Students participate in full-scale eating disorder study

A full-scale eating disorder study involving 180 participants is underway, and eight Cornell College students are behind much of the work on the project.

The three-year study is in its first year of testing the effectiveness of two group-based therapy programs. Professor of Psychology Melinda Green is leading the study. In August the National Institutes of Mental Health announced $400,000 worth of funding support for the project after a preliminary trial showed eating disorder symptoms and cardiac markers improved overall among a sample of 50 women. 

Students and Professor Green smile for a group photo
Front row: Yumeng Tao ’20, Penny Peng ’21, Emma Hartman ’21, Lexi Ferenzi ’20. Back row: Gabby Carlson ’21, Linden Miles ’17, Professor Melinda Green, John Bogucki ’20. (Not pictured: Kamryn Hogan ’20, Julian Smith ’20.)

“It’s a privilege to be working in a lab like this with Melinda,” said John Bogucki ’20. “We had to earn our spots here. But the big picture, you look at what she’s doing and the type of research she is doing and in the long run, it impacts a lot of people.”

The students are participating in every piece of the study, and they’re learning what it takes to conduct professional research.

“Our goal is to train the Cornell students in all aspects of the research process, starting with good clinical practice training,” Green said. “This training comes from the National Institutes of Health, so our students learn the best practices in human-subject research.”

They also have to perfect their knowledge of research design, research methodology, cardiac functioning, identifying cardiac markers of eating disorders, recruiting participants, analyzing data, and communicating research findings to a broader audience. Their research goal is to discover which group-based treatment program is most effective in reducing eating disorder risk factors and disorder-associated cardiac risk markers.

“We are seeing how we can use that cardiac marker to assess how severe symptoms are because sometimes people with eating disorders aren’t upfront about how bad their behaviors are and what their symptoms are,” said Gabby Carlson ’21. “If we have a biomarker that will indicate some of that, it will help people get the treatment they really need.”

Along with the team of nine undergraduates, the funding also supports a research team of four graduate research assistants from the University of Iowa. Additionally, a physician and a clinical psychologist from Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids and a statistician from the University of Iowa help monitor the data safety and analysis of results. Everyone is organized with the help of a laboratory coordinator, which is a position held by Linden Miles ’17. 

Melinda Green meets with her Cornell student team for research updates
Green regularly meets with her student research team for project updates.

The nine Cornell students say they enjoy being part of this research team because they have their eyes set on the future. Many are looking at Ph.D. programs in psychology.

“I was in one of Melinda’s classes first block this year and she brought up the existence of her eating disorder lab and I was interested and talked to her about it,” said Julian Smith ’20. “She helped me realize how great research is for grad school and for my resume, besides the fact that this is going to help a lot of people.”

Helping people is the piece of the research that really motivates these students, especially when some days are spent sending out thousands of emails or posting fliers in bathroom stalls to increase awareness. When they get to work with participants and notice improvements, they see the change they are helping to create in the lives of these women.

“I just feel good about talking about it and feel good that I can share the message with people and let people know that I’m working with this team,” said Yumeng Tao ’20. “I’m a member of this team and I’m really proud that I’m involved with it.”

For more information on the study or to find out how to become a participant, email Melinda Green at