Eli Susman

Eli Susman, Research Coordinator


What is one project you’re excited about that you are working on in the lab right now?

David, Kate, and I, along with Margaret Sheridan, are working on a manuscript that identifies vagal tone and fear extinction learning as potential protective factors against psychopathology among youth exposed to violence. One reason why this is so interesting to me is because contemplative practices like mindfulness and yoga, have both been shown to improve vagal tone and extinction learning in adults, but have yet to be investigated in children for these interventions. I am excited about a new project I am starting with John Weisz and Kate examining whether interventions, such a slow breathing, can actually change or improve vagal tone.

What is something that you enjoy doing outside of work?

I enjoy a style of dance called contact improvisation, which is much easier to explain though this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ED8hNoulZv4). SO many things come up during these dances. I have learned so much about myself and my connection to my body through this practice. It's also a wonderful exercise in listening. No words are spoken and you have to communicate entirely through your body in an improvisational fashion. It can be quite playful and fun! I haven't been able to do much of it during COVID, but am definitely looking forward to getting back into that soon! I also really love hiking, skiing, trail running (especially at the Middlesex Fells), and yoga. I used to be really into waterskiing, but got a pretty bad injury in 2015 and haven't done much since (partly due to lack of access!). Though I heard that there is a waterskiing place nearby in Berkeley so I am definitely going to look into that!

Do you have any hidden talents? If so, what?

Coincidentally, when my partner Rebecca and I were really young, we each memorized the digits of Pi. I still remember around 60 digits, but that's nothing compared to Rebecca. She once memorized 200 digits (now she can recite around 125 digits)

What do you want to be when you “grow up”?

A Clinical Psychologist! And also a good dad, partner, and brother/cousin/uncle, etc. Steve Jobs, someone who has always inspired me in many ways, once said that he wanted to be someone who made a dent in the universe. I really like that idea and feel the same way.

What is something you have accomplished and are proud of outside of work?

I'm an Eagle Scout! For my project when I was 15, I created a family-inclusive carnival for children with neurodevelopmental disabilities with an organization I worked from from when I was 11 all the way through graduating high school. It was a really cool and formative experience for me, and part of what got me into the outdoors!

What is something that you are personally working on improving (about yourself, about the world, about your community etc)?

I'm always working to be more compassionate, joyful, present, and alive, in the way that I live my life, and I hope to inspire others to do the same

What has made you the proudest in your time in the lab?

I am so proud to be a part of such a supportive lab! This application process has been a crazy one for me, and the way everyone came together to support me during this wild time is something I will always remember.

If you could be anything (outside from your current field) what would it be?

Probably something in politics or policymaking. I would love to contribute to implementing the policies that science has advocated for for so long.

Give us a snapshot of a moment of joy in your life.

It's a Saturday morning, my partner and I wake up and do yoga together, make a wonderful breakfast with our home-grown herbs, bread and kefir smoothies. The sun feels warm on our faces as we get ready for our next hike or adventure of the day.

What’s important to know about you?

For those potentially interested in meditation: I have been practicing meditation for over ten years and still find it to be challenging in many ways. I just say that to say that many people share with me that they can't meditate, and because of that they don't do it. Meditation may not be the right fit for everyone, nor would I ever try to push it onto someone who is not interested in the practice. However, if you are interested, and feel that you just are not "doing it right", I want to normalize this experience. It doesn't have to be perfect because it's just a practice! For me, it is really just like taking a shower, but for my mind. It's a way of taking care of myself like brushing my teeth, and a practice in working towards living more compassionately and joyfully in the world. Part of what got me into this work is finding ways to make these practices, which were life changing both for me and many of the clients I have worked with, more accessible to the world. I hope to continue doing that in this next step in my journey at Berkeley with Allison Harvey.


See also: Eli Susman