Department of Psychology

  • Welcoming Dr. Ellen Mwenesongole to UAB

    Ellen Mwenesongole, Ph.D., associate professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Criminal Justice, moved to Birmingham in January 2022.

    Ellen Mwenesongole, Ph.D.,Ellen Mwenesongole, Ph.D. associate professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Criminal Justice, moved to Birmingham in January 2022. Prior to coming to UAB, Mwenesongole studied and worked at universities in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Botswana.

    Burel Goodin, Ph.D., associate professor in UAB’s Department of Psychology, wanted to learn more about Mwenesongole’s journey to UAB and her scholarly work, so he recently conducted a digital interview with her. Below is an edited summary of their conversation.

    Goodin: What brings you to UAB and how has the transition been? 

    Mwenesongole: I chose to come to UAB due to its reputation as a research-intensive university and because it has one of the few accredited master’s in forensic science degree programs in the U.S. The opportunities offered to faculty for career development, research, and teaching also attracted me to UAB, as did its genuine approach and effort towards diversity, equity, and inclusion. After being appointed by UAB, I initially started teaching online while based in Botswana, which was not easy with the time difference. Now, it is so much better being in the same country while teaching. It’s been a few months since I arrived in Birmingham, so I’m still in the transition period, but I realize that there are more similarities than differences from previous universities I’ve worked at. 

    Goodin: You seem to have a varied education and work experience, tell us more about that. 

    Mwenesongole: My venture into further education actually started at Procter & Gamble in South Africa where I worked as a senior scientist after obtaining my bachelor’s degree in chemistry. I wanted to be part of the research and  development team, but, at that time, most of my workmates in that section had master’s or Ph.D. degrees. Therefore, I took time out to get a master’s degree with the intention of returning to the corporate world as a research and development scientist. I guess the study-bug bit, and I ended up with chemistry and forensic science master’s degrees from University of Pretoria and University of Strathclyde, respectively, and a Ph.D. in Forensic Science from Anglia Ruskin University. I interspaced my studies with working at a pharmaceutical company in Scotland and a doping control laboratory in South Africa before venturing into academia to lead the development of forensic science programs at universities in South Africa and Botswana. 

    Goodin: How did you end up in forensic science? 

    Mwenesongole: My interest in science was ignited when I was in junior high school—from that point forward, I knew I’d end up as some sort of scientist. Also, my interest in mystery crime novels and movies fuelled my passion to contribute to using science to aid in investigating criminal incidents.

    Goodin: What are your current research interests? 

    Mwenesongole: My key focus area of research is in analyzing drugs of abuse (illicit and pharmaceutical) from different matrices such as blood, urine, and wastewater. Analysis of wastewater provides a quick snapshot of what drugs a particular community is using and can help with developing appropriate intervention measures from a law enforcement, health, or education perspective. It’s research that I have conducted in the U.K. and Botswana and plan to continue in the U.S. In recent years, I’ve also been involved in the chemical profiling of illicit drugs for intelligence purposes. 

    Goodin: What is your thought on collaborations—are you open to collaborations? 

    Mwenesongole: Once you realize that no one person, department, university, organization, or other entity holds the key to solving any problem, you start appreciating that answers to problems can come about much quicker when you collaborate with others. I’ve collaborated with universities in the U.K., Botswana, and South Africa and hope to extend that into U.S. universities as well as other departments at UAB. The most effective collaborations are those in which every team member’s voice is heard and their competence and experience in a particular area is harnessed for the good of the overall research project. Collaborations that fizzle out within a short time are those where a few team members think they know best and impose ideas onto others rather than incorporating various ideas and ways of doing things to arrive at the best outcome.

    Goodin: What would you like to see changed or improved in your area of teaching or research? 

    Mwenesongole: Forensic science still has many unchartered areas of research both on a local and global scale. I’d like to see more collaboration with various departments—such as engineering and the legal department—to develop relevant and unique products that can be used in teaching and research. More work also needs to be done to collaborate with relevant stakeholders, including various law enforcement agencies and forensic labs nationally and internationally. Also, we must find opportunities to collaborate with other forensic programs. There is so much one can learn from interacting with a diverse portfolio of collaborators.

    Goodin: What are your expectations from UAB and what do you hope to achieve? 

    Mwenesongole: My expectations of UAB are tied to what attracted me to the university in the first place. I expect to be given the space to use the opportunities at hand to grow my teaching and research portfolio. We must avoid saying, “We have always done things this way,” because that mindset can become a hindrance to teaching and research. I look forward to freely contributing to the growth of the department, college, and university.

