University Series 019 | West Virginia University

Join Operant Innovations as we talk with Dr. Claire St. Peter about the plethora of undergraduate and graduate opportunities at West Virginia University.

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Shauna Costello (00:00:03):

You're listening to operant innovations, a podcast brought to you by ABA technologies. This week on the university series, by popular demand we're talking with Dr. Claire St. Peter from West Virginia university, Dr. St. Peter received her PhD in psychology with a specialization in behavior analysis in 2006, from the university of Florida during her graduate training, she worked under the supervision of Tim Volmer. Dr. St. Peter joined the faculty at WVU in the fall of 2006 and was promoted to associate professor in 2012. Dr. St. Peter's primary research interest is in assessment and intervention of challenging behavior. She is particularly interested in the development of effective interventions for challenging behavior displayed in school contexts, including the effects of degraded integrity on intervention efficacy, and with dissemination of behavioral approaches to caregivers, teachers, parents, et cetera. She is interested and actively engaged in advising the next generation of applied behavior analysts. She anticipates, accepting new students to work with her next year and encourages interested parties to visit her lab website for more information. So without further ado, dr. Claire St. Peter, we're here with dr. Claire St. Peter from WVU. Thank you for talking with me today.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:01:28):

Thanks so much for having me.

Shauna Costello (00:01:30):

Yeah, and she's going to jump into just a little overview about WVU's program.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:01:36):

Yeah. So I get asked a lot about the applied behavior analysis program at WVU, and maybe that's because I'm an applied behavior analyst, but one of the first things that I want to say about our program is that we're not an applied behavior analysis program. So our program is really diverse in that our graduate program, trains students in basic research theory and applications of behavior principles and through their research coursework and practica for students who choose to do practica, our students develop skills in both EAB. So the experimental analysis of behavior and applied behavior analysis with this strong conceptual underpinning across both and where they're learning methods appropriate for understanding behavior principles and developing behavioral technologies. So those basic conceptual and applied pieces are integrated throughout our curriculum. And each of our students gets a really strong foundation in both the EAB side and the applied behavior analysis side, regardless of whether they're emphasizing basic or applied research or practice in their overall training. So what we really want to do is produce a behavior analyst who is qualified to be active and a contributor across a wide array of contexts. So we want our students upon graduation to be able to teach a variety of courses in psychology. We want them to be able to function effectively in academic industry or applied settings. We want them to be able to use the principles and findings from the science of behavior to solving significant problems, whether those problems are kind of foundational behavior principles or insignificant problems with human behavior.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:03:26):

So to give you a little bit about our history, maybe, uh, we're, we're an old program, I think, I think old, uh, so the behavior analysis program specifically, um, emerged out of an experimental psychology program, um, and was started in 1976. Uh, and so we've been around for a while now. And when we talk about our faculty, you'll note that some of our faculty have been around since even before that. Uh, and since our inception, we have awarded master's degrees and doctoral degrees to students from all over the U S and many other countries, uh, who come to study with our faculty. Now, notably we are a doctoral program only. So we don't have a terminal master's program, uh, but students can enter our program with just a bachelor's degree and they can earn their master's degree in route to the PhD. So they're admitted directly to the PhD.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:04:22):

They can get that master's degree along the way if they don't already have it. Um, but we don't have just a master's program, uh, in our department. And so our doctoral program has been really widely recognized. We're very honored to have been the recipient of the society for the advancement of behavior analysis award for enduring programmatic contributions to behavior analysis, um, and to have maintained accreditation from the association for behavior analysis international, uh, we were actually just reaccredited, uh, for a seven year term, which is the longest term that ABAI accredits programs. Uh, so we were really pleased about that. Additionally, just to brag on us a little bit more, uh, our faculty have been recognized for teaching research and professional service, and we've got faculty who are funded through external research grants, and we have faculty who have received major teaching and research awards. Those have been from both the university and professional societies, and we've got service on boards of national and international organizations and journals, former presidents of ABAI, um, editors and associate editors for major journals in our field, including the journal of experimental analysis of behavior, the journal of applied behavior analysis. Um, so our faculty are really vibrant and active in the field, uh, and just fun people to work with, like really exceptional behavior analysts.

Shauna Costello (00:05:50):

So, just to give people a history of how I've been kind of doing this podcast is, you know, I've, I've honestly just been working through the States just because, you know, try to give myself some type of a system, but Jose and other people are like you need to get WVU. And I was like, well, of course, I'm going to get WVU, I was like, there's no question about it. Um, but you know, just because of all of the interest in WVU, you know, I reached out to you and I'm so happy to have you guys so early on in this process. Um, but just to hear, you know, I just, with some experience I have from colleagues or from, you know, um, other coworkers and especially like Jose, um, he's a huge proponent of course, of WVU. Like, it's, I just love hearing about the aspects of the program that, you know, I might not have even learned before, because what I've said and what I'll continue saying is there's only so much you can learn from a website and there's only so much you hear, like, you might not hear all of the different aspects of the program, unless, you know, you talk to an alum of the program or, you know, really hear from somebody in the program. Um, so I'm very excited to hear about all of the different aspects of the EAB and the, you know, applied, um, because translational work as well is so important. And, um, I think this is, might just be my opinion, but I've started to see more and more and more of it coming back now in the forefront, and what you guys are doing can help is helping that aspect as well. Um, and so what, who are some of the faculty and, or who are the faculty and what are they researching right now?

