William Zak: Identifying Best Practices for Dealing with Pandemic Isolation

My name is William Zak and I have had the honor of receiving the David B. Ford Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Award. I am a rising junior from Norfolk, Virginia. I am often asked why I chose to attend college so far away from home. I respond by telling people that when I first toured Florida State, it felt like the perfect school for me. I was enticed by the contagious school spirit that filled the air, regardless of whether it was game day, the beautiful campus filled with palm trees and Spanish Moss, and the many opportunities for career advancement through the Office of National Fellowships, Center for Undergraduate Research and Academic Engagement, and the Honors Program. Here, I am studying psychology, for which I have a passion, along with medicine. Becoming a physician has been a dream of mine since my childhood. I hope to enroll in medical school after finishing my undergraduate studies. Then, I hope to complete my residency in psychiatry and enter the United States Navy. In my professional career, I hope to not only fulfill my patient care responsibilities, but also to write articles, teach, and conduct research. In my free time, I enjoy going to the beach, attending concerts, and playing sports with friends.

Research has been a pivotal part of my undergraduate experience. During my first year at Florida State, I served as a research assistant in the Kasha Institute of Molecular Biophysics under Dr. Quian Yin as part of the undergraduate research opportunity program, where I examined how the Guanylate Binding Protein 2 reacts differently depending on its surrounding pH conditions when compared to a mutated form of the protein. I had the responsibilities of creating buffers, running a GTPase Assay Reaction, analyzing and graphing data, and using a spectrophotometer. As a second year, I joined the Anxiety and Behavioral Health Clinic Team where I have begun a project that examines the link between attentional control and insomnia in populations that have been exposed to trauma. Additionally, I have helped to build SAFE, an online intervention that targets safety behaviors for anxiety and conducting background research on various project ideas. I am extremely excited to continue my research this summer with the help of this grant.

The past year has been difficult for almost every person living on the planet. Due to Covid-19, people have missed out on seeing their families, going to school, attending sporting events, and so much more. The isolation to which everyone has been subjected has created a mental health pandemic in addition to the viral disease. My research, in collaboration with Dr. Brad Schmidt and the Anxiety and Behavioral Health Clinic at Florida State University, will focus on identifying different behaviors that may mitigate or contribute to the development of psychopathological symptoms. Due to the growing global population, it is likely that new communicable diseases will lead to pandemics that induce shutdowns, stay at home orders, and isolation. The intent behind the project is that the behaviors identified would be used to inform clinicians and guide people on what to and what not to do in order to maintain better psychological health in the event of another pandemic. Behaviors that will be examined include use of technology, substance use, exercise, and learning new skills. This project aligns with my goals as a researcher to find ways to prevent the development of symptoms and their accompanying psychological and behavioral disorders. I believe that it is important not only to create new treatments and interventions for disorders, but also to determine risk factors and research how to best mitigate adverse mental health conditions.

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