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Jessica Burris

Research Interests:
cancer survivorship
smoking cessation
rural populations
health equity
Quality of Life

B.A., Marquette University, 2006
Ph.D., University of Kentucky, 2012


My research spans the continuum from cancer prevention to cancer control, with a focus on the health risk behavior of tobacco use. A particular area of scientific inquiry involves identification and modification of psychological variables that are germane to the process of smoking cessation (e.g., motivation, confidence, distress, causal attributions, risk perception, fatalism, social support, and posttraumatic growth). Funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), my Career Development Award sought to uncover precisely how a cancer diagnosis functions as a “teachable moment” for adults who smoke cigarettes. In a sample of newly diagnosed head/neck and cervical cancer patients, this longitudinal study investigated day-to-day changes in cigarette smoking and other tobacco use behavior and the cognitive and affective processes that underlie these changes. Another recently completed observational study is a mixed-methods study with cervical cancer survivors and their primary source of support, the goal of which was to try and discern why cervical cancer survivors smoke at rates that exceed those of all other cancer patient populations. With a grant from the KY Lung Cancer Research Fund, I then conducted a pilot randomized controlled trial to test the adaptation of a proven strategy for smoking cessation induction (that is, prompting quit attempts among smokers who report low motivation to quit) for cancer survivors who live in rural or Appalachian Kentucky. More recently, my lab has engaged in more mixed-methods research, including studies on the social functioning of rural and nonrural cancer survivors and the rationale behind cancer patients' desire to quit smoking on their own (i.e., without any evidence-based treatment). Currently, and for one student's dissertation study, we are conducting a mixed-methods study with LGBTQ cancer patients to better understand risk and protective factors related to smoking cessation in this population and perceptions of cancer care providers' attention to and appreciation of their unique needs. Pertinent to implementation science, I also oversee a NCI-funded, evidence-based tobacco treatment program that serves adult outpatients at Markey Cancer Center, affectionately named the Markey CARES Program. Yet another implementation science project involved a partnership with Kentucky Homeplace and provided an avenue whereby community health workers in Appalachia Kentucky could become tobacco treatment specialists. Recently, I was the Multi-Principal Investigator of a NCI R01 that aims to test the efficacy of a survivorship care intervention designed for lung cancer survivors in rural Kentucky. Finally, I contribute to the NCI Cancer Center Cessation Initiative as an Expert Panel Member and the American College of Surgeons' Commission on Cancer Just ASK and Beyond ASK Quality Improvement Initiatives as a Taskforce Member.

I am NOT accepting any new undergraduate students into my lab for the 23-24 academic year.

I am NOT accepting any new graduate students into my lab for the 24-25 academic year.

Cancer, Adjustment, and Risk of Smoking (CARS) Lab

An Unfortunate Trifecta

Normally, if you win a trifecta it’s a good thing (especially if you’re betting on the races at Keeneland), but in this case, not so much: Based on nationwide data, Kentucky has one of the highest rates of smokingcancer, and poverty. Given this, the CARS Lab is well positioned to explore smoking cessation (or the lack thereof), cancer survivorship, and social determinants of health and disease. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the CARS Lab focuses on prevention and control of smoking-related cancers and under-served, under-resourced cancer survivors in Kentucky. Our main goal is to identify (and ultimately modify) the psychosocial variables that play a key role in adjustment to cancer, including the clinically important process of smoking cessation after cancer diagnosis. Some of the psychosocial variables we study are distress, posttraumatic growth, motivation, self-efficacy, causal attributions, social support, social constraint, and socioeconomic disadvantage, and our studies focus on survivors and supporters of head/neck, cervical, and lung cancer.

Lab Studies

Cancer And Tobacco Study (CATS)

In this intensive longitudinal study, we are interested in identifying the factors that contribute to a cancer diagnosis being a “teachable moment” for smoking cessation. More specifically, we are trying to uncover which affective and cognitive variables play a role in the quit attempts, lapses, and relapses that occur in the context of a new cancer diagnosis. To do so, we recruit recently diagnosed head/neck and cervical cancer survivors who smoke from the UK Markey Cancer Center, and ask them to furnish select psychosocial and behavioral data for 30 days in a row.

Funder: National Cancer Institute. Study duration: 2014-2019. Study stage: Dissemination.

Student publications: Rivera-Rivera et al. (2021) - Journal of Behavioral Medicine; Borger et al. (in press) - Nicotine and Tobacco Research

Cancer and the Kentucky Experience (CAKE)

In this mixed-methods pilot study, we explore the quality of life and tobacco use of cervical cancer survivors and their supporters (i.e., whomever the survivor considers her “go to” person for support). We are also evaluating whether social resources and socioeconomic status play a role in achieving tobacco cessation after cervical cancer diagnosis. For this study, we are collaborating with Kentucky Cancer Link, a non-profit organization that provides assistance to low-income and under-insured cancer survivors across the state, and the Kentucky Cancer Registry.

Funder: UK. Study duration: 2016-2018. Study stage: All done.

Student publications: Puleo et al. (2020) - Psycho-Oncology; Borger et al. (2021) - Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.

