Finding career success with motivation, application and execution | Jason Griffin ’17

Jason Griffin, PhD, was a first-generation college student and proof that success doesn’t always follow a particular path. Griffin, a Hilibrand Postdoctoral Fellow at the Yale Child Study Center, Yale School of Medicine, had to find his own way when his initial plans to earn a PhD were denied.

His personal and academic journey led him to UCCS, where he earned a master’s degree in psychology in 2017.

Through rigorous training, a valuable mentorship and a personal drive to make a difference, Griffin has used his UCCS education to make a difference for individuals on the autism spectrum. We caught up with Griffin to hear his story of perseverance and his plans for the future.

Someone close to me was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. This made me highly motivated to pursue the education necessary to understand and conduct novel research in individuals on the autism spectrum. My goal was to do something that contributed to the well-being of those on the autism spectrum.

The translational nature of my research is highly rewarding. Recently, we have developed a computer-based intervention for individuals on the autism spectrum and showed initial promise that it improves social behaviors in this special population. It makes me happy to know that we are building tools that may help individuals on the autism spectrum. I also love that I do not have to work a typical 9-5.

One of the things that I enjoy most about my job is that I do not really have a typical day. Some days will be filled with meetings, whereas other days will be spent revising and developing code for data processing or new software tools (with many coffee breaks). Some days, I will spend all morning writing, writing and writing. In general, though, my workdays revolve around the core areas of research: grant acquisition/study idea generation, data collection/execution, data analysis and interpretation, and dissemination of research findings. Currently, I am doing a lot of data analysis and publication writing to establish myself as an upcoming researcher looking for a tenure-track position.

Receiving my PhD. As a first-generation college student, I had very little exposure to what life as a scholar or academic even looked like. Regardless, I was inspired to contribute to the field of neuroscience and psychology. On top of that, I did not simply complete my PhD, but also earned many prestigious awards during my training, which ultimately led me to landing a named postdoctoral fellowship at Yale Child Study Center, Yale School of Medicine. I am proud of that and hope that others, especially first-generation college students, can gain inspiration from such a nonlinear trajectory.

When I first applied to PhD programs, I did not get accepted anywhere. This was devastating to me and I thought that I was not good enough to pursue my goal of becoming a research scientist. I did, however, get an offer into a Master’s program at a university in the middle of Colorado next to Pikes Peak. Since all was not lost, I stayed the course to make the most out of my time at UCCS, which turned out to be a highly influential launching point in my career. This was largely the result of Dr. Brandon Gavett, who served as my mentor for multiple years and continues to be a collaborator, and a friend.

My time at UCCS was foundational to my career as a research scientist. Unlike other programs, I was expected to complete all the milestones that come from at the start of a traditional PhD program, including advanced coursework and proposing and defending an original/empirical thesis. Dr. Brandon Gavett, the chair of my Master’s thesis, was an incredible mentor to me and a champion of all his students. He instilled in me the ideas of scientific rigor and integrity, while providing me rigorous training in research design and methodology. All of these have served to be foundational in my identity as an early career researcher and propelled me to be highly successful in the completion of my PhD degree.

My long-term goal is to acquire a tenure-track faculty position at an R1 institution. I hope to build my own laboratory that focuses on understanding underlying cognitive, visual and neural mechanisms of atypical social behaviors in individuals on the autism spectrum. In addition, my goal is to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of novel interventions that target key social behaviors in individuals on the autism spectrum. I also hope to mentor the next generation of graduate students in a way that maximizes their strengths to becoming effective, productive and happy research scientists.

Motivation, application and execution are the drivers of career success. Find something that you would do without needing an alarm clock. Do that. The success will come.

Try not to dwell on failures. In many professional fields, failure is abundant. Ruminating on past failures can cripple future endeavors.

I really enjoy outdoor physical activities like snowboarding, backpacking, tennis and golf. Additionally, I really enjoy cooking, with some of my specialty dishes being cioppino and mussels oreganata.

I am a trained welder on stainless steel and aluminum metals.