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:07:45):

Yeah, so we have five core faculty members at WVU, Andy Lattal, Mike Perone, Karen Anderson, me and Katie Kestner. So Andy Lattal started at WVU in 1976, uh, and his research works to uncover basic principles of behavior, uh, primarily through work with nonhuman animals. Uh, so Andy has worked with a variety of different kinds of animals and primarily pigeons. Uh, but he also, at one point had a beta fish lab, uh, and did work with some of his graduate students have done work with domesticated dogs. Uh, so kind of a variety of different kinds of work. Uh, but recently his work is emphasized how to understand variables that contribute to relapse of previously extinguished behavior. Um, so for folks who've heard these words like resurgence or reinstatement, Andy is hugely active in trying to uncover how those processes work and allow us to better understand how extinction works, generally. We have another faculty member who also does primarily laboratory basic work, and that's Mike Perone. So Mike started at WVU in 1984, uh, and like Andy, Mike's work is focused on identifying basic principles of behavior. Uh, he's has interests in how aversive events change behavior, and that takes a couple of forms. Um, some of them are transitions between contexts that have dense and lean reinforcement schedules. So that happens in all of our lives, but there's fundamental processes that govern that. And so it makes interested in uncovering those processes and also the development and maintenance of avoidance behavior and behavior under aversive control. And Mike's research includes, so it's funny that you mentioned like this translational research and how important that is to our field. And I think Mike's work is a really great example of that. Um, because his work includes both nonhuman animal laboratories, where he works primarily with rats, but also has done some work with pigeons, uh, and is doing some really neat work on the development of technologies related to animal laboratories.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:10:04):

So his lab recently developed, um, a touch screen panel for pigeons to do research. Um, and we will be starting collaborating Mike and I will be collaborating on an upcoming project. Um, we're, co-chairing a dissertation for one of our students that will look at concept formation and we're going to do it with pigeons and humans. So again, that idea of how do we span translation translational work from all the way from the basic in law human animal laboratory, out to the applied side of that study, we'll be dealing really with instructional design. Um, and Mike also does a fair bit of human operant research as well. So, uh, he works with both non-humans and humans that with kind of spanning that translational continuum, uh, Karen Anderson started at WVU in 2003. So her research investigates impacts of drugs on behavior. She's a behavioral pharmacologist, um, and she has a particular emphasis on using non-human animal models and often in her lab, that's different strains of rats.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:11:12):

So looking at genetic impacts on behavior, uh, to help identify determinants of choice, uh, particularly when choice is deemed impulsive. So she really wants to figure out why, um, people and rats are not making self-controlled choices. Like why are they choosing small reinforcers that happen immediately over things that are going to be really good for them in the long run? And what can we do to change that? So how can we arrange environments where people are making and rats are making better choices where it is in their longterm interests. Um, what are the impacts of drugs on that. So we have, um, the amount of poly-pharmacy that most people working in applications see where our clients are on lots of different drugs. And, um, we have clients who might be on stimulant medications to deal with impulsivity issues. How is that really impacting behavior and what are the short and long term implications of that?

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:12:12):

So just to pause for a second, I've covered three of our faculty members thus far, and they started in 1976, 1984 and 2003. Uh, so you can probably tell, we have a pretty stable core of faculty, uh, in that the majority of our faculty members have been at WVU, uh, for more than 15 years. Uh, so we are we're sticking around, uh, and, and interestingly, this makes me one of the babies of the behavior analysis faculty, uh, despite the fact that I arrived at WVU in 2006,

Shauna Costello (00:12:56):

I was going to say, I saw you present at Western five or six years ago, and something like that. And you were at WVU at the time. So I was like, you still been there for a good amount of time.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:13:12):

I've been there. I've been there a long time. Yeah. I graduated, um, in 2006 with my PhD and came straight to WVU, uh, which was a small miracle, like it was, it was one of those jobs that I applied for thinking I had a snowball's chance of getting this job, uh, as a new doctoral graduate, um, and just love it and have stayed ever since. So, but yeah, I've been there since 2006 and I am like one of the newest faculty members. Uh, so my research, you know, I, I mentioned before I classify myself as an applied behavior analyst, although I do a fair bit of translational research. Um, but generally my research seeks to develop and improve technologies for children who engage in challenging behavior. And we do a lot of work. That's both translational and applied, although I consider myself an applied behavior analyst. So we do a lot of work in the public school system. I am really fortunate that we have developed really good relationships with our public school system.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:14:15):

Um, and they are very welcoming of us, um, to the point that we have students who are funded by our public school system to come in and do collaborations with the schools. Um, so that's been really wonderful. So my lab does a lot of work in the public school system with children who are labeled as behavior disordered, um, in terms of research. So we work with a lot of kids that have age typical verbal skills that are not, um, labeled with an intellectual or developmental disability, but who engage in challenging behavior and who benefit from behavioral supports within the school system and at home. And I also do translational research using a human operant arrangement to identify variables, particularly those related to treatment integrity. Um, that might be important and applied context. And that work has been really fun because it allows us to do some parametric explorations of, um, integrity related variables without putting clients who need intervention at risk.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:15:18):

So that's been a really fruitful line of translational research for me. And then our newest faculty member is Katie Kestner who came to us from Western, uh, in 2015. And so like me, Katie is interested in the assessment and treatment of challenging behavior, but she's also really interested in factors that influence physical activity and health-related behavior. And so she's got a couple of new projects going, um, that are actually grant funded projects, looking at, um, sedentary behavior and relapse to sedentary behavior because Andy, Katie, and I are all interested globally in relapse and relapse phenomenon. So, um, she's expanded this idea to the physical activity world, which I think is really cool. Her research really spans the entire spectrum of laboratory studies with non-humans to human operant work to applied work with truly socially significant behavior. So just within her lab, students can get this experience all the way from conducting studies, with rats on basic process, all the way to translating those studies out, to working with socially significant behavior and applied context, which I think is really cool. So one of the really interesting things about our faculty is that we don't really have any faculty members who are wholly applied or who only do that kind of research span, uh, the basic to applied continuum in some, in some way, and then we'll wait for the dogs to stop barking.

Shauna Costello (00:16:59):

No, it's great. Um, no, I remember when Katie, um, I mean, she was so excited to, you know, reach out to you to have you come to Western. Um, but then when I, you know, saw that she got, 'cause I think I remember thinking I was like, that has to be her dream job, like dream job when she got that. So I was very excited for her.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:17:27):

Yeah. I was very excited for us because you know, as much as it is her dream job, she is our dream faculty member. So it is mutually.

