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Julia Beckel with Horsetooth Reservior in background

Student Spotlight: Julia Beckel

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Written by Laura Veith on November 11, 2022

The Center for Health, Work & Environmentr stands on three pillars: Research, Education, and Practice. One of the many ways we work to protect workers is through educating and training future leaders in occupational safety and health (OSH). As part of our Student Spotlight series highlighting our trainees, we interviewed Julia Beckel, MS, a Mountain & Plains Education and Research Center (MAP ERC) trainee earning a PhD in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from Colorado State University (CSU).

How did you find yourself in the field of occupational health and safety? What piqued your interest in studying this field?

After my undergraduate program, I took on an internship working for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in a research lab focusing on occupational issues related to the air traffic control occupation. While most of my work was related to training and performance, I had the opportunity to help develop a stress management program for all new air traffic control personnel. During that time, I learned so much about the health effects of work-related stress, and I started to become interested in other ways work may influence individual mental and physical health.
Research day 
I also had the chance to learn about a lot of fascinating research being done in the aviation industry related to occupational health and safety. For example – I learned how pilot work schedules are rotated to maximize sleep hygiene and improve both the performance and well-being of pilots. Overall, I learned how intertwined work and health are during my experience with the FAA, and everyone deserves to be healthy!

What attracted you to the MAP ERC OHP program?

While applying to graduate schools, I realized 1) there are very few occupational health psychology (OHP) programs in the U.S., and 2) there are very few programs that offer the degree of resources to students that the MAP ERC does. I also learned during my interviews that both CSU and the MAP ERC were extremely promotive of interdisciplinary research and practice. This was something that I considered to be extremely meaningful, and still do, so the program just seemed like the best fit.

Tell us about an impactful project you’ve worked on as a part of the program.

To date, I consider my thesis project to be the most meaningful project I’ve worked on. For the project, I worked with participants managing chronic health conditions in the workplace and collected daily responses from them as they were teleworking during the COVID-19 pandemic. My project aimed to identify the reasons why telework may be an affective accommodation practice for workers with disability or vulnerable health. I’ve been able to share the results from this project with various practitioners and policy contributors. Having a chronic health condition of my own, being able to work with participants from my own community and contribute to important and practical research was extremely meaningful to me.

TWH symposiumWhat important lessons did you learn from your professors or through this project?

I collected a large amount of qualitative data with this project and I really appreciate how vulnerable and honest participants in my study were willing to be in their responses. Many of them were grateful for an outlet to talk about a large part of their daily life (i.e., having a chronic health condition), but were rarely asked about it. During this project I learned how important it is to engage in dialogue with participants supporting your research if possible. Specifically, if you ask people about what is important to them and their needs, they will tell you. I think more research needs to start this way, asking our participants what they believe to be important instead of making assumptions with our research questions.


How will your training/experience impact the field of occupational health and safety?

Since my training has been so interdisciplinary, I feel confident that I will be able to enter the workforce and work with a variety of occupational health and safety professionals with enough content knowledge to bridge different perspectives to meet a shared goal around worker health!

How will it impact the larger body of workers, families, and communities?

What happens to individuals at work impacts how they experience life outside of work. I hope my training and career will help to improve the quality of employee workplace experiences so they can also have healthy and fulfilling lives outside of the workplace.

What is the next step for you after exiting the program?

I’ll be applying for jobs related to OHP this coming spring. I hope to work for an organization who values worker health and well-being as much as the great people I’ve had a chance to work with during my time with the MAP ERC!