Past Columns - Greta Massetti
Greta Massetti, Ph.D., Center for Disease Prevention and Control
Greta Massetti, Ph.D.
Branch Chief, Research and Evaluation Branch
Division of Violence Prevention
Center for Disease Prevention and Control
1. What is your current occupation?
Ans - I am a Branch Chief in the Division of Violence Prevention (DVP) at the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC). I am the chief of the Research and Evaluation Branch, which means that I am responsible for providing leadership to and overseeing all research and evaluation work for our division. DVP works to promote public health approaches to preventing all forms of violence, including youth violence, suicide, intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and child maltreatment.
2. Describe your role.
Ans - I lead a branch that includes approximately 40 scientists, fellows, and trainees. I am responsible for providing leadership on all aspects of our work, from budget oversight to scientific publication, and everything in between. I am involved in senior leadership discussions about strategic directions and priorities for our division and center. I am also involved in budget decisions to identify opportunities for new funding, address research gaps, and promote our research agenda. I also oversee all of our ongoing research projects, which currently involve just under $20 million. I am responsible for reviewing and clearing every publication and report authored or co-authored by our branch scientists. I respond to requests from our policy offices, which often are responses to queries from congress, the White House, or other federal agencies. I serve on interagency workgroups that bring together partners across the federal government, and I am a representative on a White House advisory group. On occasion, I also represent the division on congressional briefings and respond to media requests.
3. How did you learn about your job?
Ans - Prior to coming to CDC, I was on the faculty at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. I was a Co-PI on a project that was jointly funded by CDC and the Institute for Education Sciences. Through that project, I got to know several of the CDC scientists who worked on the project, and I had an opportunity to understand their work and their roles within the agency. I had always been interested in federal policy and in the intersection of science and evidence-based policy, so it was very exciting for me to learn about the work of violence prevention at CDC. When a position opened up for a scientist in the division, one of my CDC colleagues forwarded it to me and encouraged me to apply.
4. Describe the path that you took to get to your current position.
Ans - After my clinical internship at the University of Chicago Medical Center, I was on the faculty in the department of Psychology at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. I was part of a large, multidisciplinary clinical research center at UB led by Bill Pelham. That was a great experience that allowed me to collaborate with faculty from lots of different departments. I had the wonderful opportunity to experience the clinical science approach to integrating research and practice at the Center for Children and Families. I came to CDC in 2007, where I started at first as a scientist, and moved into a Lead Scientist position in 2008. I have been a branch chief since 2011. At CDC there are lots of opportunities to move into different positions as our interests and skills develop and grow. I enjoy leadership, so it has been very rewarding to move into a leadership track.
5. Are you a member of Division 53? If so, how has being a member of Division 53 been helpful to you?
Ans - I am not currently a member of Division 53, but I have been in the past. I am sorry to say I have been neglectful and allowed my membership to lapse. In the past, Division 53 was definitely helpful to me in my career. I have always been very passionate about bridging science, practice, and policy, and in promoting evidence-based practice. Division 53 is an organization that values those same themes, and it provided opportunities to connect to like-minded professionals at the forefront of that field.
6. What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job? Why?
Ans - I love the multidisciplinary nature of my work. I have the exciting opportunity to interact with scientists trained in a wide variety of disciplines, from psychology (including clinical, social, community, and developmental) to economics, sociology, criminology, public health, and epidemiology. It is fascinating to put different perspectives together to solve problems and think about science. I believe that makes our work more effective because it allows us to take advantage of the different strengths each discipline offers. It also allows us to push beyond the specific boundaries and limitations of our own disciplines. I love being a clinical psychologist and that framework informs my thinking, but I am fortunate to also learn from others some different ways of defining our work and addressing gaps in our field.
The other aspect of my job that is exciting and fun is the opportunity to apply science in a policy or programmatic context. I love to be able to use science to solve social problems, and it is exciting to be able to apply science. At CDC, I have many opportunities to interact with policy makers, community leaders, and national organizations to promote the use of evidence and the application of science.
7. What is a tough aspect of your job? How have you handled it?
Ans - It is very challenging to navigate all of the responsibilities of leadership, mentoring, supervision, and find time to do the science that brings me personal and professional satisfaction. I often am in the position of having to put out multiple fires, address policy requests, prepare and deliver congressional briefings, and handle all aspects of supervising and leading a large group of scientists. I have had to become very adept at carving out time for writing and advancing the science that I believe should be a priority for me. A couple of strategies have helped. First, I am professionally committed to writing, so it is critical for me to make it a priority. In order to provide effective leadership to the scientists in my branch, who span in career experience from current Ph.D. students to senior-level scientists, it is important for me to be involved and engaged in science. Another very helpful strategy is to get engaged in collaborations. This helps by making the work more interesting and interactive, and keeps me accountable. If I know my colleagues are counting on me to keep a paper moving, it’s harder for me to push it onto the back burner.
8. What is one thing that you wish you had known as a graduate student or post-doc/early career psychologist that would have helped you navigate your career?
Ans - I wish I had taken more courses on complex analytic methods. I have a basic working grasp of complex analyses, but our science is advancing at a rapid pace, and it’s difficult to keep up the technical skills to run complex analyses with very large longitudinal data sets. We have statisticians on staff who are closely involved in every stage of research design and analysis, and their support and technical expertise is invaluable.
9. What advice would you give to students who may be interested in doing what you do?
Ans - I would strongly encourage current students to take a course in public health. It is a discipline that has tremendous opportunities for application across fields. Students can learn about ways to think about science and evidence-based practice and opportunities to expand to a broad, population-based scale. Another great resource for folks who are interested in understanding what we do at CDC is the CDC Fellowships site. This website is our one-stop-shop for information on fellowships, internships, and other training opportunities at CDC. We have lots to offer, from summer camp programs for high school students all the way through to postdoctoral opportunities. The website has information on the types of opportunities available, application requirements, and timelines. Our most prestigious and rigorous training program is the Epidemic Intelligence Service. EIS is a 2-year postdoctoral training program that provides rigorous hands-on training in epidemiology and public health. We have been very fortunate to have had several EIS officers from PhD programs in Clinical Psychology and Developmental Psychology come through the program recently.
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