Shining a Light on Mental Health

Cassondra Lyman headshot.

Cassondra Lyman’s research focusing on new perspectives on mental health helped earn her the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship.

Shining a Light on Mental Health

Somehow maintaining her humility, Cassondra Lyman makes no apologies for wanting to continue the work of outstanding researchers of mental health, especially those who are studying the stigma often associated with mood disorders. “There are a lot of great people doing that [research] already. I would just love to help continue their work in the ways I can.”

An Honors College senior and psychology and statistics double major, Lyman received the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship in the spring of 2020. The award is considered the country’s leading scholarship for undergraduate students pursuing research careers, and one that is typically awarded to STEM students.

In her Goldwater application, Lyman wrote of her goal to offer new perspectives on mental health, while reducing the prejudice and misunderstanding that can accompany mental illness. She also described her personal financial hardships, motivators that have continued to propel both her passion for, and dedication to, her chosen field.

Lyman recalls her “disbelief” when she learned that she had been chosen to receive the Goldwater Scholarship, which carries a $7,500 award for tuition. “It was truly an amazing moment,” she says, “because so many researchers are competing for lots of different opportunities, fellowships, grants and scholarships.”

Ensnared by Psychology

Raised in Endicott, N.Y., in a low-income, single parent household, Lyman describes her upbringing as a unique experience that forced her to consider program costs and loans, as she applied to colleges for what she terms her “solo financial endeavor.” She chose UB as it “checked off the boxes,” providing Lyman with FAFSA and TAP fund eligibility, scholarship support, low tuition cost and what she calls “phenomenal” program availability.

At UB, Lyman has explored various concentrations, most recently, upgrading her statistics minor to a major, and taking on a jam-packed schedule in pursuit of a BS in psychology and a BA in statistics.

At first, Lyman aimed to specialize in psychiatric pharmacy, a field she was drawn to after witnessing the difficulties experienced by family members who had been diagnosed with mental health disorders and were seeking medication and treatment. Her initial concentration was also tied to her current research focus: the role of biased and maladaptive cognitive processes in depressed individuals. She’s also investigating rumination in depression as part of UB doctoral candidate Eve Rosenfeld’s dissertation research.

After enrolling in a Psych 101 course that “ensnared me very quickly,” Lyman began to divert her path toward psychological research. She serves as an undergraduate research fellow with the Buffalo Neuroimaging Analysis Center and UB Department of Neurology at Buffalo General Medical Center; and as an undergraduate project manager working with John Roberts, associate professor of psychology, in his Depression Research and Treatment Program. “If I hadn’t been able to take on more advanced opportunities in research, I wouldn’t have been able to apply for the [Goldwater] award,” Lyman says.

Demonstrating her impressive work ethic, Lyman is employed year-round to support her academic career. She credits Roberts and Wendy Quinton, clinical associate professor of psychology; as well as Gregory Wilding, professor and chair of the Department of Biostatistics, as among the influential mentors who have inspired her to succeed in all her endeavors.

“I cannot deny the influence that UB professors have had on my life,” Lyman says. “They’ve encouraged me to pursue opportunities that have allowed me to realize that this is the field and place where I will flourish.”

Dancing Daily

As Lyman balances research, studies and working full time, she also ensures that she prioritizes her own mental health. “I always try to block out 30–60 minutes to dance daily. You should seek something that you find rewarding and fun, and give yourself the freedom to do so.”

As Lyman embarks on advancing her research, she is applying to graduate schools in the hope of earning her PhD in clinical psychology, and also applying to master’s programs for statistics, with the goal of a position in academia as a research professor. She continues to relish the intellectual flexibility of doing research. “There’s something very empowering about having the freedom to use your mind however you want to use it.

“As I continue my research, I hope to keep investigating the cognitive processes involved in depression and increasing understanding of how this process works, and how we can translate that basic research into more effective and accessible treatments.” 

Story by Gina Carbone, BA ’20

Photograph by Douglas Levere

Published March 30, 2021