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From car-ride epiphany to clinical research: How Nadia Al-Dajani found her place at Miami

<p>Dr. Al-Dajani joins Miami’s Psychology Department this year focusing her research on suicide prevention. </p>

Dr. Al-Dajani joins Miami’s Psychology Department this year focusing her research on suicide prevention.

Nadia Al-Dajani recalls driving to a friend’s house and unintentionally using the two hour commute to discover what would become the topic of her dissertation for her Ph.D.. 

She remembered working with patients during her master's program. Pursuing a clinical psychology degree, Al-Dajani worked with patients who expressed suicidal thoughts and tried to help them figure out where these thoughts come from. 

She wondered in a broader context, what similar experiences do individuals share before having a suicidal thought? How can these occurrences be tracked and monitored to potentially help the individual suffering?

This year, Al-Dajani joined the department of psychology at Miami University, continuing the research from her car trip-generated idea. Al-Dajani teaches a senior capstone course focusing on suicide research. Her discussion-based course focuses on the five W’s: who, what, when, where and why. 

“In class we look at the what of suicide. So what is it? How do we classify it? What are the behaviors or what are the thoughts that might come up?” Al-Dajani said. “We look at the who. Who is at risk? Are there certain populations at risk? Are there certain risk factors that make somebody more vulnerable long term?” 

Al-Dajani’s research focuses on what individuals experience before having suicidal thoughts that could be identified as contributing factors. She hopes her research will lead to solutions to anticipate and intervene when individuals experience suicidal thoughts. 

Her research involves a smartphone app which asks users to fill out a survey about their emotions in the previous hour. Al-Dajani looks at these responses to find possible predictors of suicidal thoughts.

“Are there certain emotional things that come up for people, certain events in their lives, or are they just having really distressing emotions in and of themselves that might predict in the next survey that they would experience a suicidal thought?” Al-Dajani said. “And ultimately, the hope is to try and figure out when those thoughts would arise and then is there some sort of app intervention that we can put together that would interrupt that process?”

Al-Dajani’s passion for psychology research and mentorship led her to Miami. Rather than working in an academic medical setting, reflecting on her own experiences in school, Al-Dajani wanted the opportunity to interface with students.

Entering undergrad at the University of Toronto, Al-Dajani recalls being uncertain of exactly what she wanted to study. After taking psychology courses, volunteering in a lab and attending the lab instructor’s office hours for guidance, Al-Dajani decided to pursue a clinical psychology degree. 

Continuing at University of Toronto, the same lab instructor served as Al-Dajani’s graduate adviser and was supportive in guiding Al-Dajani to figure out what she wanted to do and how to reach it.

“What I love about mentorship and from my own experiences is you can have such an impact on somebody's trajectory, like their career and their professional development,”Al-Dajani said. “Without the mentors I had, I wouldn't be here. So I'd love to be that person for somebody.”

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Al-Dajani looks forward to helping students develop their professional interests in the classroom and lab. 

“In the undergraduate level, students have had limited research experience, but there could be something they want to explore and they're interested in,” Al-Dajani said. “So I really want to meet that student where they're at and try to come up with goals that make sense and build a structure where they have that support.” 

One idea Al-Dajani wants to instill in her students is that challenges and failures are a part of school and professional life. She intends to help her students feel more confident in their goals that may feel very far out of reach. 

“When students see super impressive sounding things about others and feel like they can't get there, or might be struggling in classes or not sure what they want to do, it can be demoralizing,” Al-Dajani said. “I just want to maybe convey to students that if something feels like it's out of reach, but it's something you're really interested in, that's not necessarily the case.”