First-Generation Student Accepted into Prestigious Law-Psychology Research Program

photo of Jessica Jacobs

­Only a sophomore at Eastern Kentucky University, Jessica Jacobs is already looking ahead to graduate school and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.

Now this first-generation college student from Leitchfield and a 2010 graduate of Grayson County High School has a head start on the competition.

Jacobs recently learned she has been accepted into the Access Path to Psychology and Law Experience (APPLE) program. As one of only two APPLE scholars nationally – the other an Ivy Leaguer at Brown University – she will receive up to $3,000 to support her development in the field of law-psychology through research with Dr. Dustin Wygant of EKU’s psychology faculty. 

“This program is going to give me an edge in getting into graduate school, and it is allowing me to really start early on getting research experience that a lot of people don’t get until they’re already in graduate school,” said Jacobs, a psychology major with a deviance/criminology minor and a member of EKU’s nationally prominent Honors Program.

A panel of reviewers judged each application based on the student’s qualifications and commitment to law-psychology, the merit of the proposed research, and the commitment of the faculty member. “Our decision to invite you into the program indicates our belief that you are currently an outstanding student and that you have the potential to become an excellent researcher and/or clinician in the field of law-psychology,” a letter from the American Psychology-Law Society (AP-LS) Minority Affairs Committee stated.

After Jacobs earned an ‘A’ in Wygant’s Abnormal Psychology class in Spring 2011, she worked with a graduate student on a research project related to incarcerated offenders who completed various personality and psychopathy measures. Eventually, she earned co-authorship on an abstract submitted for presentation at the 2012 AP-LS meeting.

Wygant was a “little shocked” at the quality of Jacobs’ writing, noting that it was more on par with what he expected to find with first-year graduate students. “I see Jessica as a talented student who has the intellect and drive to succeed academically. The APPLE program can take that drive and put in place a solid opportunity to be exposed to forensic psychological research and give her the guidance she needs to take her academic training to the next level.”

Jacobs will work with Wygant on a research project investigating the proposed DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) in a sample of 300 inmates in a medium-security prison near Danville. The inmates will complete an extensive five-hour battery of clinical interviews. “Jessica will have the opportunity to actively participate in the data collection process for this study (and) an opportunity to attend an extensive training program that will cover neuropsychological test administration and clinical interviewing, in addition to training on how to research psychopathology,” Wygant said.

After Jacobs gains experience and ease in observing the data collection sessions, she will have the opportunity to administer some of the neuropsychological and self-report measures under the supervision of Wygant and graduate assistants.

“This project will offer Jessica a tremendous opportunity to learn about psychopathology and research and will serve her well toward applying for graduate school,” Wygant said. “To my knowledge, very few undergraduates have the opportunity to participate in hands-on data collection of such an extensive battery of interviews and tests in a prison setting.”

Earning co-authorship on the research, Jacobs is then expected to be a presenter at the AP-LS conference next spring in Portland, Ore.    

In addition, Jacobs may assist Wygant with his other forensic research area – the assessment of malingering, or deception in forensic psychological evaluations.

Jacobs said Wygant encouraged her to apply for the APPLE program.

“I never would have heard of it otherwise and, even if I had, I probably wouldn’t have applied for it without his encouragement and support,” she said. “I also owe a lot of appreciation to everyone in our research group, especially to Kathryn Applegate and Tina Wall. They have been extremely supportive of me and included me and a few other undergraduate students in a poster presentation that we presented at the AP-LS conference this year.”

Published on March 26, 2012