Alumni Profile: Kai Ruggeri
It has been over 13 years since I drove 300 miles to my mother’s home in Missouri to surprise her with the news that I had been admitted to the PhD in Psychology at Queen’s. Though I knew at the time how special a moment that was, everything that has come since has far exceeded expectations of just how meaningful that opportunity would be. While moving from Chicago to Belfast was a major change, particularly because I had never been to Ireland or the UK before, it ended up as perhaps the best study decision I ever made.
During my three years in the school, I received the best academic supervision any postgraduate student could want, thanks to Dr Martin Dempster and Dr Donncha Hanna. In many ways, I was completely unaware what I had gotten myself into, and was not then even committed to the idea of a career in research. Yet their guidance, and the general support in the school created the perfect environment for me to develop personally and professionally. I received world-class training as a researcher, was widely supported to engage with academics throughout the country and around the world, and made to feel like an integral part of a close-knit department as well as our six-person doctoral program cohort.
In the ten years since I completed my doctorate, I have been given a wonderful range of opportunities thanks largely to my training and chosen degree. This started with a research position at the UNESCO Centre in Coleraine, where I put my statistical training (a fundamental skill developed by studying psychology) immediately to practice in studies related to the economics of education policy in Northern Ireland and the Balkans. In 2011, I was invited to the University of Cambridge, where I would expand my research to focus on where evidence from psychological research could have an impact on population well-being through applications in policy.
Given how important it has been to have the chance to study and continue researching in psychology, it has been especially meaningful that I have had the opportunity to launch and direct a program for psychology students, known as the Junior Researcher Programme. We now have over 250 active and former students from over 30 countries, and recently completed a global study on decision-making, carried out entirely by early career psychologists. In many ways, this is directly thanks to the support and training I received in the Department of Psychology at Queen’s.
Over the last few years, I have transitioned my life and career back to the US, and I am now Assistant Professor at Columbia University in New York, based in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Mailman School of Public Health. I am extremely fortunate that the skills and topics covered during my time at Queen’s are what I directly apply to my work, which involves everything from scientific study to working with governments, advising businesses, and engaging with major international organizations like the United Nations and OECD.
It is impossible to overstate how important it was to have the opportunity to study at Queen’s, and to have the support and guidance I received from peers, faculty, and staff in the Department of Psychology. Without question, I am as passionate, or even moreso, about my subject as the day I was admitted to the program, and consider it to be the turning point that has led to the wonderful opportunities I have had in my career since graduating.