As an undergraduate student at USF, Michael Weiner has already become a devoted researcher — growing his expertise, collaborating with leaders in the field, and even contributing to the existing knowledge on the topic of mental health and substance use. As he looks toward the future and a career in this field, he has already begun setting himself up for success with help from the Florida High Tech Corridor’s Undergraduate Research Initiative and the Summer Research Institute at the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute (SRI@FMHI).
Weiner was awarded funding distributed by the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences (CBCS) from the Florida High Tech Corridor’s Undergraduate Research Initiative, which supports meaningful research experiences for undergraduate students. The scholarship helped with cost-of-living expenses while he participated in the SRI@FMHI and will contribute to future research-related costs, such as attending conferences and training.
The SRI@FMHI is a summer program that supports students in building their research skills within the context of substance use and co-occurring disorders. It consists of four components: an independent research project conducted with guidance from a CBCS faculty mentor, research seminars, professional development seminars, and skill-building workshops.
Throughout the 11-week period, scholars work intensively with faculty mentors on their research projects and gain experience with research ethics, Institutional Review Board practices, and local mental health and substance use services through a community rotation. At the end of the program, each student presents their findings in front of their peers and mentors during Research Day. Weiner says he wanted to participate in the SRI@FMHI to develop his research skills and become more prepared for graduate school.
“I definitely feel like the program accomplished those goals and more,” said Weiner. “We heard from professors and graduate students about applying to graduate school, and they gave great insight and tips. Another aspect of the program I loved was hearing lectures from experts in their field, where they talked about relevant topics from both clinical and research perspectives.”
As an SRI@FMHI participant, Weiner earned a coveted opportunity to partner with Khary Rigg, PhD, a Department of Mental Health Law and Policy associate professor and behavioral health services researcher with over 15 years of experience studying substance use disorders.
“It was amazing to hear his perspectives and learn from him,” said Weiner. “I respect his passion and love for research and the quality of his work. He contributed to me learning further about the development of manuscripts and the later stages of getting a study published.”
Weiner and Rigg researched polydrug use among Black Americans who misuse opioids, surveying more than 300 individuals about the substances they combined with opioids. From that group, Weiner and Rigg interviewed 30 people to contextualize the survey’s findings.
“In the interviews we looked into their description of and reasoning for their drug combining,” said Weiner. “We found that 96.7 percent of the survey sample combined other substances with opioids. The four most common substances that respondents combined with opioids were cocaine, alcohol, methamphetamine, and marijuana, in that order. All four of those drug combinations had over 50 percent of respondents stating they combine those substances with opioids.”
In addition to developing his skills as a researcher, Weiner says he valued the field experience component of the SRI@FMHI, in which students visited community sites relevant to substance use and addiction treatment.
“I feel like the field experiences gave me the opportunity to think about my future career in a tangible way and specifically which type of jobs I’d like to pursue,” said Weiner, who also recently completed the CBCS undergraduate Addictions and Substance Abuse Profession Certificate. “Overall, I am very grateful for the program as I felt like I learned so much in so many areas.”
Now Weiner says he plans to take a gap year, during which he will continue his research, followed by applying to doctorate programs where he can continue to pursue mental health research.