  • A family affair: From NICU patients to UAB alumni

    Years after spending 87 days in a neonatal intensive care unit, Tara Wood and her twin daughters are now UAB alumni who are using their life experiences to help others.

  • Goodin seeks more equity in pain research

    Goodin has identified social determinants that created barriers for minority and minoritized communities seeking continued access to care providers for chronic pain.

    The Journey to Pain Research

    As an undergraduate student at Illinois College, Burel Goodin, Ph.D., was drawn to both biology and psychology. He majored in the former and minored in the latter and, along the way, uncovered fascinating points of intersection between the two disciplines.

    “I started to inquire more about fields of study and potential job opportunities that really brought together biology and psychology,” said Goodin.

    After earning a B.S. in Biology, Goodin sought out graduate programs that would offer him opportunities to research topics that touched both fields of study. Over time, he found his way to pain science and pain research.

    “Ultimately, I landed at mental health with an emphasis on neuroscience… and [eventually] pain. It was a natural fit—I found it fascinating,” said Goodin. “You can’t make pain go away. It serves an adaptive purpose. The chronic aspect—you want to try make that go away or make it more manageable.”

    As he dug deeper into chronic pain, his research uncovered troubling disparities. According to Goodin, “the prevalence rates of developing a chronic pain condition are often equal across racial groups.” That said, often, the burden disproportionality impacts minoritized and minority communities. Goodin was concerned by these findings and was determined to figure out his role as a scientist in the field.

    “I wanted to understand and better characterize how disparities come about and how they manifest,” said Goodin.

    While researching disparities in pain science, Goodin identified a set of concerning findings related to determinants. Specifically, he identified social determinants that created barriers—especially financial barriers—for minority and minoritized communities seeking continued access to care providers for chronic pain. Social issues—particularly racism, sexism, and agism—manifest these treatment disparities, says Goodin.

    Building a Career at UAB

    Goodin continued his pain research through a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Florida and, near the end of that fellowship, he accepted a position at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2012.

    “I was impressed… by the vision of the Department of Psychology,” said Goodin. “They were trying to increase their thumbprint with pain science and also moving into the intersection of pain and addiction science.”

    After arriving at UAB, Goodin identified a vast landscape of new interdisciplinary resources and partners across the campus. He embraced these opportunities and, eventually, became the co-director for the Center for Addiction and Pain Prevention and Intervention (CAPPI) alongside Karen Cropsey, Psy.D., professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology in the Heersink School of Medicine.

    A Call to Action

    In recent years, Goodin has turned his attention to the conduct of pain research—specifically, the ways in which language within the field can perpetuate racist ideologies. It’s not enough to be non-racist, says Goodin. Instead, more emphasis needs to be placed on anti-racism.

    “To be anti-racist is it to be actively against racism and trying to do things to draw attention to it and to have difficult conversations [about it]. If it’s making people uncomfortable, then that’s how I know we’re doing it right,” said Goodin.

    His commitment to action is clear in a series of three new papers that the Journal of Pain published earlier this year. The name of the first manuscript communicates a powerful message that reflects Goodin’s priorities: “Confronting Racism in Pain Research: A Call to Action.”

    “The first paper is really a call-to-action—this is what’s been going on, this is why it’s troubling, and we want folks to do better,” said Goodin. “[Also], we want it to be a blueprint for other fields beyond pain.”

    In total, numerous co-authors from across the globe came together to contribute insights and research to the three manuscripts, including two additional faculty members from UAB: Calia Morias, Psy.D., assistant professor in the Department of Medicine, and Edwin Aroke, Ph.D., associate professor in the School of Nursing. For Goodin, this interdisciplinary collaboration is essential to the effort of making pain research more equitable.

    When summarizing the research, Goodin seems particularly passionate about the paper entitled, “Confronting Racism in all Forms of Pain Research: A Shared Commitment for Engagement, Diversity, and Dissemination.” Through this paper, Goodin and his co-authors advocate for expanding the number of seats at the table in the field of pain research and inviting more people to that table.

    “How do we engage those in the field, as well as the communities that our field represents and that we care about,” said Goodin. “How do we make it more inclusive?”

    So, moving forward, Goodin and his colleagues plan to prioritize these questions, especially when developing outreach efforts and designing studies (which is the focus of the third paper). Simply stated, representation matters, says Goodin.

