Q&A with Zachary Soulliard, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology
Zachary Soulliard, PhD., who came to Miami in Fall 2022, answers questions about his research, teaching philosophy, and career.
Q&A with Zachary Soulliard, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology
Q. Tell me a little about your background. Where did you get your degree, and in what field?
A. I earned my bachelor’s degree in psychology at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, PA. After graduating, I worked for several years while pursuing my master’s degree part-time in applied psychological research at Penn State University. I eventually went back to graduate school full-time and earned my PhD in clinical psychology at Saint Louis University.
Q. Why did you choose your focus of study? What do you like about it?
A. I’ve always been fascinated by all things related to mental health, both in terms of what causes psychological disorders, as well as how to best treat such disorders, so pursuing my PhD in clinical psychology seemed like a perfect fit. I also pursued a PhD in clinical psychology given my interest in both research and clinical practice. One of the things I enjoy the most as a psychology professor are all the different “hats” I get to wear. In one day, I can go from running statistical analyses for a study in the morning, to teaching a class on psychopathology in the middle of the day, to providing clinical supervision in the late afternoon. For me, this variety in different roles is one of the most exciting parts about what I do.
Q. Have you done anything else of note before or since coming to Miami?
A. Before earning my PhD, I worked in various roles, including as a mental health case manager in an adolescent residential facility, research coordinator in an autism lab, and even a short time as an 8th grade social studies teacher. As a licensed psychologist, I’ve provided treatment in various settings, such as an academic medical center, university counselor center, and community mental health clinic. Most immediately before coming to Miami, I completed a postdoctoral research fellowship at the Yale LGBTQ Mental Health Initiative, where I coordinated several randomized controlled trials testing an LGBTQ-affirmative mental health treatment.
Q. What kind of classes do you currently teach?
A. In my first year at Miami, I taught two sections of PSY242: Abnormal Psychology, as well as a graduate level course (PSY648: Lifespan Psychopathology). In the upcoming years, I look forward to teaching more advanced undergraduate courses (e.g., a PSY410 capstone course) focused on LGBTQ+ mental health disparities.
Q. What do you enjoy most about teaching?
A. One of the things I enjoy most about teaching is the interactions with my students. During class, one of my favorite parts is answering students’ questions that come up about what we’re discussing. Often, these moments have led to other students asking follow-up questions, which further enriches our class discussions and centers the conversation around topics that are of particular interest to students. In my courses taught so far, I’ve been so impressed by both the thoughtful and thought-provoking questions raised by the students here at Miami. Outside of class, I’ve enjoyed getting to know more about my students and hearing about what role psychology might play in their future careers. In larger courses like PSY242, it’s hard to get to know every single student in class. For that reason, I encourage and very much look forward to meeting with students during office hours. In addition to talking about my course, I particularly enjoy hearing about students’ future career or graduate school plans.
Q. How would you describe your teaching philosophy?
A. One main component of my teaching philosophy is to foster critical thinking skills in my students both in and outside of the classroom. Nowadays, there is a lot of misinformation, specifically related to mental health, that surrounds us in our daily lives. To engage my students in critical thinking, I incorporate activities and assignments in my classes to challenge potential misperceptions about mental health and clinical psychology. For example, in my PSY242 course, my students review real-life inspired case examples of individuals with different mental disorders in order to recognize the complexity of mental health, as well as appreciate the challenges faced by those with such disorders. Students also watch videos (e.g., TedTalks) of people with mental disorders to hear first-hand the experience of living with different mental disorders. After watching these videos, my students critically identify ways that certain disorders are stereotyped by others, as well as misidentified in the media with the hope of them being able to do so moving forward in their lives.
Q. What is one takeaway you hope your students get from your class?
A. Broadly, I hope my students are able to recognize how psychology is applicable to all aspects of their life, whether they pursue a career in psychology or not. Specifically, based on courses that I’ve taught so far, my hope is for students to have a greater level of awareness of how mental health is present in their daily life, particularly stigma faced by individuals who cope with mental health disorders. Although many students in my courses want to pursue a career in mental health, many of them do not. For instance, in this past semester, I had students who expressed interest in pursuing careers outside of psychology, including the medical field, business, computer science, among others. Regardless of majors and career goals, my hope is that all my students have a bit more knowledge of mental health stigma after taking my course in hopes that they can be advocates for combatting such stigma in their personal and professional lives.
Q. Do you do any kind of research related to your field? What kind?
A. In the Body Image and Stigma among Queer populations (BISQue) Lab, we conduct research that examines how both body image concerns and facets of positive body image influence eating behaviors and mental health among individuals who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. As one example, our lab is currently conducting an online study examining body appreciation, intuitive eating, and resilience among trans and nonbinary participants. Our lab is also dedicated to testing and implementing evidence-based mental health treatments adapted for LGBTQ+ clients, specifically cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) interventions. Currently, we’re at a point in the field where we have LGBTQ-affirmative, evidence-based mental health treatments, so the next step is to share these treatments with mental health clinicians working with LGBTQ+ clients. Our lab is working with collaborators at the Yale LGBTQ Mental Health Initiative on implementation studies to achieve the overall goal of ensuring that LGBTQ+ clients can receive well-supported mental health treatment.
Q. Do you involve students in your research? What kind of students (undergrad, graduate, or both), and to what degree do they get to participate?
A. Currently, we have two undergraduate and one graduate student in the lab. Starting in Fall 2023, our lab will be growing to include two graduate students and plans to recruit even more undergrads. As members in the lab, undergrads work as research assistants who complete various tasks across the research process, including literature reviews, participant recruitment, data analysis, and preparation for conference presentations and manuscripts. Undergraduate students also gain the opportunity to select peer-reviewed publications that they lead in lab meetings with other research assistants and graduate students. Our lab is also structured in a way for undergrads to work closely with the graduate students on various projects. In doing so, undergrads are able to learn different research skills across various projects, as well as provide an opportunity for graduate students to gain mentorship experience.
Other Activities Outside the Classroom
Q. What keeps you motivated in not just your career but in life in general?
A. I’d say a primary motivator for my work is increasing the representation of LGBTQ+ people in psychology research. Like many minoritized groups, LGBTQ+ people have been invisible--or worse--pathologized by psychology as a field. As a member of the community myself, I hope to play even a small role in centering the experiences of LGBTQ+ people in psychological science and beyond.
Q. Tell me about any other projects, interests, or hobbies you’d like to share.
A. My partner and I are self-proclaimed foodies, so we very much have enjoyed trying different restaurants around Cincinnati. Even though we’ve only lived here for a year, my partner and I have become avid Cincinnati sports fans. We’ve attended several FC and Reds games and are hoping to get to a Bengals game in the very near future.