I’m Sandra Morissette, Professor of Psychology, and This is How I Work

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For the past year and a half, I have served as a Professor of Clinical Psychology at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). I came to this position after having trained and worked at the Veterans Administration for over 18 years. Thus, I made a fairly non-traditional leap from VA/medical school setting to a traditional university. I was at a point in my career in which I believed I could make a significant contribution to training future generations of psychologists. UTSA had fairly recently established a new doctoral program in psychology with a focus on military health. I felt this would be a place where I could contribute to building the training program and accomplish my mission of training future health researchers to do this important work.

The broad focus of my research is to understand co-occurring psychopathology, with a particular emphasis on understanding anxiety, traumatic stress, and addictive behaviors. I’m especially interested in identifying malleable factors that predict functional recovery (or conversely, poor functional outcomes) in military service members and veterans who have served in warzones, and to use these data to empirically inform treatments in new ways to make them better. Over the past several years I developed a program of research, called Project SERVE (Studies Evaluating Returning Veterans’ Experiences), which includes a series of funded longitudinal studies examining modifiable predictors and trajectories of functional recovery in returning veterans. Currently, I am also developing a program of research focusing on functional recovery of student veterans in higher education.

Among the courses I teach are Military Health Psychology, Psychopathology, and Introduction to Clinical Psychology. I also mentor junior faculty, doctoral students, master’s students, and undergraduates, which is something I am honored to do and is a particularly satisfying part of my job.

This is how I work…

Location: San Antonio, TX

Current Gig: Professor of Clinical Psychology

One word/phrase that describes your work style: efficient, have fun

Current computer or mobile device: My phone is a Samsung Galaxy. My computer at work is a Dell. I use a Surface Pro 4 at home and for travel because it is very light (1.7 lbs).

What apps/tools/software can you not live without? Mostly, I just use the basics: Microsoft office, SPSS

What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack? Adding finger print recognition to quickly access my phone. Also, I’ve (amateur) kaizened my morning routine, which keeps us sane and gets us all out the door.

What’s your workspace set up like? My desk at work is a U-shape so I have plenty of room to work on my computer, spread out, and have a table of sorts to meet with students and others. My computer set-up includes two large screen monitors that rest on an adjustable desk in which I can sit or stand. I have an ergonomic chair for when I choose to sit. I usually try to stand at least half the day, starting in the first hour of the morning and then particularly after lunch to the end of the day because it helps me to stay more alert (especially when the 2-3pm lull in energy hits). Standing really helps, and the irony isn’t lost on me at the end of the day in which I can say to myself, “At least I’m still standing!”

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How do you keep track of things you need to do? If you’re old school and use pen and paper, do you have a preference for a particular brand/type of pen and paper?  I’m a list maker. I’ve tried apps but they generally haven’t worked so well for me. So, I keep an old-school paper list for my general to-do list. I don’t have a strong preference for the type of pen I use, but I do really like the Pilot Precise V5 Rolling Ball, which somehow I think makes me write better (operative word, better). I also use a lot of sticky notes, especially for things I need to do that day. For me, sticky notes keep me on task because I literally see them in front of me. Then, I can move them around, re-order them in terms of priorities, or stick one on my computer to remind myself of something when I’m feeling like I’m moving fast from one thing to the next. I like to multi-task a lot and the sticky note format works well for that or for when I have a few minutes in between appointments and need to find something quick to do or prep for when I’m back. I have this drilled down to a pretty high level of efficiency, and it is not uncommon for me to ask myself, “I have one minute before the next meeting, what can I get done?” These small bits of time add up, and doing this reserves larger chunks of time for me to focus on bigger tasks.

When something is important that I need to get done by a certain deadline, I book protected time on my outlook calendar like an appointment (e.g., work on X manuscript). I also set up reminders on both my calendar and phone (e.g., with 1-week, 1 day, and 1 hour reminders), which helps me anticipate deadlines in stride.

Besides your phone or computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why? I’m not really hooked on gadgets, and occasionally, just to be sure, when I forget my phone I don’t go back to get it. I do like my electric tea kettle quite a bit though, and my camera, to take spontaneous pictures of my kids.

What everyday thing can you do better than most people? What’s your secret? I think I take pretty good photographs. My secret is to capture the eyes and to take pictures from unusual angles and perspectives. If all else fails, offer candy.

What do you listen to while at work? Most of the time my office is quiet. When I’m doing something that is a long task, I find that music lightens the activity. These days, I listen mostly to country music or classical (often Chopin). I keep it at a low level so it stays in the background, and it can’t be anything that I love too much because then I start singing or choreographing in my head (hazard of a former ballet dancer). If a favorite song or piece comes on, many times I skip to the next one, or sometimes it just means I need to take a quick break.

What are you currently reading? My son was really into reading the Percy Jackson series, so I just finished reading that with him. In between Percy, I also read The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk. Otherwise, I read a wide variety of mostly fiction for pleasure.

How do you recharge? Spending time with my kids. We like to bike, and do arts and crafts together, paint nails, bake, and have family movie night. And, if I’m really honest, my husband and I like to watch bad TV together (guilty pleasure). I also exercise most days, and my dogs like to take me for a walk.

How do you balance your work life and your home/family life? I’ve thought about this a lot because I’ve had to make big decisions in my life to achieve balance, like moving to Texas. One of the most useful things that I’ve learned is to think about it as life balance. Of course, both work and family are very important to me, but I think that sometimes when we juxtapose balancing work/family, it pits one against the other. Instead, I try to consider whether I’m meeting my goals within work and family domains, but also friends, exercise, travel, and other life areas that are important to me. I certainly don’t have this figured out, but I try to be mindful of when I’m feeling off-balance in any one particular area, which helps me to re-shift things. I also think it can be useful to have benchmarks of sorts. For example, my mentor, a true behaviorist, once asked me how I would define/measure “family balance,” to which I responded “having dinner with my family during the week.” Now, when I notice I’m missing family dinners, I know I’m tilting off balance.

What’s your sleep routine like? I need my sleep. 8 hours. I get up early around 5:30am so I can exercise before I wake the kids. So, excepting grant writing seasons, I go to bed around 9pm and read a while before I go to sleep. I know it’s better to keep the same routine every day, but I don’t on the weekends. It’s all over the place.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? This is tough to decide because I’ve been blessed to have really great parents and mentors to guide me. Probably the things that guide me most on a day-to-day basis are: 1) focus on paying it forward; 2) surround yourself with excellent people (preferably those that are good-hearted and fun); and 3) good manners matter.

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Sandra Morissette

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