Psychology professor wins New Investigator Award


Wayne State Assistant Professor of Psychology Samuele Zilioli was recently honored with the 2022 Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research (ABMA) Neal E. Miller New Investigator Award.

The award is presented to a junior scientist for imaginatively conceived and carefully conducted research.

“I’m very honored and humbled to have been selected to receive this award,” Zilioli said. “These are big moments in the life of a researcher because sometimes we do all this work — and while you get a sense that you’re doing a good job, if someone recognizes that, it’s definitely a big morale booster. This award is something that pushes us to continue doing our best work.”

Zilioli said he was nominated by Penn State Associate Professor of Biobehavioral Health Christopher G. Engeland, with whom he has collaborated. The award committee was impressed with the breadth of Zilioli’s research studying the biological and behavioral mechanism through which socioeconomic status impacts health and disease outcomes.

“The research that we do in the biopsychosocial health lab revolves around understanding social economics status and racial health disparities in health and disease,” Zilioli said. “The way we do that is to work with samples across the lifespan, so ranging from youth to middle-aged and older adults, and with samples that also vary in terms of health and disease. We do some of our work with samples affected by chronic conditions such as asthma, but we also work with non-clinical samples. We are trying to understand socioeconomic status and racial disparities in health.”

Zilioli believes his research can ultimately improve the physical health and well-being of the communities he works with.

“That’s the ultimate goal: to improve health and well-being,” he said. “We do that by working with local communities, and the immediate impacts are on local communities; so, for example, most of my work focuses on communities in Detroit, and that can have an impact.

“I also believe that the work we do is generalizable to global communities,” Zilioli added. “This is why I emphasize the idea of using the research to establish a comprehensive model that connects social phenomena like socioeconomic status to health and disease.”

Zilioli came to Wayne State University in 2014 as a postdoctoral fellow and in 2016 became an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and Department of Family Medicine and Public Health Sciences.

“The support from the university at many different levels has been outstanding,” he said. “Being located in the IBio building and having the ability to do interdisciplinary research with scientists from different disciplines has been very enriching. The support from my colleagues, including mentorship, has been outstanding — and I have an amazing team that I get to work with every day, and that’s the students, research staff and postdocs.”

Zilioli enjoys working with students in his classes and seeing them develop their research from an idea to much more.

“I like to teach students how to conduct rigorous research,” he said. “They have to come up with their own ideas and present their own research proposal. I always enjoy learning more about their ideas and seeing their creativity early on in their academic career. It’s always rewarding when I see some of them succeeding and continuing on the path of research.”

As part of winning the award, Zilioli will attend the ABMA conference in June and present his research.

“It’s a great opportunity to share my research with some of the top names in the in the field,” Zilioli said.

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