Featured Student: Mallory Stephenson

Mallory is a third-year doctoral candidate in the Integrative Life Sciences – Behavioral & Statistical Genetics program at VIPBG. She works in the lab of Dr. Alexis Edwards, whose research focuses on the genetic aspects of internalizing and substance use disorders. Mallory traces her love of science back to her grade school days in the Roanoke Valley of Virginia, where she attended a science and technology-focused magnet school. She was involved in both psychology and molecular biology research projects at her high school, foreshadowing an eventual interest in psychiatric genetics. Mallory earned a B.A. in Psychology and a B.S. in Biochemistry at Washington and Lee University in 2018 before coming to Richmond. After her undergraduate degrees, she studied with Drs. Danielle Dick and Jessica Salvatore at VCU for her M.S. in Developmental Psychology.

Mallory’s dissertation focuses on genetic and environmental influences on suicidal behavior. Specifically, her research will leverage polygenic risk scores to identify gene-environment interactions with painful and provocative events in longitudinal samples. On the interdisciplinary nature of her research, Mallory noted that she was excited to be working at the intersection of several different fields. “Most of the theoretical work has come from clinical psychologists who aren’t as focused on genetics…they may not incorporate genetic effects into their empirical work. Then there are the psychiatric geneticists who are really interested in gene identification. We’re trying to bring those two fields together.”

Recently, Mallory was awarded a grant by the Research Society on Alcoholism to extend her research and present findings at the RSA conference in Orlando, Florida. She used genomic structural equation modeling to investigate a common genetic factor underlying alcohol consumption, alcohol problems, and suicidality, then examined the correlation between this common factor and the different dimensions of impulsivity. “That was fun for a few different reasons. I’d never used genomic SEM before, so the grant gave me the opportunity to explore a new method. It was also my first grant, so that was very exciting.” Mallory also got the chance to travel to Florence, Italy for the World Congress of Psychiatric Genetics this year, where she met collaborators from around the world and attended sessions on psychiatric and behavioral genetics topics.

As a graduate student at VIPBG, Mallory is an active member of the IDEA Committee. The research sub-committee that Mallory belongs to tracks how inclusion, equity, and diversity are represented in publications and research at VIPBG. “We’re trying to understand what proportion of publications are addressing IDEA-related goals and what our study samples look like in terms of diversity.” She noted that she was excited to be working with faculty that “are passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion in research” at VIPBG. The IDEA committee is open to all faculty and trainees, and it meets regularly to discuss, among other topics, ways to improve the representativeness of research at VIPBG.

Outside of the lab, Mallory stays busy with her two dogs, Grapes and Winston. You can find them hiking the trails around Richmond or visiting one of the dog parks in their free time. She’s also an avid kayaker, and she refurbishes antiques as a hobby. Thanks to Mallory for sitting down for a chat, and we all wish her the best as she completes her dissertation!


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