Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts

Catherine Diercks

Catherine Diercks Psychology

Catherine Diercks is in her fourth year of the Developmental Psychology PhD program. In summer 2020, using funds from her Strumpf Scholar Award, Catherine completed a study called Parents as Resilient Thinkers. Data collection took place during the summer. Catherine described it as “a wonderful experience seeing my own project through from funding application to publication. The process gave me a lot of confidence as a researcher.” Catherine currently has a predoctoral fellowship in Penn State’s Child Maltreatment Solutions Network on a NICHD T32 Training Grant titled Training the Next Generation of Scholars in Child Maltreatment Science. She defended her comps in September 2020. Catherine is planning to graduate in Spring 2022. She has a total of two first-authored publications.

Catherine’s primary research interest is in how parents’ mental skills, such as flexible thinking, self-control, and working memory, may play a role in the onset of child neglect. Catherine’s primary mentor is Dr. Erika Lunkenheimer. She has pursued multiple, complex training methods to enhance and enrich her research and joined Professor Doug Teti’s lab in order to build her knowledge around preventive interventions and program evaluation. She has presented her work at numerous conferences and mentors and trains undergrads. Catherine attended the University of Oregon, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. She launched her research work as an undergrad by working in the Department of Psychology, the Prevention Science Institute, and the Pearl Buck Center, achieving 4 years of strong training and research experience.

The Strumpf Scholar Award will allow Catherine to further her research into risk factors that lead to child neglect with the goal of identifying malleable targets for change. She expects to publish findings to help alleviate an important gap in literature within this area of study. She also plans to tailor her own unique research program examining whether parents’ mental skills mediate a relation between parent risk factors for neglect and neglectful parenting. She is especially grateful for the award because it provides the means to use an innovative data collection tool, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, which would not otherwise have been feasible. Catherine is excited to immerse herself in the field of translational science and get a head start on an academic career investigating processes related to child maltreatment towards the goal of informing real-world change.