Psychologist Extraordinaire

by Monique Mendez

A nominee of a prestigious award before she turned thirty. A doctorate in psychology who was featured in six top research journals. A researcher working for the United Air Force.

This is Dr. Victoria Claypoole.

As a post-doctoral research psychologist for the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, Dr. Claypoole focuses her research on the intersection of social facilitation and sustained attention. She uses the skills she developed during her time at UCF to enhance the performance of airman systems.

Her work has been featured in psychology journals including Psychological Review and Computers in Human Behavior. Additionally, she mentors UCF psychology graduate students and supports UCF athletics as a season ticket holder.

Chapter 1: Getting Started

Dr. Claypoole’s innovative journey began when she enrolled in a psychology class during her first year of college. Psychology captivated her interest from a young age; however, her high school did not offer the class, which prompted her to take Intro to Psychology at the University of Florida. She was incredibly interested and knew that she wanted to follow that path.

She eventually discovered her love for cognitive psychology, as she was interested in memory and attention. During her undergraduate career, Dr. Claypoole “was very fortunate to be accepted into the Ronald E. McNair Fellowship program.” This prestigious program at UCF allowed her to conduct independent research under the direction of a mentor. Her mentors Dr. Christine Stopka and Dr. Samesha Barnes were integral in fostering her love for psychology and research. During the two years she spent as a McNair Scholar, Dr. Claypoole continued to foster her passion for research, data analytics, and academic writing. It was this program that solidified her career interest as an academic.

Immediately after graduating from UF, Dr. Claypoole started the Human Factors and Cognitive Psychology Ph.D. program at UCF. Only twenty-one years old at the time, she found it immensely overwhelming. In her own words, she was now “in a room full of incredibly smart people, most of which were much older than me and had already achieved great success.” Luckily, she said, her advisor Dr. James Szalma helped her transition from an undergraduate researcher to developing her own brand. He translated all her broad research interests to a specific domain that had far-reaching implications. She soon became an expert in sustained attention and one of the leading researchers at the intersection of social facilitation and vigilance.

Chapter 2: Gaining Traction

Dr. Claypoole did not stop there. As a graduate student, she published research articles, presented research at conferences, and taught several courses for UCF’s psychology department. Her portfolio of work grew and was eventually noticed by other researchers outside of UCF.

While networking at conferences, she met a researcher from the Air Force Research Laboratory who was in the market for a post-doctoral researcher. Dr. Claypoole emailed him her Curriculum Vitae and eventually got the job. According to Dr. Claypoole, though, it was the opposite of picturesque. “By the time I was offered the post-doctoral position, I had applied to about thirty jobs (all with different applications and writing sample requirements), received four interviews, and only had one other offer.” Even with having a Ph.D. at the age of twenty-five and an extensive CV, the job market was highly competitive.

She shared some more advice regarding the job search: never underestimate the importance of networking. “You never know who may be interested in hiring – and do not get discouraged with perceived failures. You may have to submit thirty job applications before you get an offer.”

Chapter 3: Finding Routine

In late March, Dr. Claypoole was offered a position at Design Interactive Inc., a female owned business located across the street from UCF. According to her, a typical day at DI means she is usually busy with work meetings, collaborative conversations, and what she calls “play time” – the team had a company-sponsored Easter egg hunt her first week.

Dr. Claypoole said that she works on three to four different projects every day. She is always running around and working on something new, with no time for complacency. “The coolest part about my job is that I get to work on really collaborative and integrative teams – I learn something new every day, whether that be about software engineering, UX design, or the latest tech in augmented reality,” Dr. Claypoole said.

She considers her work to be a blend of design and psychology. DI has a team of user experience and user interface designers that bring concepts to life. Dr. Claypoole’s role is to provide the psychological, theoretical background to the products created. When creating training scenarios, she says they need to be grounded in a learning-sciences based pedagogical framework – which is where her expertise fits in. Her research background is centered on memory and attention, specifically sustained attention. She brings that approach and empirical backing to supplement the design aspects of the products.

Working at DI, there are no typical days; each project has unique requirements. One day, she may write reports or proposals, and another day may be designing the interface and structure for a new product – like how to construct augmented reality training scenarios for the Army’s Combat Life Saver course. A typical week for her is to work on projects and go to the gym, Disney, and sporting events (her favorite are the Solar Bears and she is a season ticket holder for UCF Football).

Chapter 4: Going Far

Dr. Claypoole was nominated for the prestigious 30-under-30 award, her lifelong career goal. “My nominator, Dr. Nicholas Fraulini, and I felt that the UCF Young Alumni values truly reflected the work I completed for UCF – from a research, teaching, and service perspective.” The categories of “Scholarship, Bold, Trailblazing, Generous, and Resilient” represented her experience at UCF as a Ph.D. student.

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Dr. Claypoole’s long-term goals are to wrap up and publish the research efforts she completed at UCF and the Air Force. At DI, she is working on three different projects that range from creating adaptive training products for medical and maintenance applications to empirical investigations related to the use of augmented reality for operational contexts. Her short-term goal is to start planning a wedding. Her and her fiancé (also a UCF alum) have been engaged for about a year.

UCF has given Dr. Claypoole a wealth of opportunities to launch her success into the field of research psychology. Besides attending football games, she gives back to UCF by providing mentorship and service to UCF psychology graduate students.

 Dr. Victoria Claypoole has accomplished great feats – and will continue to do so – with her extensive knowledge on research psychology and experiences she gained from UCF.