Undergraduate psychology researcher hopes to uncover solutions to depression in military populations

Award-winning undergraduate works in 4 research labs, hopes to pursue PhD

April 22, 2022

Rishika Shah, an undergraduate researcher in four labs in the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University, hopes to understand the underlying mechanisms behind behavior and attention.

Shah was announced as the recipient of the Dariel Truter Overby Memorial Scholarship, which is given annually to psychology students who aim to help people and pursue a graduate degree.  Rishika Shah, an undergraduate researcher in four labs in the Department of Psychology Rishika Shah, an undergraduate researcher in four labs in the Department of Psychology, hopes to understand the underlying mechanisms behind behavior and attention. Photo by Robert Ewing/ASU Download Full Image

Shah currently conducts research with the Military Social Science Laboratory (MiSSile) and Associate Professor Rebecca Blais; in the Behavioral Alcohol Research for Clinical Advancement (BARCA) lab with Professor William Corbin; in the ADAPT project with Professor Abigail Gewirtz; and in the Memory and Control Lab with Associate Professor Gene Brewer.

Shah is also the president of the Psychology Engagement Team and the secretary of the Psych for All committee, a DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging) initiative within the department.

Shah recently presented her honors thesis poster at the AZPURCAZPURC stands for Arizona Psychology Undergraduate Research conference. student research conference and has been working with the MiSSile Lab to better understand depression and social support in military populations. 

The MiSSile Lab conducts research on individual and interpersonal outcomes associated with military-related traumas, including combat and sexual assault/harassment, and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Military populations endure intense stress that is unfamiliar to the regular population. As a result, many military families deal with reintegration issues and long-term depression. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illnessnearly one in four active military service personnel have experienced some form of mental health condition. Additionally, a 2014 study by JAMA Psychiatry found that veterans deal with PTSD at 15 times the rate of civilians. 

“I'm doing my thesis on depression and social support in military populations,” Shah said. “We found a gap in literature where the association of negative social interactions with depression has not been studied in military populations. Negative social support is essentially critical remarks, promising help but not engaging in helpful behaviors and other forms of insensitive behaviors. Since social support has always been thought of as a protective factor to reduce depressive symptoms, it is important that we study both its positive and negative facets of it to better inform clinical interventions to treat depression. We hypothesize that negative social interactions affect depression more than positive social support.”

Shah transferred from a university in Mumbai in the late portion of 2021 and immediately went to work ingraining herself in the research culture of the Department of Psychology. 

“Rishika is an intrepid scholar, who has sought and taken all opportunities she can. She is quick on her feet and thorough,” Blais said. “Her future is bright — I am honored to be part of her academic journey.”

In India, Shah was the editor of St. Xavier’s College’s psychology magazine and helped to organize literary and cultural festivals there. Additionally, she was the chairperson of the Indian Delegation at the Harvard College in Asia Program. Shah also helped to tutor elementary students in English with the Udisha Project. 

Shah recognized that the theoretical approach to research in Mumbai limited her hands-on opportunities to conduct research, and she made the difficult decision to transfer to ASU. She was motivated by the idea of finding her own research niche and building a wealth of knowledge prior to applying for graduate programs. 

“I first started with Dr. Blais at the MiSSile Lab, which is a military psychology lab where I am doing my honors thesis on depression and social support in military populations. And after that, I started working with Dr. Corbin at the BARCA Lab, which is a substance use lab, where I'm working on a cannabis research project,” Shah said. 

Her positive experiences in the MiSSile and BARCA labs encouraged her to continue adding research roles and to continue her growth as a psychology researcher. Each lab conducts research in slightly different ways and from different perspectives, and combining them allows Shah to further refine what niche she intends on researching long-term. 

“Additionally, I get to work as an undergraduate research coder in the ADAPT lab at the REACH Institute here at ASU and also in Dr. Brewer’s lab, where I run experiments by administering current stimulation through electrodes and assisting in other ways,” Shah said. “The common ground in all of these labs and in the department is how supportive the climate is everywhere. The graduate students, my professors and even my fellow research assistants all want to set you up for success.”

Shah hopes to join a clinical psychology doctoral program and is interested in conducting research on substance use in vulnerable populations such as military service members, veterans and other cognitive impairments from traumatic brain injury, PTSD and depression.  

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology


2 ASU math professors honored as 2022 SIAM Fellows

April 22, 2022

The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) recently announced the 2022 class of SIAM Fellows. Foundation Professor Abba Gumel and Professor Rosemary Renaut of ASU's School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences (SoMSS) and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences are among the 26 members honored. These distinguished members were nominated for their exemplary research as well as outstanding service to the community. Through their various contributions, SIAM Fellows help advance the fields of applied mathematics and computational science.

“It is an honor to have two outstanding SoMSS faculty members selected as SIAM Fellows. This is a well-deserved recognition of their notable contributions to mathematics and to the profession,” said Donatella Danielli, school director and professor. “They are both wonderful mentors and teachers who have had great impact at Arizona State University and beyond.” ASU sign on the Tempe campus. Download Full Image

Abba Gumel

Foundation Professor Abba Gumel is being recognized “for stellar contributions to mathematical biology, particularly in the modeling of epidemics, and applications to solutions of public health problems.” He joined the ASU faculty in 2014 and became a fellow of the African Scientific Institute in 2020. Last year he gave the AMS Einstein Public Lecture in Mathematics, and he and co-authors were the recipients of the 2021 Bellman Prize.

Gumel was nominated based on his contributions to the mathematical theory of epidemics and on his efforts to promote the use of mathematics to help solve global public health problems. His work entails designing mathematical models, which typically take the form of deterministic systems of nonlinear differential equations, for gaining realistic insight into the spread and control of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. He builds and uses theories and techniques from nonlinear dynamical systems and data analytics to rigorously develop and investigate the models. He has written over 150 peer-reviewed papers, published in top-rated, high impact journals. His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, National Security Agency, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Mitacs and the Simons Foundation, among others.

