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Jason Washburn, PhD

Director of Graduate Studies of the MA & PhD Programs in Clinical Psychology

Jason Washburn, PhD

The people I work with is the most rewarding part of being a DGS: the students, the faculty, and The Graduate School. The students are the reason I put in the extra effort that is required of a DGS.”

Jason Washburn, PhD is the director of graduate studies (DGS) of the MA & PhD programs in clinical psychology in the Feinberg School of Medicine. He is also an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. His clinical interests include mental health treatment and evaluation of children and adolescents. In addition, he is interested in nonsuicidal self-injury, pediatric bipolar disorder, and the development of antisocial behaviors.

How long have you been in the DGS role?
9 years 

What is the most rewarding part of being a DGS?
The people I work with is the most rewarding part of being a DGS: the students, the faculty, and The Graduate School. The students are the reason I put in the extra effort that is required of a DGS. It is a privilege and a joy to watch them develop from eager and anxious first years to confident and competent graduates. One of my most enjoyable activities is following up with our graduates every summer and finding out all of the outstanding things they are doing! I also work with an exceptional group of faculty members who have helped me build and develop these two extraordinary graduate programs. They are true collaborators who go above and beyond in their devotion to our students and the program. Finally, the staff and deans at The Graduate School are second to none; an absolute delight to have as partners!

What advice would you give to someone just beginning as a DGS?
Becoming a DGS is likely to initiate a defense cascade. On hearing that you will be the DGS, you will have the urge to run away as fast you can, or you may even be shocked into a tonic immobility. Instead, I urge you to stick it out and fight for your program! I recommend conducting a review of your program: What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) as you perceive them? Meet with faculty and students and get their input. After the review, identify some low hanging fruit that can be harvested for some quick and easy "wins," and then outline a longer term plan to build upon the program's strengths, minimize weaknesses and threats, and take advantage of opportunities. Review your strategic plan with your faculty and students at least annually, and adjust as needed. Taking this long-term perspective, while also capitalizing on short-term gains, can help your program grow and develop, even after you've decided to listen to your rationale mind and take flight!

What have you learned from being a DGS?
The primary lesson I've learned while being a DGS is not to become complacent. It has been tempting to let the program coast, content with having a "good enough" program. We push back against this temptation by having our students complete anonymous surveys of our program every summer, which identifies opportunities for improvement. We use data from these surveys to direct our action plans for the academic year and to evaluate effectiveness.

How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?
As a clinical educator, my research has focused on bridging the gap between science and practice, with the ultimate goal of increasing the use of evidence-based practices in routine care. In the last decade, my research has focused on promoting the clinical understanding, assessment, and treatment of nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI). NSSI involves the self-directed destruction of body tissue without the intent or desire to die, and includes behaviors such as cutting, scratching, or burning one's own skin.

Tell us what inspired your research and/or work.
My research on nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) was inspired by my clinical experiences. I first encountered NSSI when consulting on an adolescent in a juvenile correctional facility who engaged in extensive NSSI behaviors. A few years later, I found myself working with a treatment program specifically designed for NSSI. A quick literature review made it clear that very little was known about NSSI, and I set forth to help resolve that problem.

What do you find both rewarding and challenging about your research and/or work?
It is immensely rewarding to help clinicians, educators, families, and people with lived experience to better understand, evaluate, and address nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI). The challenge is that there is much more to learn and do to improve the lives of those who engage in NSSI. For example, while we have treatments that can be effective with NSSI, they are certainly not effective for everyone. We have also learned that NSSI can greatly increase risk for suicide attempts, yet our ability to identify and intervene in suicide risk has not markedly improved over the last several decades. Much work remains.

What is the biggest potential impact or implication of your work?
Ultimately, we hope to improve the lives of people with nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI), and those at risk for suicide.

What do you like to do for fun? 
Fun these days revolves around my family, including my partner (also a clinical psychologist!) and my 5- and 9-year old boys. I do miss my old days as a biker, but I enjoy being alive much more!