolescence in conjunction with reward-related behavior. Understanding the developmental trajectory of these could lead to a greater understanding of the psychopathology that emerges in the adolescent period.
Laura also studies infant brain development with the goal of better understanding how connectivity develops over the first year of life. She’s hoping to expand this work to look at how the prenatal environment affects infant brain development how connectivity may be predictive of later infant health outcomes.
Kristen Eckstrand, MD, PhD
Mentors: Erika Forbes, PhD & Mary Phillips, MD, MD (Cantab)
Dr. Eckstrand is a board-certified child & adolescent psychiatrist who holds an MD and a PhD in neuroscience from Vanderbilt University. She joined the University of Pittsburgh as a post-doctoral scholar in 2020, joining the labs of Drs. Mary Phillips and Erika Forbes, after completing Adult Psychiatry residency and Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship at the Western Psychiatric Hospital of UPMC. Dr. Eckstrand’s research interests include understanding the impact of trauma exposure during childhood and adolescence on reward and social-emotional neural circuits, and how trauma-associated neural circuit changes are related to the emergence and persistence of depression. Dr. Eckstrand is particularly interested in these processes among vulnerable populations who experience high burdens of chronic stress and trauma, including LGBTQ youth. Dr. Eckstrand’s research has been published in top-tier journals such as JAMA Psychiatry, and been recognized by Honorary Membership in the World Psychiatric Association and awards from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, American Psychiatric Association, and Society for Biological Psychiatry.
Manny Rengasamy, MD
Mentors: Rebecca Price, PhD & David Brent, MD
Dr. Manny Rengasamy is a T32 post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh. He completed undergraduate studies at Rice University, medical studies at McGovern Medical School, and child psychiatry residency/fellowship at UPMC. His research interests include studying the role of inflammation in neural processes in affective disorders, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behavior, particularly in the child and adolescent population.
Craig Sewall, PhD, LCSW
Mentor: Tina Goldstein, PhD
Dr. Sewall is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who holds an MSW and PhD from the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work. He joined the IMPACT program as a Postdoctoral Fellow in 2021 under the mentorship of Dr. Tina R. Goldstein. Dr. Sewall’s research focuses on harnessing advancements in quantitative modeling and ubiquitous computing to improve our understanding of suicidality. He is currently working on applying machine learning to passive sensing data collected from smartphones and wearables to predict suicidality among high-risk youth. Additionally, Dr. Sewall’s research has focused on the associations between digital technologies (e.g., smartphones, internet, and social media) and well-being among young people, with a particular interest in improving the methodological rigor of research in this domain. Dr. Sewall’s research has been published in prominent journals such as Nature Human Behaviour, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Journal of Affective Disorders. Visit his personal website for additional details.
Recent Previous Fellows
Teague Henry, PhD
Elizabeth McGuier, PhD
David Baranger, PhD
Kale Edminston, PhD
Laura Quinones-Camacho, PhD
Vera Vine, PhD
Heather Joseph, DO*
Gabriela Alarcón, PhD
Brian Thoma, PhD*
*Now serve as IMPACT faculty mentors