Doctoral Student Spotlight: Brie Reid

Brie Reid

Brie Reid is a PhD student at the Institute of Child Development (ICD) in the program’s developmental science track. At ICD, Reid is studying maternal and child malnutrition and stress, a topic she became interested in after leading a study in rural Zambia. Through her PhD work, Reid hopes to discover biological pathways of adversity and resilience that could inform interventions and policy.

How did you become interested in the field of developmental psychology?

As a researcher at Cornell University, I led an intervention study to reduce malnutrition in rural villages across Zambia. There, I was struck by the levels of psychosocial stress these families were facing. Mothers worked 18-hour days, walked 45 minutes for their daily water, and faced chronic poverty and family dislocation. Working with these families, I realized that interventions also needed to deal with the relationship between stress and malnutrition. I was led to this profession to conduct research that will help children thrive, not just survive. I pursued a PhD to learn how malnutrition and early life stress interact to affect children’s trajectories of social and cognitive development. I am excited about the profession of research in child development because I love that I work as an interdisciplinary researcher and ask questions that have a real impact on the lives of children and families around the world.

Why did you choose to pursue your PhD at the Institute of Child Development?

While my experience at Cornell and in Zambia provided me with great training, I felt that real progress demanded the integration of stress and nutrition research and interventions. My drive to design interventions for children in contexts of poverty led me to pursue my PhD in child psychology at the University of Minnesota (U of M), with cross-disciplinary training with Professor Michael Georgieff, a leading expert in early nutrition and brain development, and Professor Megan Gunnar, a leading expert in the biology of stress and human development. Also a key part in my decision was the fact that ICD is a top program in its field. ICD celebrates interdisciplinary research, and gave me the opportunity to collaborate with faculty across the university. In order to bring my research to scale, ICD also supports me as I pursue a doctoral minor in epidemiology in the School of Public Health. I chose the U of M because of its broad commitment to interdisciplinary work and its land-grant mission, which emphasizes the importance of “giving research back” to the communities that we work in.

How would you describe your experience at ICD?

I’ve loved my experience at ICD. It’s wonderful to be surrounded by engaging, interesting people who care deeply about children and families! I would describe my experience as a huge growth opportunity: I’ve been able to work with people and projects that prior to graduate school I would have never thought were possible and it’s helped me to develop my research niche and ask research questions that are really meaningful to me.

What is the most valuable thing you have learned in ICD?

  1. Having a well-functioning and supportive lab is really key to doing excellent research and growing as a thoughtful scientist.
  2. You will be challenged and grow in so many ways—it won’t always be comfortable, but it will always be interesting!
  3. When it gets tough, reaching out for support is always a good idea.

How did you decide between development science or developmental psychopathology and clinical science as the track for your Ph.D?

I was interested in bringing developmental science to the field of maternal and child nutrition, and was interested in a research-oriented career in academia. Therefore, developmental science felt like a better fit for me.

How would you describe your research interests?

I am a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow in developmental psychology specializing in stress, nutrition, and epidemiology. I study how stress physiology and malnutrition impact children around the world. I focus on the biological pathways of adversity and resilience to inform interventions and policy. In my doctoral work, I am building an integrative model of how poor nutrition and stress impact child health and brain development. Stress and poor nutrition impact countless children around the world, but research looking at both is scarce. I work programmatically on multiple projects to fill in the gaps of research and improve our understanding of those pathways, and I built research partnerships with groups at the University of Minnesota, University of Chile in Santiago, McGill University, University of Michigan, and University of California San Diego. In my research portfolio, I study the impact of malnutrition and trauma on children adopted internationally, prenatal stress and nutrition in Singapore, and nutrition, stress, and obesity in Chilean youth.

What are your plans for after graduation?

From my experience working with vulnerable populations around the world, I am pursuing a career in research, teaching, and outreach. I plan to continue doing research at a major research institution, and I’m working towards a faculty position where I can research stress and nutrition together and consult for UNICEF and the World Health Organization.

What advice would you offer to incoming ICD students?

Everyone feels a little bit like a fish out of water when they start graduate school—don’t let that feeling stop you from connecting with your cohort, finding a community in the Twin Cities, and jumping into a research project to get your feet wet. Pursue what really interests you, even if it’s different from what the people around you are studying. You can make your dream research program happen with passion and persistence.