    For those who are interested in exploring all three manuscripts, you can access them by visiting the following links:

  • Employees recognized at 2021 UAB Service Awards

    Twenty-seven College of Arts and Sciences employees who have worked at UAB for 20 years or more were recognized at the UAB Service Awards reception on April 11, 2022.

    Dean Kecia M. Thomas with Kim Hazelwood at the UAB Service Awards reception.Twenty-seven College of Arts and Sciences employees who have worked at UAB for 20 years or more were recognized at the UAB Service Awards reception on April 11, 2022. These dedicated colleagues were honored for their number of years of employment at UAB as of December 31, 2021.


    The UAB Service Awards are given to active employees beginning at five years of employment and at each five-year milestone. Employees who reach 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, and 45 years of service are invited to a reception on behalf of UAB President Ray L. Watts and presented with a service award pin, certificate, and a gift of gratitude.


    This year, Dr. Vithal K. Ghanta, professor in the Department of Biology and co-director of the Undergraduate Immunology Program, was honored for 50 years of service to UAB. Dr. Gregory Pence, professor in the Department of Philosophy and director of the Early Medical School Acceptance Program, was honored for 45 years of service. Congratulations to all our colleagues for their dedication and commitment to the University’s mission and vision.

    50-Year Recipient: Dr. Vithal K. Ghanta, professor in the Department of Biology

    20-Year Recipients

    • Kimberly H. Hazelwood, College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office
    • Erin Wright, Art and Art History
    • Tanja Matthews, Chemistry
    • Dr. Jacqueline Nikles, Chemistry
    • Daniel L. Butcher, English
    • Dr. Gale M. Temple, English
    • Dr. Lourdes M. Sanchez-Lopez, Foreign Languages and Literatures
    • Dr. Stephen J. Miller, History
    • Dr. John Heith Copes, Criminal Justice
    • Dr. Reinhard E. Fambrough, Music
    • Dr. Gitendra Uswatte, Psychology
    45-Year Recipient: Dr. Gregory E. Pence, professor in the Department of Philosophy

    25-Year Recipients

    • James R. Grimes, Advising
    • Margaret Amsler, Biology
    • Leslie C. Hendon, Biology
    • Adriana S. Addison, Psychology
    • Dr. Karlene K. Ball, Psychology
    • Wanda R. Fisher, Psychology
    • Pamela Y. Robinson, Psychology

    30-Year Recipients

    • Dr. Tracy P. Hamilton, Chemistry
    • Dr. Kathryn D. Morgan, Criminal Justice and African American Studies
    • Kimberly A. Schnormeier, Theatre

    35-Year Recipients

    • Dr. Edwin W. Cook III, Psychology
    • Dr. Edward Taub, Psychology

    40-Year Recipients

    • Dr. Howard L. Irving, Music
    • Dr. Franklin R. Amthor, Psychology

    45-Year Recipient

    • Dr. Gregory E. Pence, Philosophy

    50-Year Recipient

    • Dr. Vithal K. Ghanta, Biology

  • Mental health discussion on high-stakes performance anxiety is April 18

    Presented by UAB Arts in Medicine, experts will provide insight into what happens physically and mentally surrounding a high-stakes performance and how performers can address the fear.

  • State Farm invests in TRIP Lab outreach efforts

    The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UAB) College of Arts and Sciences is excited to announce that State Farm will make a new investment in the Translational Research for Injury Prevention (TRIP) Lab.

    The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UAB) College of Arts and Sciences is excited to announce that State Farm will make a new investment in the Translational Research for Injury Prevention (TRIP) Lab.

    The TRIP Lab was established in 2009 by Despina Stavrinos, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Psychology. The mission of the lab is “to help the nation achieve a significant reduction in the rate of transportation-related deaths, injuries, and resulting disabilities, particularly in the southeastern United States.”

    To accomplish this mission, the TRIP Lab interdisciplinary team—which includes undergraduate and graduate students—conducts research projects. Current research projects in the lab focus on driving safety among teens, patients who have sustained a traumatic brain injury, and health care providers who have unique occupational challenges.

    The TRIP Lab also leverages a driving simulator with eye tracking which was designed by Realtime Technologies, Inc. The TRIP Lab team uses the simulator to conduct research and facilitate a distracted driving program. The team also used social media strategies (e.g., Instagram, Twitter, Facebook) to increase public awareness under the handle @UABTRIPLab. The distracted driving program serves as a powerful outreach tool that can save lives.

