CSBS RD Spotlight: Kaylee Lukacena

Kaylee Lukacena
Research Development Manager, Kaylee Lukacena

Kaylee Lukacena, PhD., is a Research Development Manager for the social and behavioral health portfolio at the CSBS. We asked Kaylee to share more about her role and experiences.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What led you to the CSBS?
I was born and raised in the Appalachian region of Ohio with a love for Sicilian square pizza and music by our hometown hero, Dean Martin. I started my educational journey at Muskingum University studying communication, political science, and gender studies, with hopes to become a divorce attorney. However, I despised argumentation and could not imagine myself in a courtroom. Instead, I found my fervor rested in persuasion and how carefully crafted messages and interpersonal interactions can influence our health behaviors. I continued my education at the University of Illinois for my Masters, working with Drs Marian Huhman and Brian Quick who developed successful local and national health campaigns. I also had the opportunity to support the It’s On Us National Sexual Assault Awareness campaign serving as a task force member and regional leader. These experiences fueled my passion for violence prevention and campaigns, and I carried this interest with me into my Ph.D. program.

At the University of Kentucky, I worked with health communication scholars who helped me expand my expertise in the design and evaluation of health messages. I was able to apply these skills to social and behavioral issues of importance such as working to alleviate the opioid epidemic, preventing sexual assault, and identifying communication strategies to support survivors of intimate partner violence. I had the privilege to work as a project manager and on a grant-funded interdisciplinary and multi-institution project to develop and test health messages promoting the proper disposal of unused prescription opioids in Appalachia. As I was starting my dissertation, I saw a job posting for a “Research Development Manager” at the CSBS at my alma mater. I read the job description and thought – I do most of this now through the grant…  this sounds like my cup of coffee! I applied, and two writing samples and two interviews later, I received a call from the former director, Dr. Brent Roberts, with an offer for the position. Long story short, I am not the lawyer I hoped to be, but I am proud to be in a career where I can support innovative research to improve the health and well-being of others.

Could you tell us about the social and behavioral health grand theme? What are some of the major research topics your portfolio addresses?
The social and behavioral health grand theme centers around on understanding the processes by which biology, behavior, and the social environment can support wellness, and optimize health. Although our faculty focus a wide range of health contexts from testing the feasibility of physical fitness interventions, understanding barriers to access and food practices, to developing behavioral health interventions for diverse populations, there are a few major pillars in the social and behavioral health grand theme. The four primary areas include:

  1. The cancer care continuum;
  1. Mental and behavioral health;
  1. Maternal health; and
  1. Health communication

What are some examples of how the CSBS contributes to research development on campus?
Although the CSBS is small shop, we concert efforts to support research development in our social and behavioral science community. One contribution to research development we are most known for is our CSBS Methods Series. The CSBS Methods Series consists of interactive workshops held every fall semester featuring experts who provide training on methods of interest to our researchers. Some examples of methods workshops held over the past few years include Causal Inference with Observational Data, Machine Learning for the Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Crafting Qualitative Evidence for Impact. These workshops not only help our researchers continue honing their methods skills during their career, but are a wonderful catalyst for sparking innovative ideas for our research community.

In fact, following the qualitative workshop in Fall 2020, we received several requests for a space to build community and support qualitative research. The CSBS responded to this need by starting the Qualitative Research Initiative (QRI) — a centralized community for qualitative and mixed methods researchers to facilitate conversations about qualitative and mixed methods data collection and analysis, bring together and build collaborations among researchers from across campus who teach, employ, and develop qualitative research and inquiry; and increase the visibility of qualitative research opportunities. As a mixed methods researcher, I have had the pleasure of helping lead this group along with faculty and research staff from eight distinct units on campus. Some of our activities have included a discussion group on ethnographic methods, a discussion group on qualitative technology which aligned with qualitative data analysis workshops provided by the University library, and a panel on training the next generation of qualitative researchers.

Tell us about any projects that you are particularly excited about right now.
One of the research projects I am proud to support is Dr. Tabb’s small grant project The Impact of Racial Bias and Discrimination on Experiences and Healthcare Interactions during Perinatal Period among Women of Color, or what we call the HIPP Mom study. HIPP Mom focuses on the experiences of pregnant Women of Color and mothers from diverse backgrounds about discrimination in clinical interactions, creating a roadmap to improve patient-provider communication for Women of Color, and developing a pilot intervention to address racial bias in clinical interactions as a step toward reducing larger systematic disparities in healthcare. Dr. Tabb, along with Dr. Mai Hoang, Dr. Wendy Hsieh, and PhD student, Andi Lee, conducted virtual focus groups with Moms of Color. I was fortunate enough to join the team post data collection to assist with the qualitative data analysis process. As a white woman, working with this incredible team of women of color to address an important issue in maternal healthcare has been eye opening. I learned so much about working with more diverse populations, the inequities in healthcare, and their passion for addressing these inequities has inspired me to approach research with a different lens.

What advice do you have for social and behavioral scientists seeking research development support?
Start early! I cannot stress enough that grant submissions do not have to be down to the wire. If we know early enough that a research team is interested in a particular funding mechanism, we can approach the submission in a proactive manner. There is a great deal of support our research development team can provide if we are given enough notice in advance. We are happy to help develop checklists, create a method for clearly organizing all drafts and submission materials, scheduling and facilitating consistent check-ins with the team, and reviewing and comparing materials to the grant solicitation guidelines. Additionally, as more funders require interdisciplinary and interprofessional teams, the CSBS, if given enough notice, can do our best to identify and connect research teams with potential collaborators. We encourage faculty to seek out collaborators early on in the grant-getting process so they can devote adequate time toward relationship building, involving their collaborator in conceptualization of the project, and ensure their collaborator is included equitably in the budget.

What is your favorite memory of working at the CSBS?
I love working at the CSBS so choosing one favorite memory is challenging. Anyways, everything is better in 3’s:

  1. Brent’s Retirement from the CSBS – it was the one time we all were able to gather as a “larger” group since the onset of COVID and shower Dr. Brent Roberts with our gratitude. I chose to express my gratitude through stand-up, since Brent always was offended that I never invited him to my performances.
  1. Elsa’s Baby Shower – the excitement for our first CSBS baby is not a well-kept secret. We loved getting to share cake, presents, and baby stories in preparation for our newest team member.
  1. Mental Health Walk – The CSBS co-sponsored the Family Walk for Parental Mental Health Awareness, along with Perinatal Connect, the School of Social Work, and the Village. It was simply a joy to gather with researchers, practitioners, children, and community members for a walk in Hessel Park, and share information about mental health support for expectant and new parents.