Shauna Costello (00:17:37):

She's one of the hardest workers.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:17:40):

Oh my gosh.

Shauna Costello (00:17:41):

That I've ever known.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:17:43):

Yeah. I, you know, for me, one of, one of the best things about my job or my colleagues, right? So we have some really phenomenal behavior analysts here and it makes it fun to work here because the best thing about being a professor is no matter where you are, I think is that you get to learn, like I get paid to learn new things, right? Which is freaking awesome. Uh, and it's, it's made even better. I think when you are surrounded by these brilliant people, uh, and what makes WVU's faculty even more special is not just that they're brilliant behavior analysts, but they're the nicest, brilliant behavior analysts. Uh, and so we have really good relationships among our faculty. Like we go out and have lunch together every Friday. Um, we are in the middle of COVID-19 right now and we are still having lunch together every Friday.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:18:44):

Like we get on zoom and we have lunch together every Friday. And it's, there's just so many opportunities to learn new things and to grow and develop as a behavior analyst. And I say this as somebody who's been in the field and like I got started in behavior analysis in the late nineties. Right, so I I've been doing this for a little while now. I'm still learning something new every day by virtue of getting to bounce ideas off of these really spectacular behavior analysts. Um, which I think is, yeah, definitely one of the best pieces of my job. Uh, and interestingly, the other, I think the best piece of my job are equally spectacular students, right? Like just so fortunate to work in a place that draws some of the best and brightest applicants in behavior analysis from around the world. And so our students are real powerhouses and they are engaged and motivated and really great thoughtful contributors who are really invested in making the field in the world better through the technologies that we have and the principles and technologies that we're uncovering on the cutting edge right now. Um, and so, you know, it's great to have a job that you're excited about every day that you look forward to that there's something, um, you know, really engaging about the work that you get to do. Uh, so I'm pretty fortunate to have landed here in that regard, you know, like it's, it's just a really spectacular place to work.

Shauna Costello (00:20:19):

I mean, I can I can agree just, um, you know, my side of it, because I feel the same way working for ABA Tech.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:20:25):

I think it's cool that you are not a WVU alum, right? Like, it's not like you went to school here, but you have multiple ties to WVU, right? Like you have Jose, you have Darnell,

Shauna Costello (00:20:43):

I was in school, Katie, like,

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:20:45):


Shauna Costello (00:20:47):

It's crazy.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:20:48):

You have like seriously multiple times in multiple ways from multiple different stages of your life that lead you back to WVU. Which I think it's really, it's neat for us because even people that we haven't yet had the opportunity to directly interact with, have links to our program in some way, you know? And so when you think about, um, when you think about major professionals in the field, um, so Jose WVU grad, Tom Crutchfield, WVU grad, Tim Shahan, and Amy Odom, WVU grads, like there are just, and when you think about what those people are doing in terms of, and that's just like a itty bitty teeny tiny selection, like there are so many behavior analysts that came from our program are linked to our program in some way, um, that are out teaching the next generation of behavior analysts and helping to promote and disseminate the science and technology of our fields. And to be able to, to think that, like we had a little bit in that, you know, like we're not, we're not primarily responsible for the people that our graduates are teaching and that, um, our faculty have interacted with, but to even have just a little bit of that, I think is really neat.

Shauna Costello (00:22:01):

Well, I mean, and even to tie back to the translational stuff, one of the biggest translational people in our field right now, Tim Shahan and the stuff he's doing is so cool. It's so cool. And so unique of, you know, to a lot of the stuff that depending on, you know, which program and what the focus of the program is, and things like that, that you might not get to experience as well. So that's what I really like, one thing I've been looking more and more into is this translational research, because it's so needed right now, we're kind of at this like plateau stage where, okay, our clinical work has, you know, we've had this set of skills and technology for so long, but what else can we do with it? And that's only going to continue to develop from this type of translational research and the students like the students going through your guys' program that are learning how to do this, how to make our practices better.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:23:05):

Yeah, so one of the things that I think is really neat is that, and I'll link this back to what I said earlier about each of our students gets training in the experimental analysis of behavior and in applied behavior analysis. Um, and so what that means is that, and I'm just going to, I'm going to pick on Mike's lab and my lab just as to kind of say like spectrums, right? Like you would think of Mike as a EAB basic researcher type in me as an applied researcher type. Um, so I mentioned before that when a student has been working with me as having Mike and I cochair her dissertation, right? So her dissertation is going to be, um, half nonhuman, animal and half applied. Uh, and it's not uncommon for Mike's students to do a practicum with me, right? So like they, our students can opt into practica.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:23:59):

So practica aren't required because some of our students like our behavioral pharmacologists are kind of neuroscience track. It's more important that they learn how to do biological assays than it is to run a functional analysis, uh, in terms of their longterm goals. So they don't, we don't require students to do a practicum to get through our program. Um, but some of our students choose to do that because they want to take what they're learning right, like Mike's students might be learning something about rich to lean reinforcement contingencies and transitions. And they want to see what that looks like in a classroom for children with an autism spectrum disorder, um, or they're learning about aversive control. And they want to see what escape maintained behavior looks like. Um, when you're trying to teach a new, a new skill to a learner who needs extra support. And so it's one of the cool things I think is that all those students can pick their emphasis.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:24:50):

And we've got a lot of latitude in our curriculum where students to tailor the curriculum to their interests, they can still cross train a lot. And I think that cross training is super important for our field, because I think if we want to develop better technologies, the best of those technologies are going to be based on fundamental principles of behavior. So if you want to develop those technologies and you want to disseminate those broadly, and you want to have the most powerful technology, you can, you got to understand the stuff that's coming out of EAB. You've got to understand the fundamental principles. The flip of that is that if you're a basic researcher and you want to uncover principles, and you want somebody to do something with those principles, right? Like you don't want to just publish them once, and then like you looked at them and two other people look at them.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:25:41):

You really want those principles and what you're discovering have a major impact. It's useful to be able to think about how might this play out, even if it's not immediately translatable, even if this is really basic process oriented research, what are the longterm implications for this? How might this look, are there ways that I can reverse engineer what I'm doing in the lab to help solve problems? The applied behavior analysts can't solve because they just don't have enough control over the environment. They can't isolate variables in the same way. So questions of reinforcement history and how that plays into current treatment context, all of those questions can be reverse engineered so that we can really embrace this idea of bi-directional translation, where it's not EAB and ABA that are two kind of distinct things, but there's this continuum between truly fundamental process research and truly applied, like I need to develop a technology that solves a socially significant problem and is scalable. And there's a whole bunch of stuff in the middle. And I think it serves students well, to be able to walk the whole line or know about the whole line.

Shauna Costello (00:26:58):

And I fully agree with you talking about, you know, the students and their experiences, you know, that brings up and I kind of want to adjust this for WVU and which is what I like to do, because this is completely individualized, but what is the student experience like? You kind of mentioned it that, you know, some of your students take practicum, some of them don't, um, just depending on what they do, but you know, what is kind of that student experience and those experiences that they are able to gain?

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:27:28):

Yeah. So I think one thing about our program is that where we're housed in a research intensive university. So WVU is our Carnegie classification is as an R1, Which is the most research intensive that you can be. And I think that dimension of the overall university is well reflected in our program. So we are a, um, a research oriented PhD program. Uh, and so we're a really good fit, and I think one unifying experience for our students is that they get lots of research experience. Um, and in fact, our students spend as much or more time in the lab as they do in courses, right? There are courses or they're there and they, we hope that our students learn a lot in them. Um, we have with 12 mandatory courses across the entire PhD. Uh, so it's not, we're not a coursework heavy program.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:28:23):

We're really a, uh, experiential program. So we want you in the lab doing things. Um, the other thing that I think is that contributes substantially to students' experience in the program is that we are adamant about upholding a junior colleague model. Uh, and to us a junior colleague model means that our graduate students are treated like our colleagues. And so our students are not, um, we're not an apprenticeship model. So our students don't, aren't admitted to work with a single faculty member and that's who they stay with their whole time. Um, our students are admitted to the program area generally, and we encourage them to work with multiple faculty members if students' interests change, um, during their time that they're in the program, they can shift between primary research mentors. Um, so it's not like you're locked in, um, when you get here, uh, our graduate students are also full voting members of every single committee that we have in our department.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:29:31):

So our graduate students contribute to how we develop graduate training, um, both at the area level and programmatically across the, um, they participate in our full faculty meetings, our graduate students, we have a graduate student on the promotion and tenure committee, um, for our department. So our graduate students actually get a vote in who gets what faculty members get promoted, which I think is really cool for graduate students who think they might go on to a career in academia because they really get to see and participate all of the sides of what goes into a research intensive university as a faculty member. And they get to sit on those committees and like, see how decisions are made, which I think is really useful. And I think solidifies for some students that, yes, this is what I'm really passionate about. I really can see myself doing this.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:30:26):

Um, and for some students, it makes them go like, oh, I didn't realize everything that went into doing this job. And maybe this isn't like, this kind of job, might not be the best fit for me. And knowing that before you get out onto the job market, I think is of huge benefit to our students. Um, the other thing about junior colleague model and the way that we admit students is that we are really devoted to maintaining a collaborative and collegial environment among our faculty and our colleagues. And so to that end, uh, every single graduate student in good standing in our department receives a full tuition waiver and a modest stipend. Uh, so we only accept the number of students that we can fully fund and mentor. And what this means is that our students don't have to compete with each other, for funding or for any other resources.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:31:21):

Uh, and I think helps our students really, uh, work together to create the best outcomes and the best research, um, that they can do, and really collaborate with each other and work across labs and not have to worry about like, how am I going to make sure that I have funding for next year? How am I going to make sure that these bills are going to get paid? We also provide additional funding for students for their thesis and dissertation projects, um, so that students who want to do a project that would require some financial resources, and that might be students who want to do a project where they're working in a nonhuman lab and they want to pay, they need to pay the per diems or the costs for their animals, uh, or it might be students who are working with human participants and, um, need to pay their think it would be useful to pay their participants for participation, uh, or that they need software, or they need computers, or they need to get iPads as reinforcers or whatever it is.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:32:22):

Um, we have funding available for our students for that. Uh, and it is pretty much, I mean, if you're doing a thesis or dissertation that access to that funding is pretty guaranteed. We also have financial support for our students to attend at least two conferences every year. Um, most of our students go to the Southeastern association for behavior analysis, regional conference, as well as ABAI. We think this is really important, um, for students to be exposed to behavior analysis outside of WVU, uh, and also for professional networking purposes and learning what other people are doing and being exposed to other perspectives. Um, so in addition to those financial investments in our students, I think, um, one of the things that contributes, I at least I hope contributes to positive student experiences, uh, is that our faculty invest tremendous amounts of time and intellectual resources into our students.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:33:18):

So faculty typically meet with each of their doctoral students individually every week. Um, I joke that my doc students probably see me way more than they actually want to, uh, because in addition to those individual meetings, uh, we have a group lab meeting and that is common across all of our labs. So we don't have a, um, uh, like a vertical training model where senior students teach junior students, we really invest one-to-one. So because our faculty members are active researchers, um, who serve on editorial boards. Um, our students can also gain really valuable experience in the editorial process, both by author and publications. And in fact, most of, most of our students leave with at least one publication, um, by graduation, as well as conducting peer reviews on scholarship submitted by others. Uh, so they're busy. Our students are really, really busy. One of the things that keeps them busy is that our program is really short.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:34:17):

So our program, uh, is typically are people who enter with a bachelor's degree or with a master's degree where they didn't do a thesis and they, um, we want them to get thesis experience in route. Um, they're tracked for four years to graduation from when they start to, when they graduate, uh, for students who enter with a master's degree with a thesis that would be equivalent to what they would do here. We waived that thesis requirement. We track them even faster. Uh, so those students get all of these things that I've been talking about, like all of this research experience and all this teaching experience and gobs of mentorship, and they get that done in three years. Uh, so our program is pretty quick. Uh, and what that means is that we don't sacrifice any bit of quality along the way. Um, so our students, you know, are doing what students in other programs might be doing in five years. Um, they're doing in three or four years. So they are really, really, this is not a, not a program where you contemplate your navel for long periods of time. Um, you, you really get in and work intensively, uh, and get a lot of great training experiences and graduate in a timely way.

Shauna Costello (00:35:34):

Well I mean and -I think that that speaks to the types of processes that you guys have in place to make sure that, you know, these students are getting everything they need in a very timely manner, because if anybody who's even been through a two year master's program, let alone a four year doc master's doc program, if you were entering with your bachelor's or three year PhD program after your masters, I mean, that is quick. And so, I mean, you don't even have, you've said that your students are busy, but saying the actual timeframes. Yeah, the students are really busy. So, I mean, that speaks to the excellent processes that you have to have in place to make sure that you are producing the high caliber students that WVU does produce. So it's great to hear.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:36:31):

Yeah we are, we are super proud of our students. So our students, um, they work really hard. They accomplish amazing things, uh, and they're really successful when they leave. So we have a really good, um, placement rate with our students. Our students are able to go on and do the kinds of things they want to do. Um, notably about 50% of our students end up in faculty positions somewhere. So they end up in academia and then about 25% of them end up in full time clinical practice. So they're directors of clinics, um, or they're kind of spearheading clinical work. And then about another 25% of them, um, once they graduate are either in postdocs, cause they've graduated within the last three, two or three years. Um, and so, you know, we'll see, we'll see what they choose to do. Um, or they're in this, like they're in these categories where they're hard to classify. Um, so for example, one of our graduates, um, went on to work for Disney's animal kingdom. And so it's that faculty, wasn't a faculty position was not clinical work. Uh, you know, so we've also got, um, some placements in some, under some unusual, um, unusual jobs, which I think really speaks to how hardworking our students are and how well they think about longterm, what it is they want to do and arrange their curriculum while they're here so that they are able to accomplish those longterm goals.

Shauna Costello (00:38:10):

Well, I mean, I ended up getting a lot of questions as well from just, you know, individuals reaching out, like, how did you get the job that you have? Because even my job is kind of foreign to a lot of people. They're like a professional development specialist. Like, how are you creating this stuff? Where did you find this job? I was like, I actually just found it from an email job posting from, I think it was probably APBA, but at the same time, a lot of people don't realize the types of work that behavior analysts can be doing, and, um, but I've been lucky enough in this job to meet a lot of these behavior analysts who are working in these a multitude of different arenas and it's really, really cool. Um, so I like, you know, it's, it's so neat to hear where your students are going because a lot of people, you know, they enter in and it's sometimes it's just a clinical program and so they leave and then that's clinical and then they're like, wait, I want to do something different. And they're like, I don't even know where to go or what to do. Um, so it's really cool. So I know we talked about how intense the program is, but how intense is the application process? What does that look like?

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:39:27):

Yeah, so our application process, um, we, we admit students once a year, uh, and so students start uniformly in the fall of years and they start in cohorts. Uh, and we think that that is useful because it gives you kind of a peer group to start with and more on that in just a second. Uh, so applications are due on December 1st, so it's a pretty early due date, uh, relative to other behavior analysis programs. Uh, and interested students should really plan ahead for their applications so that they make sure that they have time to complete the GRE and really carefully assemble their application materials in advance of that December one due date. Uh, so our application consists of a personal statement, uh, CV or resume, uh, you know, the normal application form stuff, uh, and GREs, uh, and a list of the relevant psychology courses that you've taken. We do require that, uh, students have an undergraduate GPA of 3.0, and if they don't have that, and then what we're looking for, then we have to do an exception with the university, um, and what we're looking for to be able to justify that exception is, uh, outstanding graduate coursework.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:40:42):

So for students who might've struggled, uh, years ago as an undergraduate, but gone on to do a master's degree, we can sometimes get exceptions for those folks. Um, competitive applicants will also generally have GRE scores in the 50th percentile in the verbal and quantitative domains. Um, so we're looking for, um, folks who have some general quantitative and verbal skills, uh, because our program involves a fair bit of writing, uh, and involves a fair bit of reading. And we wanna try to make sure that students are coming in with the skills necessary to do that. Uh, and also they have generally competitive applications generally have some previous experience in behavior analysis now, depending on the student's longterm goals and what they want to do with, while they're here, that might be laboratory experiences. So they might have had previous research experiences. Um, it might also be that they're one of those folks that you mentioned earlier that thought that they were going to be really jazzed about clinical work, um, and kind of got out into doing clinical work and then went wait, I really think that I might be passionate about dissemination in a different way, right? Like I, I really enjoy the university context and I think I might enjoy that more than doing clinical work. So sometimes competitive applicants have primarily clinical experience rather than primarily research experience. And that's okay to do, uh, so long as they kind of have a fundamental understanding of what behavior analysis is. And we're also looking for well-written personal statements and positive, um, letters of reference. So in a well-written personal statement, we want it to clearly articulate why the applicant is looking for a PhD. And so, you know, more letters after my name is not a great reason. Our program is a lot of work. Uh, so we want to make sure that our incoming students are really invested in getting the degree, um, and also why the applicant thinks that WVU might be a good fit.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:42:44):

And so we are a quick program. We're a program that emphasizes this span between basic and applied and, and investigating all areas of that span. And so, uh, we are a really excellent fit for students who would find that engaging and interesting for students who want to come out being really, really well rounded. Um, but we might not be a great fit for a student who thinks the experimental analysis of behavior is dumb, right? Like that student is going to struggle mightily in our program. Uh, so we want students to, to have an understanding of, of what our program is like so that they know that it's a good fit for them. It's quite an investment for our students to, um, so, and of course, positive letters of reference from people who know the applicant well, who can say like, yes, we think that this, this person is going to be a really good fit for your program.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:43:39):

So we are really fortunate to have been recognized as one of the top doctoral training programs in the field. And then as such our admissions process is highly competitive. Um, we are, by the way, an on campus only in person only program, uh, I field a fair number of emails from people asking if we have online options or if we have a hybrid option and we do not have any of those. Uh, so students who are interested in applying to our program need to be prepared to relocate to Morgantown and for that period of three to four years, um, and we receive about 40 applications a year from students who were typically well-qualified for our program. Um, but we only admit about four or five students a year on average. Uh, so our classes, our incoming classes are really small, um, which is another reason why I think getting everybody in at the same time and starting at fall and building that cohort is important so that you have that peer network, uh, because the number of other behavior analysis students coming in is not going to be really large. And the reason that our incoming classes are that small is because of the investments that we make in each of those students, right? So because we're dumping so many financial and intellectual resources into the training of every student, it's, uh, we want to make sure that we are not overtaxing or overextending ourselves in ways that would prevent us from providing the best possible quality of training to every single student who enters our program.

Shauna Costello (00:45:13):

And I know that I appreciated the cohort model because Western was the same way you enter in, you know, you'll be class of whatever, whatever, unless, you know, you go later. I really enjoyed that because I can be like, okay, this is my cohort, but does WVU have an interview weekend? Or, you know, we've heard from some that, you know, are they might be virtual depending on, um, where they live, or I know I'm most familiar with Western's because, um, I was in it, I was in it, but then I also helped run it for a couple years. So there's this whole weekend. Um, so what does WVU use interview process look like?

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:45:55):

Yeah, so we do host an interview weekend. Our interview weekend is actually department wide, um, because our students interact not just with the behavior analysis faculty, but with faculty from all the other program areas too. And WVU also has a behavioral neuroscience program and a clinical and clinical child program and a lifespan developmental program. So there's, we want students who have interests that might span some of those other areas to also have the opportunity to interact with students and faculty from other areas. And we want to try to facilitate that. So although it makes scheduling interesting, uh, our interview weekend is, is totally department wide, uh, and typically spans three days.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:46:39):

So we typically start on a Friday evening, uh, and host a social get together at one of the faculty members houses. And then we do interviews in with individually, with every faculty member and also with every lab. So applicants who are invited to come to interview weekend, get a chance to interview with every single person in our program area. And by the way, every single person or program area gets a say in admissions too. So it's really nice to be able to have multiple perspectives on whether a student would be a good fit for the program. And after that, we host a department wide party on Saturday evening. And so everyone from the program comes to that party, regardless of whether they're in behavior analysis or neuroscience or clinical or developmental. And then Sunday is just a day to like recuperate and travel home. Uh, and so we encourage people to come to our in person interviews if they can, because we think it gives the applicant a better sense of what the facilities are that are available.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:47:46):

And I think it's easier to get a gauge on how happy you would be in a graduate training program when you get to spend more time with people and you get to kind of interact with people in a less formal interview setting and see what those social relationships are like. And social supports and happiness is a really important part of graduate training. It is much harder to make it through a graduate training program if you're miserable in the program. And so, although you want the fit to be really good, uh, you know, in terms of the kind of research that you would be doing, or the clinic kind of clinical training you would get, uh, I highly encourage applicants to think seriously about the social fit as well. Like, is this somewhere that you think that you would be able to be happy and to kind of thrive over the course of time, that would be required to make it through that graduate program?

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:48:34):

I think in person interviews, just give you a better chance to evaluate that, but we also recognize that making it to Morgantown can be taxing and particularly because we get applicants from all over the world. So we had applications from highly qualified folks just this past year, uh, who were in China, who were in Ghana, uh, and it is clearly difficult, particularly if you're applying to multiple graduate programs. Um, and, and the doc programs, the major doc programs, we do try to coordinate to make sure that we're not all hosting our interview weekend on the same weekend, which means that you might have, if you're a really well qualified applicant, you might have in person interviews across three or four consecutive kind of weekends in the span of January and February. And if you're living in China or Ghana or India or Brazil, uh, which is just some of the places that we've had students come to our program from, uh, you probably can't fly over to the US to make it each of those, even if you're living in California and you're on a limited budget, it might be really hard to make it to the East coast.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:49:50):

And we recognize that. So we always offer the option to do a remote interview as well. And we tend to do those, um, via some form of online platform, so zoom or Skype, or just by phone, depending on what is going to be easiest for the applicant and you know, what resources are available to the applicant at that time. And so we do provide that option and we give equal consideration to applicate applicants regardless of whether they interviewed in person or interviewed through some other means. Um, but we do think it's in the applicant's best interest to see if they can.

Shauna Costello (00:50:28):

Yeah and I mean, I fully agree with you as well. Like I, for me personally, I was already at Western. So interview weekend was, um, besides interviewing with other faculty members than the ones that I was interested in in other labs. Um, because I had been working with the grad lab I ultimately got into, um, in undergrad, so I kind of knew everybody. And, but then I was interviewing, you know, with other faculty and other labs, and that was probably even, you know, more so, a little bit daunting. Um, but I, I thoroughly enjoyed interview weekend and I know that, um, Heather McGee always tells me, 'cause I was the program assistant for a couple of years. Um, and when you said that the big programs coordinate weekends, um, Western usually loses and has it there's over, um, Valentine's day weekend often.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:51:31):

Hey that was WVU for like a strectch of it must have been eight years or so. It was about like our interview weekend was Valentine's weekend for a long time. Um, and we're actually probably now one of the earliest ones. And so we get to play the waiting game. Well, our, uh, our applicants interview other places now that we've bumped our deadline up some of our fellowship deadlines are a little earlier at WVU. And so our interview weekend tends to be in late January or early February.

