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UToledo student studying suicide and opioids awarded prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Margaret Baer, a first-year doctoral student in The University of Toledo Department of Psychology, uses science to help make sense of suicide and substance use, leading causes of death in the United States.

Baer’s somber work is driven by these widespread sources of pain and unlocking new ways to ease suffering and prevent the loss of more lives.

Baer

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Baer a Graduate Research Fellowship in clinical psychology, recognizing her potential for significant research achievements.

The fellowship is worth $34,000 a year for three years. It is regarded as one of the most competitive and respected scientific fellowships in the country. This year the NSF awarded fellowships to 2,050 students around the country out of about 12,000 applications.

“I am immensely grateful for the NSF support,” said Baer, who is currently examining the link between suicide and substance abuse. “My passion is to conduct impactful, innovative research that ameliorates these large-scale public health problems. Among other studies, I hope to investigate the mechanisms underlying the co-occurrence of suicide-related behaviors and opioid misuse.”

Baer, who is from Evansville, Ind., works in the Personality and Emotion Research and Treatment Laboratory of Dr. Matthew Tull and Dr. Kim Gratz, both UToledo professors of psychology.

“Margaret is highly dedicated to conducting innovative and clinically relevant research, particularly in the areas of substance abuse and suicide,” Tull said. “I am incredibly pleased that the NSF has recognized her with this fellowship, which will provide her with even more opportunities to contribute to the field, as well as provide a foundation and resources for Margaret to build a highly impactful career.”

Baer’s own undergraduate experience at several different colleges sparked her interest in becoming a suicide researcher.

“I thought of college as a very exciting, hopeful time. I was shocked at the number of students who struggled with thoughts of suicide,” Baer said. “Kids were at their healthiest and youngest, on the cusp of exploring their extraordinary potential in higher education. It was an eye-opener. I felt the urgency of suicide prevention.”

Before arriving at UToledo in August 2018 to pursue her Ph.D., Baer worked with researchers at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Md.

“There is great need for suicide prevention at all ages — adolescents, seniors and middle-aged adults. All may resort to risky behaviors, such as substance abuse or self-injury — cutting, for example — while also having thoughts of suicide or attempting suicide,” Baer said. “My focus right now is on substance use impacting barriers to suicide. Soon I hope to examine the relationship between negative social interactions in daily life and opioid craving.”

Since 1952, NSF has funded more than 50,000 Graduate Research Fellowships out of more than 500,000 applicants. Currently, 42 Fellows have gone on to become Nobel laureates.

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