SSSP Student board interview questions
Background & research
- How did you get involved in the area of psychopathy research?
Growing up in British Columbia, I was fortunate to attend Simon Fraser University for my undergraduate studies where I was exposed to psychologists conducting cutting-edge research on psychopathy. Robert Hare had produced a number of academically oriented graduate students who were in the early stages of their own academic careers. David Cox, one of Bob Hare’s first graduate students, was one of my professors. He had just completed a study on psychopathy with British bomb disposal experts in Northern Ireland. We talked about sensation seeking and its potential for good, but also harm. Stephen Hart (also a recent graduate student from Bob Hare’s lab) had initiated his post-doctorate studies at Simon Fraser University and was developing a clinical screening method for the assessment of psychopathy. David and Steve’s offices were just down the hall from mine and I was exposed to their work early on, including the development of the Psychopathy Checklist: Screening Version (PCL: SV; Hart, Cox, & Hare, 2005). James Ogloff (also at SFU) had completed one of the first treatment studies on psychopathy with Steven Wong and his experiences also had an impact on my eventual career path.
- What do you hope to achieve through your work?
In the last few years, I have generated several papers on specifiers for Conduct Disorder (Salekin, 2016a, 2016b BJP; PD:TRT; Salekin Andershed, & Clark, 2018; HoP) and published an in-depth review paper -- titled “What do we know about psychopathic traits in children?” (Salekin, 2017; JCPP). I also co-edited a relatively new special issue on the topic of CD and psychopathic traits with Henrik Andershed (Salekin, Andershed, Batky, & Bontemps, 2018; JPBA). It is through this work that I hope to provide a better understanding of the various phenotypic expressions of Conduct Disorder (CD). I believe the variants of CD can look quite different depending on the set of psychopathic traits that accompany CD. Also, there can be various configurations and it will be important to keep in mind the potentially different compositions of the disorder. Allowing for the examination of a broad range of psychopathic traits (GM, CU, DI) to specify CD could shed light on different processes that underlie CD. It is my hope that this work will lead to further productivity with respect to innovative etiological studies and treatment programs. Our research team (along with others [e.g., Henrik Andershed. Olivier Colins, Kostas Fanti]) aims to fill some of these research gaps.
- What type of qualifications and/or skills does one require to have a similar career as you?
There are many routes to getting a career in academia. I spent a lot of time in libraries reading books about psychology and especially about psychopathy. One book which impacted me early on was the influential “Mask of Sanity.” Following my undergraduate training, I stepped into a graduate program in Clinical Psychology. I completed courses in Abnormal Psychology, Learning, Motivation, Social Psychology, Biological Psychology, Psychophysiology, Research Design, Personality, Ethics, Structured Interviewing, Forensic Psychology, Child Psychology, History, Personality Assessment, Multicultural, Psychometrics, and Statistics. I then completed comprehensive examinations. This training provided the necessary groundwork for clinical practice and research. I was exposed to a wide range of cases, but whenever possible, I asked to work with kids who had externalizing conditions such as Conduct Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. My graduate school mentor, Richard Rogers, was helpful in getting me further involved in clinical practice and research on this topic.
- What has been your most memorable experience as a researcher in this field?
There are many. I think the most memorable experiences are when you make a discovery, see patients benefit in some way (often times in treatment studies). And, there are the stories that you hear while working in this area. In the detention centers in which we work, and in our University disruptive behavior clinic, our research team more frequently than expected encounters kids with elevated psychopathic traits. Many of them, with respect to their interpersonal style, are very engaging. My graduate students and I often process, and check the plausibility of the information they provide, via file information and other collateral sources. We find that while some of the stories they tell are true, many turn out to be fabrications.
In the future
- Considering research is generally ahead of application in the field, what is one improvement in the field of psychopathy that you hope to see take place over the next five to ten years?
I hope there is an improvement realized in the mechanisms for psychopathy. Currently, there is still far too little known about the brain and how it operates with respect to psychopathy. And, we are not always clear about the regions of the brain implicated in behavioral, cognitive, or emotional deficits (lack of fear). This was recently poignantly illustrated by LeDoux (2013, 2014), who suggested that “fear circuitry” requires reconsideration noting that some of the fear processing likely occurs in the prefrontal cortex. Sylco Hoppenbrouwers, Berend Bulten, and Inti Brazil’s (2016) paper, like Smith and Liliendfeld’s (2015), has been influential in critically rethinking mechanisms. My hope is that in the next decade, these types of questions and subsequent research will improve what we know about the causes of psychopathy and correspondingly improve interventions. The largest gains in our field will likely be made if we examine the broader construct of psychopathy, its underpinning dimensions, and their relation to conduct disorder (CD) and potentially Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).
Tips for students
- What type of career advice would you offer students looking to start a similar career as yours?
It can be helpful to obtain some experience with clinical assessment and diagnosis as well as experience with psychophysiological measurement. The field is likely to continue to examine the biological aspects of psychopathy (heart rate, skin conductance response, and neuroimaging) so work in this area could be important. I also believe it will be important to think about psychological processes, and how these processes, affect a variety of the biological mechanisms.
- Any roadblocks that you experienced while in grad school?
I had a satisfying undergraduate and graduate school experience. I had great mentors and did not experience many roadblocks. So probably just the usual roadblocks (e.g., delays getting a study started). I think if you acknowledge, and appreciate, those that are helpful to you, you likely will not face a lot of setbacks. When you do face setbacks, it is good to stay calm, and plan how you can solve the problem.
- What are some “must-read” historical and contemporary works both inside and outside of the field?
“The Mask of Sanity” (Cleckley, 1976)
“Psychopathy: Theory and Research” (Hare, 1970)
“Without Conscience” (Hare, 1993)
“The Handbook of Psychopathy” (2nd ed; Patrick, 2018)
- Outside the area of psychopathy
“Educating the Human Brain” (Posner & Rothbart, 2006)
“Mind and its Evolution” (Paivio, 2006)
“Principles of Philosophy” (Decartes)
- If you could start your career over again, is there anything you would do differently and why?
I don’t think so. I am pretty happy with my work.
- Despite successful careers, most experts in the field still face rejection either through the grant application process, publication process, among others. To illustrate to trainees that this is part of the process and perseverance is key, can you think of any examples from recently, say the past 2 or 3 years, in which you were not awarded a grant, job opportunity, etc.?
I have had my share of successes with articles and funding, but our team also faces failures and misses. Recently, a graduate student of mine and I had a paper rejected from a premier psychology journal. I believe it is a really important piece of research, so this was disappointing, but it is part of the process. We will resubmit to another journal and hope for a better result. I suspect that eventually it will be published, and the information disseminated.
Other comments or tips?
Fully participate in, and enjoy, your graduate school experience. It is a fun ride and worth all, and every bit, of the effort!