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, the TRIP Lab team created a virtual version of the program for young drivers available via Zoom sessions and YouTube videos. The Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham (RPCGB) currently supports the program through a generous grant, which helps the TRIP Lab reach students across Central Alabama. With additional resources, the virtual program has the potential to reach more schools and students across the state, including in rural areas.

    Moving forward, State Farm will join RPCGB in supporting the expansion of the distracted driving outreach program, keeping true to its mission of helping to create safer and more educated communities. Through this new grant from State Farm, the TRIP Lab will reach dozens of additional schools and thousands of new students, saving lives and making roadways safer in the process.

    The College of Arts and Sciences and the TRIP Lab appreciates the investment from State Farm and look forward to expanding this important work.

  • Students named U.S. Department of Transportation fellows

    Four graduate students in UAB’s College of Arts and Sciences have been awarded a Dwight David Eisenhower Transportation Research fellowship through the U.S. Department of Transportation.

  • Seven students receive 2022 Dean’s Awards for Outstanding Undergraduate and Graduate Students

    Each academic year, the UAB College of Arts and Sciences receives departmental nominations for the Dean’s Awards for Outstanding Undergraduate Students and Outstanding Graduate Students.

    Each academic year, the UAB College of Arts and Sciences receives departmental nominations for the Dean’s Awards for Outstanding Undergraduate Students and Outstanding Graduate Students. The dean’s selection committee gives these awards to exceptional undergraduate and graduate students in the College who have made significant contributions to the UAB community.

    After carefully reviewing the 2022 nominations—which include detailed recommendation letters from faculty members and mentors—Dean Kecia M. Thomas, Ph.D., and her committee have selected four undergraduate students and three graduate students for the awards. At the upcoming 2022 commencement ceremonies, the College will acknowledge and celebrate the recipients.

    Congratulations to the following students for receiving this prestigious award:

    2022 Undergraduate Dean’s Awards

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    2022 Graduate Dean’s Awards

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  • Study examines timing abilities of drivers with ADHD and ASD

    Student-led study shows that those with autism spectrum disorder present difficulties in time estimation abilities while driving.

  • Five undergraduate students selected as recipients of the esteemed Gilman Scholarship

    The prestigious program aims to make study abroad experiences accessible to a more diverse population of students and prepare them to assume leadership roles in government and the private sector.

  • Sylvie Mrug awarded 2021 Ireland Prize for Scholarly Distinction

    Sylvie Mrug, Ph.D., professor in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences, has been awarded the 2021 Ireland Prize for Scholarly Distinction.

  • Online programs at UAB ranked among the country’s best, according to U.S. News rankings

    Online programs across numerous UAB schools and departments continue to excel year after year, according to U.S. News rankings.

  • ‘Motor-gaming’ stroke tele-therapy matches in-person results at much lower cost, study finds

    A “flipped” approach to therapy using video games and short, motivational telehealth visits could spread the benefits of stroke rehabilitation far more widely.

  • Gryshyna places second in 2021 World AIDS Day Research Competition

    Gryshyna will use the prize money she received to advance her research on pain management techniques for HIV patients.

  • Superheroes: Helping or hurting children?

    Could superheroes make children participate in more dangerous play time? A UAB graduate research assistant is conducting a study to see whether superheroes could be related to adolescent injuries.

  • UAB ranked among top 10 percent of universities in the world, according to U.S. News & World Report

    UAB’s research and reputation land it among the top institutions in the world.

  • ZAMBAMA grant leverages “reverse innovation” to reduce unhealthy alcohol use and improve HIV outcomes

    The collaboration puts UAB experts on the ground in Zambia to strengthen research and public health capacity and address major global health challenges.

  • Novel small molecule potently attenuates neuroinflammation in brain and glial cells

    Limiting neuroinflammation may represent a promising new approach to treat neurological diseases driven by neuroinflammation, such as stroke, spinal cord injury and neuropathic pain.

  • Researchers are learning how to understand stigma and bring people back from ‘social death’

    Fear and self-loathing play a role in conditions from cancer to HIV and COVID-19, spurring a flood of new NIH funding for stigma research. This summer, UAB researchers led — and participated in — a first-of-its-kind “crash course” to bring more investigators into the field.

  • UAB professor secures $3.6 million LEND grant renewal

    UAB’s Sarah O’Kelley, Ph.D., has successfully renewed a $3.6 million grant from the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilites.