For Jasmine Manalel, work at ISR serves as a springboard for a career and a calling

October 5, 2022

Contact: Jon Meerdink (meerdink@umich.edu)

ANN ARBOR – A career in research depends on the opportunity to do research, both on your own and with others. As a graduate student at the University of Michigan, Jasmine Manalel got the chance to do both at the Institute for Social Research (ISR). In the process, she set herself up to step into a career as a researcher and a psychologist that gives her the opportunity to have an impact on populations in need, especially aging and at-risk groups.

Manalel pursued training opportunities at ISR to supplement the education from her graduate program with more  exposure to data-driven research. 

“In order to establish myself as a lifespan psychologist, I knew that I needed to demonstrate my ability to do research on populations, across different stages of the life course,” she said.

To do that, she laid the groundwork for what would become her dissertation through two research projects, one of which banked heavily on existing data from ISR’s Health and Retirement Study (HRS). 

“My dissertation ended up being a study of personal networks in childhood, mostly a description of children’s social networks and the implications that these networks have on psychological well being, specifically depressive symptomatology,” Manalel said. “I also had a complementary study on older adults using the HRS data characterizing different patterns of social integration among older adults and the implications of those different patterns on different types of loneliness.”

Though her work at HRS provided access to some of the data necessary for her studies, access alone wasn’t enough. Manalel also needed financial support, which was available in the form of grant funding. She received funds from the Elizabeth “Libby” Douvan Junior Scholars Fund in Life Course Development in 2016 and the Robert Kahn Fellowship for the Scientific Study of Social Issues in 2017, both of which helped her acquire the tools and training she needed to further her research career.

“I used that money to purchase statistical analysis software and other tools to help my methodology,” she said. “I was also able to buy memberships for different professional societies, all of which helps with professional development since a big part of becoming an academic is that socialization process.”

But for Manalel, a focus on rigorous research was more than a means of advancing her career. It was a responsibility she didn’t take lightly, and it proved to be a springboard for her long-term career.

“I feel an obligation to do good research and then also to publish it, so the research can help improve people’s health. I view research as service to those populations that are the focus of my work.”

Today, Manalel is a senior research associate at the Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging in New York City, and her recent research publications have focused on aging cohorts among both the very young and very old. Manalel’s papers have drawn the attention of both the National Institutes of Health and the Gerontological Society of America for their clear communication of scientific principles, which she says is a key part of making a long-term impact in the fields she studies and beyond.

“I’m not a policy maker, I’m a researcher,” said Manalel. “But part of making a difference is being able to effectively communicate the science to policy makers and those affected by our research, and if we can do that, we can make real change for those who need it.”