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Spotlight on Sarah Bassett: PhD candidate in the Health Sciences Integrated PhD Program

Created: May 21, 2018
Sarah Bassett is a PhD candidate in the Health Sciences Integrated PhD Program studying emotions and health in Dr. Judith Moskowitz's lab in Medical Social Sciences. She is currently an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) predoctoral fellow, and comes to Northwestern with a MA in psychology from Brandeis University and BAs in psychology and Spanish from the University of Kansas.
What were you doing before you arrived at Northwestern?
I worked in Boston at a Harvard Business School-affiliated start-up called Gain Life, which focused on health and behavior change. I loved working to solve tough problems with kind and smart colleagues outside of academia, and this increased my passion for conducting research that directly benefits people's lives.
Tell us about your research in non-specialist terms.
Currently, I focus on how emotions and coping tactics impact health and disease outcomes, especially in chronic diseases like HIV. It turns out that people can and do experience positive emotions even amid extremely stressful life events, and this can be both psychologically and physiologically protective. Our current work indicates that people who experience more positive emotion may have better adherence to medication in chronic diseases. My mentor, Dr. Judith Moskowitz, has conducted other work that indicates that positive emotion is uniquely predictive of decreased mortality in people living with HIV (Moskowitz, 2003).
Tell us about a formative experience you had during graduate school that shaped the way you work today.
While I was at Brandeis University, I was in a master's program designed to be completed in one year. This meant completing all coursework and my thesis in twelve months, so my work/life balance wasn't as balanced as I wanted. During my first semester at Northwestern, Dr. Moskowitz sat me down and basically told me to chill out. She made it clear that being a happy and productive researcher meant having more balance than I had been allowing myself, and this was revolutionary to me. I've noticed that when I take time for myself, I'm a better thinker. Now, I make sure that I go to the gym almost every day and spend ample time with friends and loved ones. I'm grateful to be working with such a wise mentor. 
What advice would you give your younger student self?
If I had to give my younger self advice, I would say to think very practically about how your time as a student impacts your career after graduate school. Work with kind, smart people; publish and write grants; and do informational interviews to find out more about the day-to-day of people who have taken paths that might interest you. Northwestern has a great graduate career advisor and a strong mentorship network.
What’s next for you? Where do you hope to be in five years?
Great question! I expect to have my dissertation completed by the spring of 2019. I love solving tough, high-impact problems, and want to be doing that in a well-run organization with a healthy culture. I would be happy doing this wherever I feel as though I would have the biggest impact.
What is one thing you are passionate about outside of your research?
Outside of my research, but still professionally-related, I am passionate about interdisciplinary collaboration. I have found that working on interdisciplinary teams can significantly strengthen ideas and insights, and I’ve been able to use this knowledge to help with large-scale literature review that has required collaboration between Northwestern’s Chicago and Evanston campuses. Outside of work, I am passionate about running and staying active, cooking great food, and, most importantly, spending time with the people I love.