Since graduating from VCU with a Ph.D. in social and behavioral health, Lindsey Saul, PhD’13, has taken a career path straight to the Pentagon.
In July 2016, she completed a two-year appointment to the Presidential Management Fellow program, assigned to the Department of Defense’s Defense Health Agency. At that point last summer, Saul converted to a permanent position as branch chief of the data and analysis team for the Non-Medical Counseling Program Office, where she analyzes data from the Military and Family Life Counseling program. The MFLC program was established after 9/11 as a short-term, confidential program to provide U.S. service members and their families with emotional, social, financial and marital support that falls outside of medical attention.
“Our job is to keep our force ready,” she says of her office, where she oversees a team of three. “Part of that is making sure we care for service members, their families and their well-being.”
When service members contact an MFLC counselor for assistance — for anything ranging from grief and loss to mitigating problems in school — Saul’s team receives the who, why and where of the requests and translates the data into plain English to aid senior leadership in their decision-making. Saul is responsible for improving the program’s data collection, analysis and reporting processes as well as providing the team and leadership with program trend analyses. She also oversees developing and implementing a new business operations support system that integrates masses of data across multiple sources in order to capture and convey meaningful metrics.
“Data,” Saul says, “is a means to provide action for change, such as providing more services to the military. It also guides decisions to benefit or impact service members and their families.”
Her job comes with an inherent obstacle. “I work with teams of civil servants and the military who are accustomed to doing business a certain way. I need buy-in when bringing a new and innovative approach,” Saul says. “It’s a challenge.”
But it’s a challenge she has long been prepared for.
With an interdisciplinary educational and work background that includes public health, psychology, forensic science, social work and project management, Saul has a unique ability to translate research findings into succinct, compelling and persuasive information for various audiences.
“I’ve worked at ground level as a social worker in the field, and I’ve worked at operational level,” says Saul. “When I became a civil servant, it was a huge milestone. This is what I was meant to do. It fits my personality to be that connector and get information and results where they need to be.”
Growing up, Saul envisioned herself in a hands-on profession — as a doctor, for example — but pursued experiences and interests that would one day enable her to inform policy and thereby help groups of people, rather than individuals. Yet she didn’t see herself as a researcher. “I resisted certain aspects of the job because of the initial time spent away from direct interaction with the community, as well as the pace at which tangible change is achieved,” she says. “I wanted to be the voice of the people, but it can take years before your work affects the community you’re researching.”
She pursued her doctorate at VCU after earning a bachelor’s in psychology from Duke University and a master’s in forensic studies with a behavior analysis concentration from Florida Gulf Coast University. Studying under the Ph.D. program’s founder, Laura Siminoff, Ph.D., Saul was a motivated, focused student who wrote her dissertation in a speedy six months.
Saul is driven to help the greatest number of people possible, and, to that end, is prepared for a high-level leadership role in the government. She sees her current job as a place to stimulate important discussions and drive decisions that are evidence-based. “The more people I can impact,” she says,” the more meaningful my work would be. That’s my ultimate goal.”
This story by Carla Davis first appeared on the Department of Health Behavior and Policy’s website.