Current ICRE Spotlight

Ellen Beckjord, PhD, MPH, is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Clinical and Translational Science at the University of Pittsburgh. She received her doctoral training in clinical psychology at the University of Vermont, where she worked with more than 100 cancer survivors and their families delivering evidence-based behavioral medicine interventions from time of diagnosis through end-of-life care. After completing an internship at the Vanderbilt-VA internship consortium, Dr. Beckjord entered the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program and spent her first year obtaining a master’s degree in public health with concentrations in epidemiology and biostatics. She conducted her research at NCI in the Health Communication and Informatics Research Branch within the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences. Her post-doctoral research used national data from the Health Information National Trends Survey to examine the public’s use of health informatics, including e-mail communication with health care providers and use of the Internet for information management among cancer survivors.

Dr. Beckjord is currently in her third year of the Multidisciplinary Clinical Research Scholars Program (CRSP) and devotes 15% of her time to clinical practice working with post-treatment cancer survivors and patients with advanced-stage cancer. Her current work is focused on behavioral informatics in cancer prevention and control; specifically, the use of mobile technology to promote health, wellness, and health behavior change-especially among individuals at increased risk for cancer and cancer survivors. In 2014, her work was recognized when she was one of two CRSP Scholars who won the Pitt Innovation Challenge (PInCH), sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI). The $100,000 award supports her collaboration with industry partner Vignet Corporation and data scientist Ervin Sedjic in the School of Engineering on her KL2 project. The PInCh award has allowed Dr. Beckjord to expand her KL2 work on a just-in-time adaptive intervention for smoking cessation. The mobile application focuses on machine-learning methods to develop algorithms for real-time prediction of urges to smoke for people trying to quit. She intends to use the data collected by the app to ultimately deliver intervention pre-emptively without users having to ask for help.

Dr. Beckjord praises CRSP for elevating her research and fostering the necessary relationships with her collaborators, which made the PInCh award possible. Her collaboration with Vignet Corporation also opened the door for her to team with them on a Small Business Innovation Research Contract from NCI, which was subsequently funded. CRSP also provides her with protected time and funding, which has given her the opportunity to receive additional training in human-centered design at the LUMA Institute and training in technology commercialization in entrepreneurship via Pitt’s Benchtop to Bedside course. CRSP has also provided Dr. Beckjord with a valuable professional network. Through contacts in the program, she discovered and participated in the Early-Career Women in Science and Medicine workshop in summer 2014. Dr. Beckjord says this workshop provided an exciting and invigorating opportunity to convene with and learn from other women who are working to make a difference in the lives of patients and pursuing sustainable and viable careers in medicine. Dr. Beckjord credits CRSP’s infrastructure with providing a solid foundation with a community of researchers where collaborations and new ideas are formed. More senior CRSP scholars who serve as role models have also been beneficial in helping her to navigate her career. In expressing her appreciation of CRSP leadership and staff, and the CTSI for being instrumental in her career and helping her to overcome challenges to move her research forward, Dr. Beckjord stated that, “These programs make it easier to work hard!”

In addition, Dr. Beckjord is thankful for the valuable mentors she has been fortunate to have throughout her career, and she has professionally committed her time to also being an effective mentor. Dr. Beckjord currently mentors two seniors, one from Duquesne University and one from Carlow University, as well as her research assistant, who is preparing for medical school. She also mentors a psychiatric resident and plans to become more involved with mentoring medical residents in the future. To better develop her mentoring skills, she recently enrolled in the ICRE’s Training Early Academic Mentors program to take advantage of its training.

Dr. Beckjord is currently working with NCI on a book entitled Oncology Informatics, expected to be published by Elsevier in spring 2015. She is one of three editors and also authors a chapter within the book. She has also been a member of the Society of Behavioral Medicine for multiple years. The society awarded her with the Tracey Orleans Distinguished Service Award in 2014 after she served as the inaugural web editor for three years. She is now Chair of their Digital Health Council, which focuses on helping the society think strategically on effectively advancing the role of behavioral science in digital health. Dr. Beckjord remains is also a consultant for the LIVESTRONG Foundation, where she contributes to their developing models of patient-centered cancer care.

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