“It is a huge honor and very humbling to be included among the distinguished group of researchers in the global applied and industrial mathematics community,” Gumel said. “Although the honor is given to me as an individual, the honor and credits must go to the many talented students, postdoctoral fellows, collaborators and mentors from around the world that I have had the privilege of working with, and learning from, over the decades. This recognition would not have been possible without their collaboration, friendship, mentorship and support. For this, and more, I am immensely grateful to them.”

Portrait of ASU Foundation Professor .

Abba Gumel

One of SIAM’s goals is to promote research that will lead to effective new mathematical and computational methods and techniques for science, engineering, industry and society. The high dimensionality and nonlinearity of some of the disease transmission models that Gumel and his collaborators design necessitate the development and use of novel computational methods for solving the resulting large systems of nonlinear differential equations. In addition to rigorous mathematical analysis and computation, statistics also plays a major role. For instance, the researchers use the vast array of theories and techniques in statistics to fit models with data, estimate parameters, study the impact of uncertainties in the estimate of, and sensitivities of, model parameters, and to design optimal control strategies. Gumel’s work is highly interdisciplinary in nature and he greatly enjoys the collaboration with researchers across disciplines.

“My own field of mathematical biology is inherently interdisciplinary, requiring collaborations between the mathematical scientists and researchers from the natural, engineering and (even) the social sciences,” Gumel said. “The era of operating in silos is long gone. To solve some of the world's most important problems, we have to work together across disciplines – and I am not aware of any other academic institution that best typifies this philosophy of multidisciplinary, in words and real measurable actions, than Arizona State University.

“As to why anyone might want to have a career in mathematics and computation, the answer is simply that you are embarking on a research discipline that focuses on using mathematical approaches to solve real-life problems that affect humanity. Through the use of mathematics — aka the science of precision, and the language of the observable universe — you are contributing to efforts to save the lives and enhance the well-being of the whole of humanity. Is there anything more noble?”

Rosemary Renaut

Professor Rosemary Renaut is being recognized “for contributions to ill-posed inverse problems and regularization, geophysical and medical imaging, and high order numerical methods.” She joined the ASU faculty in 1987 and became a fellow and chartered mathematician of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA), one of two learned societies chartered in the United Kingdom, in 1996. In addition, she has held visiting positions at seven highly respected institutions in the United States and Europe. Of particular significance was the honor of the award of Ambassador at Technische Universitat Munchen, the German Academic Exchange (DAAD) Fellowship at Wuppertal University, the John von Neumann Professorship at Technical University of Munich and the Sofia Kovalevsky Professorship at University of Kaiserslautern.

Renaut was nominated for her broad contributions to numerical analysis focused on practical applications. These contributions are in the areas of ill-posed inverse problems and regularization, geophysical and medical imaging, and high order numerical methods. She has published over 100 articles in refereed journals and conference proceedings. She has been primary investigator (PI) or co-PI on over $6.5 million in external funding from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Office of Naval Research, Arizona Department of Health Services and the Alfred Sloan Foundation, among others.

Portrait of ASU Professor .

Rosemary Renaut

“Being named a fellow was not something I expected, it is a big surprise, and I know that many of my colleagues are far more deserving – but I am still delighted to have received this honor,” Renaut said. “I hope that others can then aspire to a career that I have found to be rewarding and diverse. Over the years, my research has taken various directions, and I am appreciative that the faculty position at ASU for many years has been one that allowed me to follow different passions at different moments, inspired often by interesting conversations with other ASU faculty outside mathematics.

“As for why one would engage in a career such as mine – it was nothing I ever planned, and about which I knew nothing. But it has been rewarding. Working in the general area of computational mathematics and building skills across multiple directions, allows and facilitates tackling new and interesting problems. I am not sure that there are many careers where one can change the emphasis of one's research multiple times – and at the same time, have the opportunity to meet people across continents, travel with a family and foster the development of the next generation in mathematics.

“I would also have to say that I would really like to be able to go back and thank the few male teachers early in my education who respected my interests and encouraged me. There were no women anywhere in my education after primary school. I would also love to be able to go back to that other set of teachers who told me that I did not belong here. It frustrates me to know that such obstacles still exist.”

Renaut is motivated to contribute her expertise to the broader community, and foster opportunities for the development of junior professionals in applied mathematics. This led her to serve as program director at the National Science Foundation for a total of five years, including three years in computational mathematics and two years in mathematical biology. She served in the SIAM task force for future directions for the NSF division of mathematical sciences. She currently serves on the editorial board for SIAM News and was a member of the Program Committee and Committee on Committees. She has been active in the SIAM Activity Group for Imaging Sciences (SIAG-IS), also in the SIAM Activity Groups on Mathematical and Computational Issues in the Geosciences (SIAGGS) and Linear Algebra (SIAG-LA). She is currently on the SIAM selection committee for the AWM-SIAM Sonia Kovalevsky lecture prize.

Aligned with SIAM’s goals to promote research that will lead to effective new mathematical and computational methods and techniques, Renaut considers not her research but her service contributions to NSF, which were highly influential for her.

“I have always thought that I can do more for mathematics by doing what I can to promote the opportunities for others who are far more talented,” Renaut said. “Serving the next generation has always been pivotal in my service interests within and outside ASU. The next generation has so many exciting approaches for tackling the next set of problems and for how they engage the current students.”

Learn more about the 2022 class of SIAM Fellows.

Rhonda Olson

Manager of Marketing and Communication, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences