An Interview with Drs. Dan and Lynda King
March 1, 2008
Editor’s Note: Dan King, PhD and Lynda King, PhD made important contributions to StressPoints in their role as Contributing Editors. When they stepped down from these roles in November 2007, Claire Hebenstreit took the opportunity to interview them on their perspectives on their own work and the field more generally.
In an effort to continue conversations relevant to professional development and progresss in the field, we encourage junior colleagues to take the opportunity to interview leaders in the field as illustrated in this article.
Q: You’ve been involved in research that’s covered a broad range of topics related to stress, trauma, and health: from research design, statistics, and psychometric methods, to deployment stressors and risk factors for PTSD, to military family research, to domestic violence research, to VA health services studies. Is there a particular aspect of your work or research topic that’s been especially interesting or rewarding for you?
Dan: I think the most rewarding research process for me is learning state-of-the-art contemporary quantitative methods and applying them to the specific realm of trauma and PTSD. Over the years, Lynda and I have drawn from an array of quantitative strategies—item response theory, structural equation modeling, including confirmatory factor analysis, and more recently contemporary approaches to the analysis of longitudinal data—and tried to adapt and refine them to answer substantive questions in trauma research.
Lynda: On my side, I would say that the most interesting and challenging (in a positive way) aspect of our research is thinking multivariately and proposing and testing complex models to explain observed behavior. It’s like a big puzzle, trying to draw upon the critical variables, and understand how they are operate, independently and possibly jointly, to predict outcomes. Another comment: It sounds like we’ve covered a huge range of topics, and I guess that’s true to some extent. But our combined backgrounds draw from diverse areas—between us, we have undergraduate degrees in economics, nursing, and psychology, and graduate degrees in psychiatric nursing, rehabilitation counseling, psychology, and quantitative methods, with a graduate minor in anthropology thrown in. So, we do venture somewhat broadly, yet, regardless of the topic or project, the methods theme seems to hold everything together.
Q: Why is it important for researchers to continue to learn about methods?
Dan: Many beginning researchers—who often suffer through the prescribed set of design and statistics courses in graduate training—see methods as somewhat static. You learn how to do a t-test, a Chi-square, ANOVA, multiple regression, maybe even structural equation modeling today, and then venture forth somewhat confident in having the requisite skills for launching and managing a research career. Contrary to this perspective, the world of research methodology is quite dynamic and changing. Indeed, entire scientific careers are built upon innovations in measurement theory, statistical modeling, design, and so on. The methodologies are constantly evolving, correcting mistaken assumptions in the past, offering new avenues for answering questions, and even motivating questions that could not have been asked in the past. In many ways, the realm of methodology can be said to drive substantive inquiry, promote paradigm shifts, and generate novel hypotheses.
Lynda: Here’s a good example: the increasing popularity of longitudinal growth curve methods in trauma research, which emphasize change over time as a characteristic of the individual. That is, in a PTSD context, we envision each person as having his or her unique trajectory of recovery or chronicity over time. Because these new methods have come to the fore and software has become available, trauma researchers can more precisely think in terms of process—at the individual level—following exposure to a traumatic event. The methods essentially promote a different conceptualization, away from the more traditional “group-level” static assessments.
Q: You have been a member of the team that develops and implements the yearly Conference on Innovations in Trauma Research Methods (CITRM). What inspired the development of CITRM?
Dan: CITRM grew out of the activities of the ISTSS Research Methodology Special Interest Group, which we co-chaired for a number of years. When we served in that capacity, we recognized a major goal of the RM-SIG should be to disseminate information about methodology to the broader trauma research community. We made sure that the ISTSS conference program would have at least one pre-meeting institute that highlighted important methods for trauma, and that one or more sessions within the regular conference schedule, presented by RM-SIG members, would be methods-oriented. Based on the wealth of methodologically-oriented topics suggested by attendees at one of the RM-SIG meetings, Jeffrey Sonis proposed having a new conference that would focus exclusively on research methods, not content, in psychological trauma. He suggested that the conference could be supported by grant funding, like the successful Primary Care Research Methods Conference (then in its 16th consecutive year). Jeffrey, Elisa Triffleman, Lynda, and I wrote and submitted the grant proposal in 2002 to NIMH for support for what is now called the Conference on Innovations in Trauma Research Methods. The four of us recently wrote a manuscript on how to write NIH conference grant proposals—R13 applications—and it is currently in press for the Journal Academic Psychiatry.
Lynda: The first CITRM was held in 2004; next year will be the fifth in the series. The current team of investigators on the NIH grant that supports the project are Jeffrey Sonis (PI), Patrick Palmieri and Dean Lauterbach (the present Co-chairs of the RM-SIG), and ourselves.
Q: Although CITRM is held in the same location and immediately follows or precedes ISTSS, the two conferences have very different purposes. How does CITRM differ from ISTSS?
Lynda: Obviously, the intent of CITRM is to have sessions where the topic is methods-oriented, not content-oriented. Preferably—but not always—the methods presentations center on trauma research questions, but the substantive answers to the questions are not the important focus. The focus is on some particular methodological issue or technique: related to measurement, sampling, design, statistics, qualitative strategies, and also ethical research practices. In addition, the sessions tend to take on a “workshop” flavor, rather than a report of research findings, the latter being more in keeping with ISTSS. At CITRM, we try to encourage interactions between and among presenters and attendees. One of the characteristics of CITRM, that is often commented upon by participants, is the size and format of the two-day meeting. CITRM was proposed as a small conference (100-125 people), where the opportunity to have exchanges inside and outside the scheduled sessions is encouraged. We have long breaks, meals, and refreshments to provide a relaxed, informal, and congenial atmosphere where attendees and presenters can learn from each other.
Q: One of the goals of CITRM is to enhance knowledge of research methods for people at all levels within the field, from novice researchers to more senior researchers. Can you tell us more about how CITRM is appropriate for a broad range of experience levels?
Lynda: I think we’ve touched on the answer to this question in speaking to research methods as an ever-changing discipline. But I’d like to add a couple of more observations. First, what one knows about a particular method, especially a very new approach, may have little relationship to how far along one is in one’s career. Often, current trainees or more recent graduates are more up-to-date in the newest and most promising methods than are mid-career or more senior researchers. So, when we talk about CITRM being aimed at researchers at all levels, we recognize that some newcomers to the game are advanced in methods, some are not; and likewise, for more seasoned or experienced researchers, some are quite skilled at methods, but many are not in tune with the latest techniques. Methods can create a fairly even playing field in many ways. Second, I believe CITRM is enriched by having attendees at all experience levels. Senior researchers really know how to ask important questions about applying new methods, and junior researchers benefit from observing and interacting with senior researchers.
Dan: It’s also important to point out that the term “methods” refers to a very broad collection of activities. None of us can claim expertise that touches even a fraction of the full domain. Thus, our goal to reach out to senior researchers, as well as new and mid-career researchers. There’s always a lot more to learn. Again, we can’t learn it all, but the more aware we are of techniques that exist and can be successfully applied to trauma research, the more creative we can be in developing research plans and building the appropriate research team.