Alumni Spotlight: Jonathan S. Comer, Ph.D.
What is your background and training?
I’m a Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Florida International University, where I direct the Mental Health Interventions and Technology (MINT) Program, an interdisciplinary clinical research program devoted to expanding the quality, scope and accessibility of quality mental health care. I’m a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and of the Society of Clinical Psychology. I received a B.A. from the University of Rochester, and went on to receive an M.A. and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology with a Concentration in Developmental Psychopathology from Temple. I completed my clinical psychology internship training in the Child and Adolescent Track of the NYU-Bellevue Clinical Psychology Internship Program and the NYU Child Study Center, after which I completed an NIH-funded Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Child Psychiatry at Columbia University, where I also served as Chief Research Fellow in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
What did you research during your time at Temple?
During my time at Temple I worked with Professor Phil Kendall and studied childhood anxiety disorders and best treatment practices for affected youth. I started graduate school the same month as 9/11, and I also worked on developing a program of research (which led to my dissertation research) examining children’s responses to disasters, terrorism, disasters, and threat-related news.
What have you accomplished since leaving Temple University?
I have held faculty positions at three institutions (Columbia University in Psychiatry, Boston University in Psychology, and now Florida International University in Psychology where I am full professor). I have obtained significant grant funding to support my work, including an R01, a K award, and several foundation grants. I hold governance positions in the Society for Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, the Society for Clinical Psychology, and the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT). I’ve been an author on more than 120 papers and I am currently co-writing an undergraduate textbook in Abnormal Psychology. I was a consultant in federal trial of United States v. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and I’ve won several early career awards.
What are your current research interests?
My program of work examines four areas of overlapping inquiry:
- My research evaluates children’s mental health treatments and services, with particular focus on the development of innovative methods to reduce systematic barriers to effective care. To this end I conduct research examining the role of new technologies—such as videoconferencing and mobile platforms—for meaningfully expanding the reach of mental health care. I also use epidemiologic datasets to document problems in the quality of mental health services and geographic disparities in care.
- My work examines the assessment, phenomenology, and course of anxiety disorders, disruptive behavior disorders, and traumatic stress disorders, with particular focus on early-onset problems.
- My work examines the psychological impact of disasters and terrorism on children and families. I have published extensively on children affected by the 9/11 terror attacks and on children affected by the Boston Marathon bombing.
- In recent years, my work has expanded to also consider biological markers of child psychopathology and neurocircuitry patterns associated with the intergenerational transmission of internalizing problems.
What about your Temple experience has impacted your life?
My doctoral education at Temple University was a time of enormous professional and scholarly expansion and refinement. Like most students, I entered graduate training with great excitement about the field and a strong desire to answer the “big questions.” At the heart of my experience was very collegial mentorship from Phil Kendall, who guided me to systematically break down big ideas into testable research questions in ways that were both personally rewarding and professionally satisfying. The graduate mentorship I received at Temple guided me to think analytically for myself and to pursue the field with greater depth, complexity and sophistication. My time at Temple not only deeply shaped my own research, but it is also through my experiences at Temple that I have developed a strong sense of what I now work to bring to psychology education.
And more importantly, I met my wife, Jami Furr, at Temple too. She was a doctoral student also working in Phil’s lab at the same time as me. To this day we continue to collaborate on research and clinical activities, but our most important collaborations are Delia (age 6) and Emmett (age 3).
Do you have any advice for current Temple Psychology students?
The days can be long in graduate school, but the years go by too quickly. I would encourage students to focus less on using their time in graduate training to learn “the answers,” and instead use the time to learn “how to find answers” and how to navigate the complex professional tasks that underlie success. Be sure to take risks and try new things in your graduate research and in your clinical training. This is the time to experiment—you would be surprised how much harder it gets to branch out with time. Sometimes things that feel like distractions can actually be opportunities. At the same time, be careful—things that feel like opportunities can also be distractions.