Research Trainee Attributes Success to Mentors and Unique Learning Environment at HRI

Written by: Tabitha Caswell

Emily Levitt, Research Trainee, has a noble goal to help others in need, and Homewood Research Institute (HRI) has provided a unique learning environment to help her reach it.

Emily’s relationship with HRI began in 2017 as a research assistant, working with members of the HRI team including Dr. James MacKillop and Dr. Margaret McKinnon, who she describes as “giants in the field of addiction and PTSD.” Later, she became Project Coordinator with HRI, then a Trainee, and in 2021 she was recognized with the Darlene Walton Scholarship Award for her research excellence.

Emily Levitt smiles at the camera against a plain, light-coloured background. She is wearing a grey shirt with her hair tied back.
Emily Levitt

At an early age, Emily had a keen interest in psychology and worked diligently to pursue this career. After completing a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology at McGill University, she accepted a research position with the Family Navigation Project, a non-profit that assists with coordinating resources for mental health and addiction issues. There, Emily says she became “acutely aware” of insufficient services available to people with concurrent disorders. To address this gap and make a real difference she realized she needed to gain a deeper understanding of people with addiction issues. So, when she discovered HRI, she knew it was a perfect fit.

Two notable projects with HRI stand out for Emily. The Recovery Journey Project taught her the importance of a well-designed research survey and the Goal Management Training project taught her the necessary steps to carry out a clinical study. Emily credits the HRI team for nurturing her ability to develop new research questions about mental health and substance use issues.

Emily says her most recent paper, The Clinical Relevance of Impulsivity in Substance Use Disorder Treatment, answers two important questions: “Does impulsivity change over the course of addiction treatment? And if it does, are those changes associated with other changes in clinically relevant areas?”

Emily is working toward her PhD in Research and Clinical Training at McMaster University and hopes to defend her dissertation in December 2023. This work is focused on her current research in social networks in relation to alcohol use disorder and other addictions. Emily begins her residency this fall at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton in the Concurrent Disorders Program and the Youth Wellness Centre, with plans to finish in September 2024.

Emily attributes much of her success to HRI, where guidance is balanced by a feeling of independence to complement her learning style. She says, “Working with HRI was possibly one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. I feel extremely lucky to have been given the opportunity. Clinical psychology is such a difficult program to get into, and I had so much support, and so many amazing learning experiences. I feel very, very lucky to have had that support.”

Emily calls HRI a “hub,” with branches extending to different universities and organizations. Activities of the hub are enhanced by its special relationship with Homewood Health, making it a unique place for learning. Her advice to other trainees considering a position with HRI? “Take the position! Then push yourself as much as you can, take on as many opportunities as you can, talk to as many people as you can, and really soak up that atmosphere.”