Shauna Costello (00:52:01):

Yep. I remember that. I always heard that Heather would make sure she wanted it in the minutes that she was fighting for love. So, um, that was probably the best one, one of the best things about interviewing again. Um, but so I have never been to West I've, might've driven through us Virginia. Um, but I've never personally been to West Virginia, but I know I have a couple of coworkers, um, in Morgantown. And so what is Morgan town like?

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:52:30):

Yeah, Morgan town is a small college town nestled in the Appalachian mountains. So although we're a really small, we're a small place, our permanent, our number of permanent residents is just about 30,000. Um, but we're an hour and a half from, people don't know where like we're so bad at geography. I'm terrible at geography. Uh, so if you don't have any clue of where West Virginia is, uh, we are a separate state from Virginia, but to the West of them. Uh, and we are in Morgantown in West Virginia is about an hour and a half from Pittsburgh. So we're about an hour and a half South of Pittsburgh. We're about three hours from Columbus, Ohio. We're about three hours from Washington DC. So if that helps people to kind of place us geographically with landmarks that you might know, um, we are, we're not too far from kind of major East coast things. We're about five hours from, from Philadelphia. Uh, so I think, uh, we are a small town and if you are used to living in a major metropolitan area, uh, it can be an adjustment to come to a small college town. Um, but students can get to major cities fairly easily. And Morgantown has been ranked among the best small towns and college towns in the nation by multiple different people who do these things. Uh, and if you like small towns, we have, uh, an awesome small town college town vibe, right? So that small town vibe means that you're likely to interact with the owners of local businesses. You're likely to really get to know people in the community. Um, I can walk in our local coffee shop and I'm greeted by the owner who knows me by name and knows what drink to make, right? Like, so there's this really cool community piece to being in a smaller city, uh, that I, I really think is cool.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:54:26):

Plus if you are not a major city person, I am not personally a city person, I despise cities. Um, I live on 50 acres with horses and dogs and cats and chickens. And so if you like that kind of thing, um, there's lots of opportunities to do that while you're here. And if you are a city person, you can get to the cities, uh, without too much, too much to do. Uh, so WVU is at the heart of Morgantown. I mentioned that our resident population is about 30,000. Um, we have about 26,000 additional students. So you can really feel the difference in the town between the academic year, which is very vibrant, uh, and the summer, which is a much kind of slower paced and calmer. Um, and we are, as I mentioned before, a research intensive an R1 university, but we're also a land grant institution that really highly values giving back to the people of West Virginia and thinks that those community ties are, are important. Um, so there's this interesting, like yin yang balance, um, of being a research powerhouse and being this very community oriented, uh, institution. And I think fortunately because WVU is, is a pretty major college, uh, although we're a small town, we're in kind of a small town, we also get a fair bit of like pretty high caliber arts and musicians who come in and who play and perform. And so there's things to do, uh, around town, despite the fact that we're, we're a smaller city.

Shauna Costello (00:56:11):

Yeah, and I've seen pictures from Katie, from dr. Kestner and her husband. And I've seen pictures from my colleagues and I've heard about Morgantown from my colleagues. And, um, I mean, it sounds gorgeous and looks gorgeous from the pictures that I've seen as well. And something that I know happens is that they get Morgantown gets all of the seasons. So if you want summer, you'll get, it'll get warm and it'll be summer. You get fall, you'd get winter with your snow and you get spring. So I know we've all been kind of comparing, um, weather over our zoom meetings lately because it's been snowing, um, in Michigan. And I, I'm pretty sure if I remember correctly, it had snowed also in Morgantown just recently too. So, um, we've all been comparing notes on weather as well.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:57:07):

Yeah. We, over the past two weeks, I think have experienced many seasons. It was 70 something one day and very spraying and beautiful, and then the trees are budding out and everything's very colorful and we get, we have a lot of cherry trees here, so we get the cherry blossoms, which are really pretty in the spring. And then, yeah, yes, yesterday, two days ago, uh, we had a dusting of snow, which was gorgeous, not exactly April, like, uh, the pretty, uh, we do. We do get all of the, we do get all of the seasons and we are a, if you like outdoorsy things, we are a fabulous place for outdoorsy things. Um, West Virginia has one of the best whitewater rafting, uh, in the nation. We have locally rock climbing, rock climbing is, is a big enough deal here that our student recreation center actually has a major rock climbing wall so that people can practice their rock climbing in off season and can actually go rock climb at some of our local parks. And we have great like kayaking and hiking. Um, we're a very outdoor oriented and nature oriented location. So if that appeals to people, um, you can certainly do all of those things and do them well here. Um, and so I think that there's lots of natural resources that are available in the area where you can really experience, experience those seasons in a meaningful way.

Shauna Costello (00:58:44):

Yeah, and, um, I know that that was something that I missed when I moved down to Florida. So I appreciate the cold, I appreciate the seasons. Um, so I'm very happy to be back in that type of climate. But I mean, we've covered a lot. Is there anything that we missed or that you want to make sure that people know about WVU that they, I mean, maybe there's something they haven't known didn't know before listening,

Dr. Claire St. Peter (00:59:09):

We've covered a lot of ground, and so I think that the thing about WVU that makes it the most special are the, are the people here, right? So like you should come meet the people. And that's, that is our faculty who are, are uniformly wonderful. Uh, and also our graduate students. Um, because I think one of the best things, you know, I can talk to you about the resources that are available and you know, how great our library system is and how beautiful the campus is, and you know, how spectacular our classes are. Uh, but I think so much learning in a doctoral program happens through mentorship and happens through community it happens from peer to peer. It happens from being able to sit down with other really smart people and pick their brains about things that are of interest to you and our community is an exceptional community to be able to do those kinds of things.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (01:00:14):

