I’m J. Gayle Beck, Professor of Psychology, and This is How I Work

Dr. Beck summer 2009

I am Professor and Chair of Excellence in the Department of Psychology at the University of Memphis. My lab works to enhance our understanding of what contributes to an array of mental health problems in the aftermath of trauma. In Memphis, I run a mental health research clinic, the Athena Project, where we provide detailed assessments and treatment for women who are having mental health issues in the aftermath of intimate partner violence (IPV). The Athena Project allows us to provide free mental health services to women who have experienced IPV, to collect and publish data on this vulnerable but under-studied population, and to train the next generation of trauma-informed psychologists to be able to collaborate with multiple social service agencies in their work with trauma survivors. While time-intensive, this is incredibly rewarding work, as it blends research and clinical work seamlessly and provides services to women (many of whom have few resources). I also am currently collaborating on a multi-site RCT examining the efficacy of a group Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (GCBT) in the treatment of PTSD among veterans with Chronic PTSD. This trial extends previous work that I conducted, in which we developed and tested this GCBT for individuals with PTSD following severe motor vehicle accidents. As well, I am currently serving as the Editor in Chief for Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice. Over the years, I have served in a variety of leadership roles. I have watched my workload shift over time depending on other commitments and the specifics of my work environment. Currently I do no classroom teaching (although that will change in a few years), although I spend a considerable amount of time mentoring doctoral and masters students. I feel very fortunate to have a university faculty position, in light of the considerable freedom it affords. Having the privilege to work with graduate students is one part of my job that I cherish.

Location: Memphis, TN
Current Gig: Professor, Endowed Chair, Director of the Athena Project, Wife
One word/phrase that describes your work style: Consistent and efficient

Current computer/mobile device: Dell desktop, laptop, Samsung phone

What apps/tools/software can you not live without? Just basic word processing and statistical software. Apps are not part of my daily life

What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack? Learning meditation – it affords me greater focus and centers me at the same time.

What’s your workspace set up like? An L-shaped desk, with desktop, monitor, keyboard. I organize ongoing projects using piles on the floor so there is always some amount of (apparent) disorganization around me. Don’t trust appearances.

How do you keep track of things you need to do (any to-do-list apps)? Two lists: a long-term to-do list on my desk and a daily list (in my daily planner). Old school, in other words.

Besides your phone or computer, what gadget can’t you live without, and why?
None – I don’t rely on many gadgets.

What everyday thing can you do better than most people? What’s your secret?
I am not sure that there are too many things that I can do better than most. I have learned ways to be efficient over time. I have also learned ways to keep myself focused. I try to be compartmentalized with my work, so that when I am focusing on editorial work (for example), that is my sole focus. I can switch gears easily at this point which is often accompanied by a brief walk around campus.

What do you listen to while you work? No music while I work. Lots of music during the drive to/from work. Music is a reward for me.

What are you currently reading? Interpersonal therapy for PTSD by John Markowitz, lots of manuscript submissions, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

How do you recharge? Down time is best when my husband and I just head out of town. We have a small weekend house that is as tranquil as it is remote, which is a great place to exhale. Time spent on our boat is another recharge for me. Playing with our whippets, leisure traveling, and reading fiction also feature largely in recharging.

How do you balance your work life and your home/family life? I firmly believe in the maxim: plan your work, work your plan. In doing so, I can keep up with work without feeling like it is surrounding every corner of my life. I work at home some (but not a lot); most of my work is best done in the office, which is a bit of geographic compartmentalization.

What’s your sleep routine like? Since moving south, I have begun to get up earlier. I usually head to bed around 10 and read for a while. I typically get up between 5:30 and 6:30. Although I am not bright-eyed nor bushy-tailed this early, this is an important time for writing, exercise, meditation, or just getting caught up with life maintenance.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? My grandmother was an academic (at a time when there were very few women in the academy). Upon learning that I was pursuing an academic career, she told me to do what I love and have passion for and to not get caught up in the undertow.

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J. Gayle Beck

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