The Tracking Acute Post-Injury Pain (TAPP) Study

Supervising Faculty: Maria Pacella-LaBarbara, PhD

Contact: Maria Pacella-LaBarbara,

Area of Research: Trauma Psychology

Description of Research:  This project aims to determine the temporal associations between maladaptive psychological processes and the development of chronic pain among motor vehicle crash (MVC) victims with traumatic musculoskeletal injury. Specifically, we are conducting a prospective cohort study in 200 MVC patients injured patients to intensively monitor acute psychological factors (via surveys, ecological momentary assessment and Fitbit devices) associated with the development of injury-related chronic pain. MVC patients are recruited from the Emergency Department within 24 hours post-injury and followed intensively for the next 3-months. These findings will serve to identify those at highest risk of chronic pain after injury and inform the content and timing of non-pharmacological interventions to prevent chronic pain. 

Duties of Students: Students will be serve as research assistants in the Emergency Departments or UPMC Mercy and Presbyterian Hospital, and to monitor the triage board to track potential participants as they arrive in the ED (ED); all students will be required to speak with the treating team in the ED to determine potential eligibility of participants and to further speak with willing patients in their treating rooms to determine eligibility. Students will then conduct informed consent procedures for willing and eligible participants, complete the enrollment process in the ED (including collecting contact information, helping the participants enroll in an automated text messaging program, providing them with a Fitbit device and assisting them in its use, assisting them with survey completion, and providing them details regarding compensation and their longitudinal participation in the research study). Other project opportunities may include monitoring study engagement and progress from active participants and assisting with follow-up among select patients.


  • Overall GPA of 3.0 or higher
  • 12 credits of Psychology (including current term)
  • STAT 0200/1000/1100 Statistics
  • PSY 0036 Research Methods Lecture
  • PSY 0037 Research Methods Lab

Recruitment Process: Interested students will submit their CV or resume (with their GPA to date) and prior work or research experience. Students will then be interviewed by the PI and will be asked a standard set of questions (e.g., their long-term goals and why they are interested in such a position; prior experience with research and/or with working in a clinical setting or with patients, year in school, etc.); all students are encouraged to ask questions. I always tell interested students and potential employees that the hardest part of this type of work is feeling comfortable in the chaotic ED setting and having a genuine interest in the topic/in helping people understand and enroll in the research process. Establishing a rapport with patients during a sensitive time in their life is a rewarding but difficult endeavor- that being said, it requires strong interpersonal skills, attention to detail and motivation. This type of work is also time intensive to train for, and as a result, I typically look for students earlier on in their undergraduate career (e.g., sophomores instead of seniors) unless they have prior experience with recruitment and/or working with patient populations in a clinical setting. Building a diverse team of recruitments is key, as it is essential for research to include a diverse population; ED patients will feel comfortable talking to researchers with whom they can relate. We give everyone an equal opportunity regardless of race, gender or other social identity variables. We prioritize students with interests that closely align with our project mission, and those who can make at least a one year commitment to the project.

Terms offered: Fall, Spring

Number of Students: 3