By Brian McNeill, University Public Affairs
Cydni Gordon (above, second from right, with friends at the International Women’s Day March in Buenos Aires) was a triple major at Virginia Commonwealth University, studying psychology, mass communications and African American Studies. Now she is in Buenos Aires, Argentina, conducting research on antipsychotic and antidepressant medication as part of a Fulbright scholarship.
“My research is focused on the subjective side effects of, and patient perspectives on, two types of psychopharmaceuticals: antipsychotics and antidepressants,” Gordon said. “There is a lack of literature on patient perspectives of these drugs in regards to their use in the treatment of bipolar disorders in particular. We’re focused on the emotional impacts, and not on the physical side effects of which have been studied and written about frequently.”
Gordon, who graduated in December 2016, is one of seven VCU graduates studying abroad as part of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. The program, part of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, provides research, study and teaching opportunities in more than 140 countries to recent graduates and graduate students.
For her Fulbright, Gordon is part of a research team at an institution called ÁREA that focuses on treatment and research providing interdisciplinary assistance to individuals affected by mood disorders. Her team is conducting qualitative interviews with individuals who have been diagnosed as bipolar or clinically depressed in order to contribute data on the physical side effects versus subjective emotional side effects.
“We’re interested in how people feel about having to take such medicines, how they feel on these drugs, and even whether are they able to feel at all while taking them,” she said. “Emotional blunting is one of the most common reported subjective side effects found in preliminary work and the little literature that is available on this topic.”
Gordon, who aspires to one day be a clinical psychologist, said her Fulbright research is giving her a deeper understanding of how patients feel while taking psychopharmaceuticals, which hold implications for treatment (i.e adherence) and consequently their livelihoods.
In June, Gordon will help facilitate sessions to educate the families of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She is also sitting in on patient consultations, and contributing to future published studies and research.
Her grant began in March and runs through the end of December. However, she arrived in Buenos Aires in mid-February, having decided to take a month of intensive Spanish language training and to familiarize herself with the city.
“I’ve loved my time in Buenos Aires,” she said. “Very quickly I fell in love with this city, which is quite large but manages to have a small-time feel in a way. Cities can be overwhelming, but I’ve learned that my becoming a regular at places like little coffee shops helps offset that and makes me feel a part of a smaller community.”
Arriving early, she said, also allowed her to meet other young people from Norway, Italy and Dubai and elsewhere. “Through my Spanish school I became a part of a tight-knit international community,” she said.
She has also forged relationships with other Fulbright scholars working in Buenos Aires.
“I’ve become particularly close to three others, though we all have such drastically different projects — infectious disease, queer family studies, and bilingual education,” she said.
While at VCU, Gordon not only majored in three subjects in the College of Humanities and Sciences, she also was a student in the Honors College and was an inaugural member of VCU Globe, a living-learning program that prepares VCU students to live and work in a 21st-century global environment. Among other projects at VCU, Gordon took part in a service-learning trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, followed by a return visit to conduct a study, “Left Behind: Exploring the Impact of Migration on Individuals, Families and the Village Community of Teotitlán del Valle.”
“Cydni is bright, collegial, enthusiastic, determined and engaged. She has a great deal of initiative and is perfectly suited for her Fulbright research in Argentina,” said Jill E. Blondin, Ph.D., director of VCU Globe. “As an undergraduate, Cydni won numerous awards for her research and service. She took advantage of every opportunity offered by VCU and VCU Globe. Through the many study abroad programs in which she participated, Cydni demonstrated her cultural agility and leadership skills. She truly flourishes in overseas environments.”
“There are numerous traits that make her stand out among her peers, but her cultural humility is one that has impressed me,” Corona said. “She is respectful of others and shows a genuine interest in learning about others’ life experiences and being self-aware about her own thoughts, opinions and experiences. It is clear that she reflects on each cultural experience and has a desire to learn more so that she can help reduce health disparities globally and nationally.”
Corona added that Gordon is impressive for her passion and goal setting.
“She has a clear sense of her career goals and the path she would like to take to achieve that goal,” Corona said. “In some ways her goals seemed ambitious for such a young woman, but she has a tenacity and passion that keep her moving herself forward even when things don't work out as she had planned initially. I have appreciated her connection to our lab and the updates — and pictures — we receive about her experience in Argentina. I can't wait for the next set of updates.”
Gordon decided to apply to the Fulbright program after being encouraged by the VCU National Scholarship Office and the VCU Globe staff.
“I learned about Fulbright during VCU Globe orientation at the start of the fall 2013 semester after [National Scholarship Office Director] Jeff Wing gave a presentation on different scholarships including post-grad options, and I met and got to know former Fulbrighter, Cole Cridlin, then VCU Globe program assistant,” she said. “Since then, Fulbright had been on my radar.”
The project was appealing, she said, because it was the “perfect fusion” of her interests in travel and scholarship.
“Though I plan on pursuing a Ph.D. in clinical psych, I knew I didn’t want to start right after undergrad because of fatigue, but that I did want to travel,” she said. “But [I] also realized that if I wasn’t going straight to grad school post-undergrad that I needed to do something constructive with my time, and that would enhance my grad school application profile, and in Fulbright I found that opportunity.”
She is hoping her Fulbright will provide her with a deeper understanding of research and Argentine mental health practices since it is the country with the most psychologists per capita in the world, help her develop clinical skills, strengthen her Spanish, and further her personal growth.
“The experience hasn’t been without some challenges, but I know that tribulation breeds strength so I’ve just been trying to take experiences as they come,” she said. “I’m trying to say yes more to adventure, do things that push me out of my comfort zone, and create memories and relationships that I’ll enjoy for the rest of my life.”
After her Fulbright wraps up, Gordon plans to pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology with a focus on mood disorders in children and adolescents in underserved communities lacking access to mental health services. She would like to do clinical work one day, as well as academia and journalism.
“My dream role would be a practicing clinician who also contributes to mainstream media sources by speaking and writing about mental health in an effort to fight the stigma and taboo that I think prevent equity of knowledge about, and treatment of, mental illness,” she said. “I believe very strongly in both the power and utility of psychology and journalism and have a vision of how my work can combine them to change the way we think and talk about mental health.”