Grad Story #16


Grad Story #16



Holly Rusinko

PhD in Clinical Psychology




Holly, you completed your undergraduate degree at UND. Was psychology your major? Or how did you come to choose psychology as a career?


Psychology was my major as an undergraduate with a minor in Criminal Justice. I chose psychology as a major because I knew I wanted to be a psychologist when I started college. Life experiences started my interest in psychology and I enjoyed the course work once I started. I find people fascinating; everyone has a story to tell, sometimes people need someone to help them make sense of their life story and I like being the person that helps put the puzzle together.


The Psychology Department successfully nominated your Master’s thesis for the Distinguished Thesis Award. The award is recognition of academic excellence in your field. How did you respond when you discovered you’d been chosen?


I felt honored and was surprised when my advisor notified me of the selection. It never crossed my mind while I was completing my thesis that it would be recognized by the University of North Dakota for academic excellence.


Can you talk a little about how you developed your thesis topic, “An Examination of the Effects of Assertiveness on Women’s Attributions of Blame Towards Victims of Sexual Assault”.


I started working with Dr. April Bradley when I started college in the area of sexual assault. As my graduate career progressed I also became interested in communication, especially in romantic relationships. I was interested in looking at how assertive women view other women who have been victimized but who may not demonstrate the same level of assertiveness as they have. Perceptions of rape victims is very important to understand because it relates to why women do not report sexual assaults, outcomes of criminal court cases and the overall treatment of a victim of sexual assault.


You are now working on your PhD in Clinical Psychology. Do you anticipate furthering this research or exploring a new direction?


I actually just defended my dissertation for which I created an assertiveness training program for college women. The training program was focused mostly on how to be assertive in romantic relationships with the idea that if women are trained in assertive communication, they may be able to communicate their wishes, wants and desires to their partner and possibly reduce acquaintance sexual assaults. The results of my dissertation did significantly increase interpersonal communication and general assertiveness; however, a larger scale study needs to be done for any conclusive statements to be made.


Throughout a graduate student’s career they tend to work closely with faculty mentors and advisors. How important is that relationship to your success as a grad student?


My advisor has been extremely helpful to me along the way. I have been working with her even before graduate school which was a great benefit for me. When you have a comfortable working relationship with your advisor they can give you feedback on areas you need to improve on and point you in the direction of opportunities to gain the experience you need. I know my advisor was my biggest advocate which is important in getting through the stress of graduate school.


You are currently undertaking your internship. Can you describe the focus of your work?


I am currently an intern at a federal prison in Tallahassee, FL. I mainly work with female inmates conducting group drug treatment, group trauma treatment, individual therapy, assessments and crisis interventions.


What advice do you have for new graduate students?


Stress management is the best advice I can offer. There will be times when you feel you are defined by school. I would encourage anyone who is going to go through graduate school to maintain hobbies, interests and friends who are not associated with school. It provides a much needed balance to the school work and reminds you that you are a human beyond academics.


What was your favorite class?


My favorite class as a graduate student was any class related to therapeutic techniques. As an undergraduate my favorite psychology class was Human Sexuality.


Susan Caraher


The Graduate School



Original Format






Susan Caraher, “Grad Story #16,” Grad Stories, accessed May 27, 2018,