An assistant professor of psychology at the University of Mississippi since 2016, Laura J. Dixon received the 2021 Dr. Mike L. Edmonds New Scholar Award in Social Sciences for the College of Liberal Arts.
She obtained her PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Wyoming after completing her predoctoral internship/residency at the University of Mississippi Medical Center & G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center. Dr. Dixon completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Mississippi Medical Center where she specialized in adult and childhood anxiety and conducted studies to examine anxiety vulnerability factors in relevant health populations, including perinatal women and dermatology patients. Her work emphasizes: (1) the use of experimental psychopathology approaches to study transdiagnostic mechanisms underlying anxiety pathology; (2) the systematic identification and evaluation of cognitive and emotional vulnerability factors (e.g., anxiety sensitivity, emotion regulation) that may exacerbate anxiety disorders and related health conditions, such as dermatological disorders; and (3) the development, evaluation, and dissemination of brief, targeted anxiety interventions to optimize treatment outcomes and increase access to care.
Briefly describe your teaching philosophy/work. What should people know about it?
I teach undergraduate and graduate courses, and while the details are informed by the course objectives, one of my key aspirations is to enhance students’ understanding of psychological phenomena (and mental health problems, in particular) by connecting the material to students’ daily lives and facilitate critical thinking by challenging common myths, stigma, and biases.
How did your interest in your field of study develop? What initially sparked your interest in teaching about your area?
My research interests started as an undergraduate research assistant in the ARKids lab at the University of Arkansas, where I gained my first hands-on experience with experimental psychopathology research. I became fascinated by study design, experimentally inducing anxiety and emotions, and the process of identifying and isolating vulnerability factors to understand the development of anxiety pathology. This experience led me to study anxiety through the clinical psychology program at the University of Wyoming, and then eventually led to extending these research ideas by investigating anxiety processes in other vulnerable patient populations, such as dermatology patients and pregnant/postpartum women through my postdoc at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
In reflecting on your time as a professor, what are the highlights?
There are many highlights, but one of the biggest highlights has been to see my research lab—the Health and Anxiety Research and Treatment (HART) lab—grow from a small team with a couple studies to a fairly large team of undergraduate and graduate students with numerous collaborations and ongoing studies. It’s been rewarding to work with students through the lab and be a part of their journey—navigating challenges, reaching milestones, and helping them attain their next steps. I’m eager to see the HART lab continue to evolve and expand in new directions in the coming years.
Are there specific examples of support—fellowships, mentoring, other—that helped advance your academic and professional goals?
The research labs that I’ve been a part of have been a key source of support, and this continues to be the case—many of my labmates and former mentors continue to be an important part of personal and professional life.
What do you hope students take away from your classes?
Critical thinking is the first thing that comes to mind, and more specifically, I hope that students are able to apply these skills to become more critical consumers of information on mental health and psychological treatments.
Do you have advice or thoughts to share with students?
Be proactive in your area of study—get involved, be dedicated, and work hard. Keep an open mind—you never know where an opportunity may take you.
Anything else you’d like to say.