Um, our graduate students, I think, enjoy spending time with us, the faculty, if they don't they fake it really well. Uh, and they they're friends with each other, right? Like, so there's, there's this good social support network. Um, many of our graduate students get together and do taco Tuesdays, uh, and, and hang out. And I think those informal experiences can be formative in graduate student training and in graduate student career. And they're also intangible, right? It's, you mentioned before, there's only so much that you can get from a website. And I think that's one of the things about our program that although we might try to convey on the website, you just don't get a full sense of until you get a chance to really talk to the people. And so I think people who are looking for graduate programs should be on the lookout for those kinds of aspects of graduate training, um, and should also be looking for other quality indicators of a program, whether it's ours or some other program, right?. So, so to be looking for ABAI accreditation, which is not the same as having a verified course sequence, um, to be looking for the outcomes of the students who are graduates of that program. So do the graduates of this program, go on to do the kinds of things that I want to do, uh, once I'm finished with my degree. And I think that's a really important aspect of identifying a graduate training program that's going to be right for you. Um, and I think WVU is a great training program for a lot of people. Um, but I also think that we should do what we can to help people, help applicants identify what's the right program for them, and what's the best match and where are they going to get the kind of experiences that are going to be enriching and that are going to enhance and deepen their understanding of behavior analysis, and that are going to propel them into the career that they want to have. And that's, what's ultimately important whether that training program ends up being WVU or somewhere else.

Shauna Costello (01:02:23):

And I can, I can agree with all of that. So yes, please, people be picky, do your due diligence. There's just so much more out there that people don't realize. So that's why we're doing this. Um, but.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (01:02:37):

And that exploration is hugely important because I think, um, even if you are in the best of training programs, it is important to get some diversity in your experience. It's important to see how different people approach, what might be similar problems. And so, you know, I think one thing that people should look for as they seek graduate training is, is that diversity. And am I going to be able to work with different people? And sometimes if you stay in the same program, you can make that happen. And that's possible if you stay at the same place, that's, that's a possibility.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (01:03:13):

And sometimes it's a little bit easier to get that diversity, if you don't do all of your training in, at one school, in one place, even if that place has really great training. Um, so one of the things that I sometimes encourage my undergraduates to do, even if I think they're wonderful is like, don't just apply, apply to WVU, we want the, we want the best and brightest, uh, but don't just apply to WVU, right? Like, think about, think about where else you might go. And if you find somewhere else, that's a really good fit, maybe go there. Cause you've seen how I do things. Um, and you want to be able to take the best of what I do and the best of what somebody else does and combine it into your own style and research agenda and the way that you are going to go on to disseminate and train others.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (01:03:58):

So I do think it's really important doctoral programs in particular, I've talked a lot, I guess, from a faculty centric perspective, about how much we invest in our doctoral students. Let's not underplay how much a doctoral student invests in their doctoral training. That's a tremendous investment. It's a tremendous investment of your, your intellectual resources. It's a tremendous investment of your time. It's a tremendous opportunity cost of all the other things that you could be doing with your life right now that you are not doing because you are getting a PhD. Um, that's a huge investment and that's an investment that you want to make wisely because rare is the person who does more than one doctoral degree, right? This will likely be the last formal academic training that's degree pursuing anyway. And you know, if you go on to be a faculty member, then you get to do all kinds of fun academic training for the rest of your life.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (01:04:58):

Just a great thing about being a faculty member, but for most people, their PhD is going to be their last formal degree pursuing academic experience. You don't want to go into that blindly. You don't want to go into that unsure if this is something that you really want to do or unsure. If this program is going to get you the experiences that you need to have to be able to do whatever did you want to do next. So I am a thousand percent behind what you said about people doing due diligence about their graduate training experiences, again, particularly at the doctoral level. Um, but at the master's level too. And really being thoughtful about all of these aspects, uh, and looking to get as much information as they can, uh, websites are a good way to do that. So you can, I, I spouted off some numbers, uh, in our conversation earlier today, but you can always get the up to date data on student outcomes, um, and on admissions and all of that from any ABAI accredited program, it's one of the accreditation standards is that we make that information publicly available.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (01:06:12):

And part of the reason that we do that, and that is a standard and the reason ABAI has made that a standard is because it really helps students to navigate what programs are going to be good fits for them. And so I would really encourage applicants to doctoral programs, particularly ABAI accredited doctoral programs, to look at those data and figure out if it is a good match. Um, and you know, what questions might you have to ask the program based on those data, right? So if you see a program, if you're looking to be a faculty member, following your PhD, you're looking to go into academia. And you note that 90% of the students who come out of a program go into clinical work, that doesn't necessarily mean that that program is not a good fit for you, but it gives you really good fodder to ask questions to that program about how to navigate the pathways to the longterm outcome that you want to have, and that allows you to make more informed decisions.

Shauna Costello (01:07:08):

Yes. And I fully agree. And so, yeah, that is what I am. I'm in the process right now of reaching out to schools and talking to faculty and this and that, to make sure that the program that I choose is the right one for me. So, um, so yes, that's just another reason why I wanted to create this series as well. Um, so I always like to ask, is it all right with you, if I include your email as a contact with the podcast?

Dr. Claire St. Peter (01:07:35):


Shauna Costello (01:07:35):


Dr. Claire St. Peter (01:07:36):

Yeah, absolutely. And I am an easy to find and you can certainly include my email, however you want to, but also if you type in Claire, C L A I R E WVU into a Google browser, I pop up. And if you include behavior analysis in that, like you're almost certain to find me and I am, I'm happy to talk to prospective applicants. I'm the coordinator for the behavior analysis program area. And so in that role, I can help students answer their questions and also direct them. If I think that they would be a question would be better directed at one of our other faculty. So students or prospective applicants are certainly welcome to email me at any time.

Shauna Costello (01:08:20):

Awesome. Well, thank you so much it was great hearing about WVU.

Dr. Claire St. Peter (01:08:25):

Thanks for inviting, thanks again for inviting me. Uh, I enjoy the opportunity to brag on our program. So thanks for giving me a platform to do that.

Shauna Costello (01:08:33):

That is what this is about. Thank you for listening to operant innovations. And as always, if you have feedback, comments or suggestions, please feel free to reach out to us at


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