CSBS Small Grant Success Story: Dr. Brian Ogolsky

Brian Ogolsky
Prof. Brian Ogolsky

Brian Ogolsky, PhD, is the Director of Graduate Studies and an Associate Professor in the Department of Human Development & Family Studies, with affiliate appointments in the Center for Social and Behavioral Science (CSBS), School of Labor and Employment Relations, Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, and Family Law and Policy Program.

Dr. Ogolsky’s research examines how relational partners maintain healthy romantic relationships across the life course and the ways in which law and policy influence daily family life. His work has implications to inform practitioners and promote policy initiatives designed to enhance family dynamics.

Dr. Ogolsky shares with us his experience as a CSBS Small Grant recipient for the interdisciplinary project, Behavioral Metrics of Relationship Quality to Support Care Partner Dyads Adapting to Mild Cognitive Impairment, working with his esteemed Co-PIs, Dr. Shannon Mejia, an Assistant Professor in the College of Applied Health Sciences, and Dr. Alexandra Chronopoulou, a Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Statistics.

Tell us briefly about your research project. 

In older adulthood, couple relationships are known for their interdependence. The increase in interdependence within couples in older adulthood heightens the importance of relationship health, where a healthy relationship is characterized by relationship satisfaction and the presence of behavioral markers of relationship maintenance (e.g., effective conflict management, joint leisure activity). This relationship health moderates the effect of couples’ interdependence on their own well-being. Not only is relational health crucial to the quality of life of older adults, but it is also dynamic. Indeed, both cognitive and behavioral aspects of relationship health have been shown to fluctuate at the daily or even momentary level. Therefore, single measures of relational quality serve as a proxy for the complex cumulative interactions between partners. In addition, because partners spend such a large percentage of time in their relationships, it is difficult for them to objectively report on and act to support the health of their relationships. To resolve this problem, my colleagues, Shannon Mejia and Alexandra Chronopoulou, and I launched an interdisciplinary research project designed to develop and pilot wearable proximity sensors that measure relationship health in a way that is unobtrusive, objective, and responsive to moment-to-moment variations in couples’ lived contexts. Our guiding hypothesis was that proximity data (i.e., spatial closeness) can be used to characterize the health of older married couples’ relationships by linking it with physiology (i.e., heartrate), and psychology (e.g., self-reports of quality, health etc.).

In what ways did the CSBS Small Grant Program help you to connect with interdisciplinary collaborators at Illinois? 

This project necessitated expertise in relationship science, technology, health, aging, and advanced statistical modeling. This grant mechanism incentivized our team to pull together to try to solve a complex and interdisciplinary problem that would not have been possible by any one of us alone.

How did the initial CSBS Small Grant funding aid in your external funding efforts? 

This grant generated pilot data to support the proof of our concept. We were then able to use those data to apply for several larger external grants. Unfortunately, we have yet to land bigger funding, but we have published the results of the pilot study in a high-impact journal with an international audience.

What advice do you have for Illinois faculty and staff who may be interested in applying for a CSBS Small Grant?

I have two general pieces of advice. First is to cast a wide net on campus. When Shannon and I first came up with this idea, we did not know of anyone on campus who could help us. We leveraged the expertise of the CSBS to help us connect with others who had the necessary skills. So, in a nutshell, ask for help and don’t be afraid to take risks by asking others on campus. Second, dream big. Our project seemed like a longshot at the time. The idea was in its infancy and there was little empirical evidence to help guide our thinking. Getting some pilot funding gave us the needed push to make the project happen. Without the funding, we would not have been able to get the project off the ground.