McNair Alumni Spotlight: Melissa Norberg, Ph.D.

I grew up in a small, rural town in Nebraska. Few people, myself included, thought I was smart. Rather than taking physics and geometry classes during high school, I opted for remedial math, home economics, and making the high school yearbook. Through what seemed like luck, rather than intellect, I became the high school yearbook editor.

Becoming editor of the yearbook encouraged me to obtain a university degree. While at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I took a “Careers in Psychology” class that put me on the path to becoming an academic clinical psychologist. That class taught me that it would be a long and competitive path. So, I followed its advice. I maintained a high GPA,  volunteered, and obtained research experience. However, that research experience was in the field of perception, which while highly useful in teaching me about research methodology, it taught me little about conducting clinical research.

During the final year of my undergraduate degree, I was accepted into the McNair program. The McNair program linked me up with Dr. Debra Hope, an academic clinical psychologist. Under Dr. Hope’s supervision, I completed an Honors project that examined the role that clients’ expectations have on therapy outcomes. Conducting research in Dr. Hope’s lab allowed me to gain the exact type of clinical research experience I needed to be accepted into a doctoral program for clinical psychology. During graduate school, I led a team of students in developing an empirically-based instrument to measure clients’ expectations about treatment. This measure was published and has been translated into a handful of different languages by other researchers. Thus, the influence of the McNair Program and Dr. Hope did not end with my undergraduate degree.

Melissa Norberg conducting research into hoarding with Julia Irwin.Photo courtesy of Chris Stacey

I am now an Associate Professor and the Deputy Director of the Centre for Emotional Health at Macquarie University. Macquarie University’s psychology department is ranked within the top 100 psychology departments in the world and the Centre for Emotional Health is one of the premier research centers on anxiety in the world.

Within my current roles, I teach undergraduate and graduate classes, provide empirically-supported treatment to individuals suffering from anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders, mentor students and early career researchers, and conduct research that is focused on helping people reduce unwanted behavior. My research has been supported by numerous different funding bodies and has led to over 60 publications. Furthermore, my research output gave me a profile conducive to becoming a Director for the Australian Association for Cognitive and Behaviour Therapy, a national body for professionals interested in evidenced-based practice. In addition, I am currently serving as Convenor for the association’s 38th National Conference.

Thinking back, I wonder what career I would be in if it wasn’t for the McNair Scholars Program. I may not have received the clinical research experience I needed to go directly into a doctoral program after completing my undergraduate degree. I also may not have received the invaluable mentoring that occurred during the program.

I want my story to serve as a motivator to young people, especially disadvantaged females, that they can obtain a successful STEM career. I am a minority, my parents are uneducated, and I grew up in a rural community with limited academic opportunities. The McNair Program was an essential step on my pathway to achieving my dream job—and much more.

– Melissa M. Norberg, Ph.D., Associate Professor & Deputy Director, Centre for Emotional Health, Macquarie University, Australia, and UNL McNair Scholars Program Alum

Explore posts in the same categories: Accomplishments, Graduate School, UNL McNair Alumni

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