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Holly Laws Joins CRF as New Methodology Director, Plans Opportunities for Growth

Holly Laws CRF

The Center for Research on Families (CRF) is pleased to welcome Holly Laws, PhD, an expert in analyzing and interpreting data for family-related research, as the new Director of CRF’s Methodology Consulting Program (MCS). Dr. Laws will co-direct the program with Dr. Aline Sayer during the 2017-18 academic year, until Sayer’s retirement in spring of 2018.

Laws received her doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology with a minor in Quantitative Methods from UMass Amherst in 2014. She specializes in using novel statistical methods to determine how close relationships impact mental health over time. In addition to overseeing CRF’s consulting program, she will teach courses in Hierarchical Linear Modeling and Structural Equation Modeling as a faculty member of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences (PBS).

Laws’ relationship with CRF began as a doctoral student in 2012, when she received a CRF Family Research Dissertation Fellowship that supported her research examining physiological co-regulation within newly married couples. She worked with former CRF Director Sally Powers as a statistical consultant for her research on adolescent depression.

Prior to her new role at UMass, Laws was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Yale University in the Department of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine. She received NRSA/NIMH funding to study effective interventions for mental health disorders, focusing on how family relationships augment risk or buffer against mental health related outcomes, especially stress and trauma. In 2016, Laws was awarded a two-year career development award through the VA CT Healthcare System and Yale University School of Medicine. She is studying gender differences in how veterans’ relationship quality influences PTSD recovery and psychological well-being post- deployment.

Laws is excited to be given the opportunity to grow CRF’s methodology offerings and aims to position the center as a national leader in family research analysis across multiple disciplines. She enters into her new role with the unique combination of having fresh eyes coupled with an understanding of CRF’s history and vision, and hopes to take the year to identify gaps in on-campus methodological services while also seeking opportunities for growth. She plans on expanding methodological supports to researchers both on campus and in the wider community.

“CRF offers specialized methodology workshops--we want to continue this and expand it on a national level both through consulting and by providing online tools,” says Laws. “We want CRF to become a resource for researchers who are working with family data and don’t know how to use it. This is our niche--working with the complex dyadic models  and longitudinal designs that capture the complexity of families.”

MCS currently offers a range of services, including free statistical seminars featuring state-of-the-art techniques that are open to researchers—student and faculty alike. The program offers up to 10 hours of free methodology consultation services to all graduate students and faculty at UMass. In addition to Laws and Sayer, Lisa Fiorenzo serves as a methodology consultant, along with PBS graduate student Alice Coyne, who was the 2017 recipient of the Keith Rayner Memorial Graduate Student Research Award.

Laws received a fall 2017 Lecturers’ Professional Development Fund award from the College of Natural Sciences. This award of $1,000 will be used towards Laws' professional development in statistical training, to further develop her methodological skill set and support teaching of an advanced statistical course. She will continue her training in Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) with Mplus, giving her valuable tools to use towards the development of her future courses.

Laws finds that CRF is distinctive in it’s mission to support interdisciplinary research that focuses on the diversity, health and well-being of families.

“CRF has always felt like a natural fit for me. To many people it sounds strange that I have a clinical degree and am a family researcher, but CRF was the whole reason I chose to do my doctoral program at UMass Amherst. To have a place that is specifically about research, but is family oriented, is rare. I don’t know of any other research centers that have a concentration in child and family research with such strong ties to a clinical division. CRF is very unique in that way,” says Laws.

Laws has also served as an instructor for the University of Michigan’s ICPSR Summer Program in Quantitative Methods of Social Research--a series of statistical workshops hosted at UMass Amherst each summer—since 2012, first as a post-doctoral TA, and starting in 2017 as a co-instructor with Sayer. UMass is one of only 6 locations worldwide to host the annual ICPSR Summer Program.

“The ICPSR workshops we offer at CRF teach faculty how to do methods not offered at their institutions.” MCS plans on hosting summer workshops for ICPSR in 2018, with the dates to be announced in late winter.

For more information on CRF’s Methodology Consulting Program, please visit our site at https://www.umass.edu/family/methodology/consulting.

--Faith English