Meet the Scholars: Destiny Printz
Destiny Printz Pereira is a PhD student in Clinical Psychology at the University of Connecticut. She is a part of the Health Policy Research Scholars Cohort 2018.
Before we begin, tell us a little bit about yourself and what your research interests are.
My research focuses on populations most at risk for chronic stress and trauma, the dysregulation of stress response systems due to stress/trauma, and the resulting mental and physical health outcomes across the lifespan. My work primarily focuses on people of color, people who are of low-socioeconomic status, and women in the perinatal period and the ways in which negative outcomes can be passed down through familial generations. I hope to contribute to the growing body of research on stress/trauma’s impact on diabetes, chronic pain, and cardiac outcomes, and ways psychological interventions can improve the lives of those most at risk.
Aside from research, I love the arts and creating with my hands. One of my amateur hobbies is woodworking and I really enjoy fixing things around the house.
What’s the story behind why you’re doing what you’re doing?
I grew up in low-income areas and saw my family and community work hard to make ends meet. Unsurprisingly, I saw that continual strain and stress impact community members’ mental and physical health. I was able to obtain opportunities that were not common for someone with my background, such as attending college and graduate school. I feel a sense of responsibility and joy to give back to my community and ensure that others can also beat the odds.
Tell us about a project you are currently working on that you are excited about.
A project I am excited about is focused on mothers and their pre-school age children, most of whom are low-income or of color. It looks at the ways in which maternal mental health and children’s genes can come together to impact children’s mental health when they have experienced trauma. This work highlights the ways in which mental health issues can be passed down from mother to child through environmental and genetic factors. I am hoping this work can set the foundation to better understand family interventions that can be effective and accessible to marginalized communities.
For people unfamiliar with your research area, what is one piece of information you think is important for them to know?
I think many people underestimate the ways in which chronic stress due to marginalization can impact the day-to-day lives of individuals who are low-income and people of color. Many blame those who are struggling for not working hard enough, but decades of research show that the systems and cultures that maintain marginalization are to blame. I encourage others to uplift those who are in need and implore researchers to recognize the need for diverse study samples.
Who is a researcher you admire and why?
The psychologist Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark. During an undergraduate course, I learned about this amazing Black woman who graduated with a PhD in 1943 from Columbia University and dared to study racism at a time when Jim Crow laws were in full swing. It was this woman’s bravery, intelligence, and impact on the desegregation of schools that made me realize, I too could reach my goals. Not only was I allowed to attend an integrated school due to her efforts, but so much of the work I do builds upon the solid foundation she helps set for Black and brown psychologists. She is one of those rare people whose research impacts millions of lives long after her passing.
How has being an HPRS Scholar helped you during your time as a doctoral candidate?
Policy training is hard to come by in the field of psychology and HPRS has allowed me to gain experience in translating my work into action. When thinking of a new research project, my degree has prepared me to think about strong research design while my HPRS training allows me to ensure that my study can have real-world impact. The grant also gives me the ability to become more of an expert in my field by attending workshops, conferences, and funding research. HPRS provides me with a network of driven and resourceful colleagues from many fields, which helps build skills in communication across disciplines and serves as an additional support system. It has been an invaluable experience.
In the RWJF HPRS program, we have worked with you to help you think further about using your research to develop policy. If you could use your research to change any policy, what policy would it be?
Pregnancy and childbirth can be a difficult process, physically and emotionally. Unfortunately, women of color are less likely to receive mental health and pain screenings during the perinatal period, and when they are screened, they are less likely to receive the same referrals and medications as their White counterparts. This can be particularly problematic as women of color may experience more pain and emotional difficulties in the perinatal period. I hope my research can inform best-practice policies in hospitals to create more equitable outcomes for mothers and babies.
Ok, here’s a fun question to wrap things up. If you had a talk show, who would your first three guests be?
First, would be my mother. Family is important to me and if I experience the “come up,” they should too.
My second guest would be Nick Offerman, with the hopes that we would become best friends and he would teach me wood whittling or invite me over for a hilarious dinner with him and Megan Mullally. (A girl can dream…)
My third would have to be Neil Degrasse Tyson. I have been listening to one of his audiobooks and his voice is incredibly engaging. I would probably have him read things that people find boring or overwhelming but are important to get through, like the terms & conditions for popular services.
Thank you so much for your time!