Q & A With Graduate Student Kelly Gola

A fifth year graduate student in developmental psychology, Kelly Gola researches storytelling patterns in focal neurodegenerative disease groups. A native of Cherry Hill, NJ, Kelly was a hair stylist before coming to UCSC and worked with celebrities such as Madonna and Muhammad Ali.

November 13, 2013

Kelly Gola, Ph.D. Candidate

What inspired you to pursue a PhD in Developmental Psychology?

My advisor, Avril Thorne, and my former mentor at CUNY, Suzanne Ouellette. The work that they have done on the relationship between storytelling and self-development really made sense to me. I originally was going to pursue an MFA in writing, specifically in memoir writing. When taking writing classes I was struck by how important it was for people to tell their stories, whether autobiographical or through the voices of fictional characters. From those classes, I became more interested in the motivation and psychology behind storytelling than the writing itself, though if something extraordinary happens to me I’ll usually write a story about it.

If you were given a million dollars how would you use it to help your research?

I’d build a time machine. I’d want to follow my participants (neurodegenerative patients) through their lives to see how prevalent storytelling was in their day-to-day. Though, I’m pretty sure time machines go for way more than a million dollars, so I might spend a little of that money on taking time off to write grant proposals.

What is the most interesting thing about you that people may not know?

I paint. I’ve been doing acrylic portraits of politicians, which has been really centering. Though, I now have a giant portrait of Rand Paul hanging in my hallway and I’m considering switching the subjects.

What is the most challenging part of your research? In what ways do you hope your research will make an impact on society?

I’ve trailed clinicians during diagnostics and have been in the room when patients and their families are given their diagnosis. That has been a really emotionally challenging. Professionally, I’ve found it a challenge to make neuroscience more friendly to those who are concerned that it promotes medical reductionism. My hope for my research is that it will stimulate a conversation between social contextual theorists and brain imaging researchers. I think there’s a lot who could benefit from such a conversation.

In what way has UCSC afforded you an opportunity to pursue your research goals that you may not have received elsewhere?

The developmental practicum requirement afforded me the opportunity to explore an entirely new research topic that I am compelled to investigate and write about. The program has been immensely supportive of this change in direction and I feel very lucky for that support. It’s my impression that this is not always the case.

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