Erin Foster, PhD Student

Image of Erin FosterErin Foster, OTD, OTR/L

PhD student, Rehabilitation and Participation Science

Erin Foster, Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy, Neurology and Psychiatry, runs the Cognitive and Occupational Performance Laboratory in the Program in Occupational Therapy at Washington University School of Medicine. Since 2004, she has had a clinical research interest in cognitive dysfunction and how it relates to rehabilitation and the quality of life in patients with Parkinson disease and other neurological disorders.

“I want to help people do the things they need and want to do in life, to live meaningful, healthy, and satisfying lives,” she says of her career path in occupational therapy. “I chose occupational therapy because I want to do that in an individualized manner by addressing the person’s goals within their own environment.”

Occupational therapy fits well with Foster’s background. As an undergraduate at Washington University, she earned a degree in psychology with a minor in biology. As part of the requirements for her doctorate in occupational therapy, she completed two clinical internships at rehabilitation institutes. A postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University followed.

“In general, I like the marriage of psychology and social science with bio-behavioral science that occurs within occupational therapy,” she explains.

In 2009, Foster was among the first graduates of the Master’s of Science in Clinical Investigation (MSCI) program at Washington University. The program, designed to encourage prospective physician and clinical scientists, strengthened her clinical research skills. She’s now taking those skills another step further as she pursues her PhD in Rehabilitation and Participation Science.

“My goal is to develop cognitive rehabilitation approaches to maximize performance, participation, and well-being for individuals with chronic neurological conditions,” she says. “By entering this PhD program, I am hoping to obtain training that will strengthen the theoretical foundation for my research.”

Foster, who has been at Washington University since her undergraduate years, says she stays because of the vibrancy of the academic community and the depth and diversity of research. “The Program in Occupational Therapy is one of the top occupational therapy programs in the country and possibly the strongest in the area of cognition, which is my particular area of interest,” she says. “Faculty and leadership here are well-known for their research and the program is well-connected to the rest of Washington University (undergraduate and medical school), so we have access to lots of resources.”

She also notes that St. Louis itself is a dynamic place in which to live and conduct research. The city has major league baseball, football and hockey. It’s also home to a renowned symphony and boasts one of the largest urban parks in the country. “Even though we’re in the Midwest, there’s skiing, wineries, and rivers for float trips,” she says with a smile. “There are all kinds of free activities and events along with a great restaurant and craft brewery scene. I think St. Louis has a lot to offer in terms of fun, interesting and affordable things to do.”

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