PhD Students Yeqing Yuan and Laura Curran Awarded NIH-Funded Pre-Doctoral Fellowships

PhD students Yeqing Yuan (left) and Laura Curran (right)
PhD students Yeqing Yuan (left) and Laura Curran (right)

PhD students Yeqing Yuan and Laura Curran have been awarded National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) funded pre-doctoral fellowships at the Behavioral Sciences Training in Drug Abuse Research (BST) program at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing. Each year the BST program at NYU Meyers prepares nine pre-doctoral and seven post-doctoral fellows from various behavioral disciplines for careers in research on drug abuse through intensive training, seminars, mentorship, and supervised research on NIDA grants.

Both Yuan and Curran are mentees of Associate Professor Jennifer Manuel and are research assistants on her NIDA funded study testing Critical Time Intervention (CTI) among individuals with substance abuse problems transitioning out of residential treatment programs. Dr. Manuel said “The BST pre-doctoral fellowship is highly competitive and one of the country’s premier training programs for behavioral scientists pursuing drug abuse research. It is an extraordinary accomplishment that both Yeqing and Laura received this fellowship and it speaks to their tremendous talent and potential.”

“The BST is a fantastic platform to support the completion of my dissertation,” said Yuan, who is preparing to defend her dissertation proposal, a mixed methods study on housing stability among individuals with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders receiving Assertive Community Treatment services. “I will learn from and be exposed to research projects conducted by top researchers within the Center for Drug Use and HIV Research, a NIDA-funded center affiliated with the BST, and will work with a multidisciplinary team of pre- and post-doctoral fellows to gain a greater understanding of the nature of substance use and the complex needs of substance abusing populations.”

Yuan said she was motivated to pursue drug abuse research by her previous work as a homeless outreach clinician in Boston. “Many of the people I worked with were diagnosed with substance abuse and/or mental health problems, and their homelessness negatively impacted their recovery trajectory. So I became interested in learning more about that population and how to address their complex needs.” Yuan said she has been further inspired by Dr. Manuel, whose research in co-occurring substance use and mental disorders (COD) compelled Yuan to pursue her PhD at NYU Silver. “I learned from her that people with COD are more marginalized and the research in the area is more limited, which sparked my interest in helping to fill that gap.”

“Dr. Manuel has provided tremendous support and helped me gain skills and knowledge in conducting research,” Yuan added. “As a research assistant on Dr. Manuel’s CTI study, I was able to gain experience in qualitative and quantitative data analysis, data collection, and manuscript writing, as well as how to conduct a randomized controlled trial and manage a study team. These are skills I look forward to building on in the BST program.”

Curran, who is preparing to take her qualifying exam this summer, expects the BST program to help shape her dissertation proposal. “Right now, I am interested in facilitators and barriers to treatment for pregnant women with opioid use disorder,” she said, “but I am also interested in the effectiveness of different medication types, like buprenorphine vs. methadone, and what is better for moms and infants. Major milestones for me in the BST program will be determining my dissertation topic and ensuring my proposal will be building on existing knowledge.”

Prior to pursuing her PhD, Curran was a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who provided therapy to foster and adoptive children and families, the homeless community, and opioid-dependent pregnant women receiving methadone treatment. She explained, “I have always had an interest in addiction and substance use. Through my clinical work, I became passionate about finding ways to solve the opioid crisis, particularly for pregnant women and families who are involved in not only in substance use but also the child welfare system, and who lack access to services and treatment. Within the BST program, I am hoping to both improve my research skills and identify how my research can create systems level change.”

Like Yuan, Curran credited Dr. Manuel for helping her develop research skills, and she also praised her for modeling community partnerships. “Dr. Manuel is committed long term to the agencies in which she conducts research. She sets an amazing example.”