Natasha Kallish was a student at the University of Minnesota when she won a competitive research grant to participate in a community engagement program at the University of Limerick (UL) in Ireland. A journalism major with a minor in psychology, she utilized the grant while studying abroad at UL during the Fall of 2017 to study a peer-mentoring network at the university run by the Samaritans, a U.K.-based nonprofit that works to prevent self-harm and suicide. The demand for mental health services among the university’s 17,000 students had surged in recent years and the Samaritans had worked with the school to create a “peer-listening network” to take up some of the slack.
The student mentors had received training in “active listening” by the Samaritans but some people worried distressed clients might not trust college students their own age to maintain their confidentiality. Kallish decided to find out if that was a problem.
She conducted a systematic review to see if the program was meeting standards for counseling programs. It was. Kallish also went into the community and worked with Samaritan volunteers to learn more about the training they were providing. The news was encouraging — the group already was doing a good job of instilling the importance of confidentiality among student mentors, and the program was helping reduce the weeks-long wait to see the university’s professional counselors.
I fell in love with community-based research and I enjoyed working with community members to help solve problems. Lab research is fascinating but it doesn’t give you that same kind of satisfaction.Natasha Kallish, Research Assistant
“I fell in love with community-based research and I enjoyed working with community members to help solve problems,” said Kallish, who has worked since February as a research assistant for the Center for Rehabilitation Outcomes Research (CROR) at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. “Lab research is fascinating but it doesn’t give you that same kind of satisfaction.”
The 22-year-old graduated a semester early from the University of Minnesota at the end of 2018, and moved back home with her family in Oak Park, Illinois. While her friends were still finishing their senior year, she was applying for jobs. Some people had told her that landing a research job required extensive knowledge of hard sciences and math, but when she saw a posting for a CROR research assistant position, she applied anyway. During the interview, Kallish found out that one thing she might work on involved investigating peer mentoring for people with disabilities. “I was able to say, ‘I know about that,’” she says. “The universe is funny that way.”
Kallish is currently assisting with two CROR projects and handling its social media. By tweeting more frequently and tailoring the tweets to an audience of physicians, professors and academics, she has expanded the center’s Twitter following by 20%. Her journalism training has come in handy as well, helping her translate CROR’s research into compelling Facebook posts. One of the studies she is involved in will get her back to field work, going out to talk with Chicago employers and employees about their experiences using job accommodations. The goal is to understand the barriers to job retention for people with physical disabilities and also identify the facilitators that help them stay employed.
Natasha is dynamic and approaches her responsibilities as a research assistant with high energy and excellent organizational skills. Her training in journalism has been instrumental in promoting our project activities and knowledge translation events.Deborah Crown, Project Manager
"Natasha is dynamic and approaches her responsibilities as a research assistant with high energy and excellent organizational skills,” says CROR Project Manager Deborah Crown. “Her training in journalism has been instrumental in promoting our project activities and knowledge translation events.”
Kallish knows that pursuing a Ph.D. is likely in her future but for now she says, “I’m happily employed as a research assistant.” One thing she would like to pass on to people coming up behind her is this: “I was always told that research is a really tough industry and you have to love calculus. In reality, you just need a strong curiosity about the world around you and the desire to make other peoples’ lives better. I wish someone had told me that when I was 18.