Consultation, Advice & Tailored Support for Cancer Survivors (CATS 2)

This randomized clinical trial is our initial investigation into the feasibility, acceptability, and efficacy of an intervention with two complementary goals: 1) engage cancer survivors in the process of making a quit attempt and 2) empower cancer survivors who smoke to use local, regional, and national resources to address unmet social support needs that might otherwise undermine their quit attempts. In this study, we hope to uncover a powerful smoking cessation induction intervention for cancer survivors who are coping with the social challenges inherent to living in rural, Appalachian, or otherwise low SES areas, and we're partnering with the UK Markey Cancer Center and Kentucky Cancer Registry in order to do so.

Funder: Kentucky Lung Cancer Research Foundation. Study duration: 2017-2020. Study stage: Data analysis.

Markey Cancer Assessment, Referral, Engagement, and Support (CARES) Tobacco Program

The Markey CARES Tobacco Program implements the highest quality tobacco cessation treatment via two pathways: 1) widespread provider education around the importance of tobacco cessation after cancer diagnosis, and for some individuals, free enrollment in an accredited, online TTS training program and 2) evidence-based patient care that involves population-based assessment, proactive offers of treatment, systematic follow-up, and integrated support consistent with the conceptual model of the 5 As (Ask, Advise, Assess, Assist, and Arrange). This comprehensive plan to address the high burden of tobacco use in Markey cancer patients through a 2-pronged approach will considerably strengthen Markey’s commitment to reduce cancer morbidity and mortality in KY via both educational and treatment avenues.

Funder: National Cancer Institute. Study duration: 2017-2021. Program implementation: 2018-forever. Study stage: Dissemination.

Student publications: Burris, Borger, et al. (in press) - JCO Oncology Practice; Burris, Bernstein, Borger, et al. (in press) - Journal of General Internal Medicine

Let's TALK

For her dissertation research, Tia is leading a mixed-methods longitudinal study where we explore the rationale behind some cancer patients' desire to quit tobacco on their own. Specifically, we are interested in why cancer patients want to quit tobacco without assistance and we want to understand how this preference influences their tobacco use over time. To do so, we are recruiting cancer patients who state this quit preference when offered tobacco cessation treatment at Markey Cancer Center (see the Markey CARES project above) and then asking them to complete three surveys and at least one interview over the course of two months.

Funder: UK Department of Psychology. Study duration: 2022-2023. Study stage: Data analysis and write-up.


Key Collaborations

Dr. Burris is a Co-Investigator for a NCI Program Project, Take CARE, that centers on cervical cancer prevention throughout primary care practices in the Appalachian region of four states (Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia). Led by Dr. Electra Paskett of OSU, this huge, 3-initiative project involves both provider education and multi-faceted intervention with women at high risk for cervical cancer. Dr. Burris contributes to the smoking cessation initiative which is innovative in its approach (e.g., treatment is offered to women who are and are not ready to quit in the next month) and has potential for high impact (e.g., it was "designed for dissemination" and is a scalable intervention). Full implementation began in late 2020, and the study continues until 2023. Dr. Burris and Tia contributed to the authorship of a protocol paper now under review.

Funder: National Cancer Institute. Study duration: 2018-2023. Study stage: Implementation.

Student publications: Peterson, Borger, et al. (2022) - Addiction Science and Clinical Practice.

Lab Members

Tia Borger, MS

B.A. Psychology, University of Kentucky, 2018

I was born in Springfield, Ohio and moved to Lexington for college in 2014. During my undergraduate career at UK, I was a research assistant in a neuropsychology lab as well as a clinical health psychology lab, which is how I became interested in working with Dr. Burris. Currently, I am a 4th year student in the clinical psychology doctoral program in Dr. Burris’ lab, and I am doing the Health Psychology Concentration. I am interested in the quality of life of cancer survivors who smoke and interventions to improve quality of life post-cancer diagnosis. I was funded as a NIDA T32 Pre-Doctoral Fellowship in my first two years, a TA in my third year, and am now a RA in POP Sciences within the Markey Cancer Center. In my free time, I enjoy attending UK sporting events and exercising.

Will Bowling, BA

B.A. Psychology, Berea College, 2018

I grew up in the mountains of eastern Kentucky in a small town called Booneville. After high school, I moved to central KY to pursue my bachelor’s degree in Psychology at Berea College. This expereince prompted my move to Lexington for graduate school, and I am now a 3rd year student in the UK clinical psychology Ph.D. program in Dr. Burris’ lab. My main research interest involves factors that encourage adaptive health behaviors among cancer survivors. Outside of school and work, I like to spend my time watching scary movies, playing volleyball, and touring local breweries like West 6th.

Abigayle Feather, BS

B.S. Psychology, Appalachian State University, 2019

I am originally from Charlotte, NC and moved to Boone, NC to attend Appalachian State University. During my undergraduate career, I joined the REACT Lab and became interested in improving mental health treatments in underserved populations. After graduation I moved to Chicago and worked in the CARL Lab at UChicago. While there, I studied factors that lead to substance misuse and interventions for smoking cessation. These interests brought me to UK and Dr. Burris, where I am 1st year student in the clinical psychology Ph.D. program and Dr. Burris' lab. I am interested in understanding health risk behaviors like smoking, scalable interventions, and improving quality of life in cancer survivors. When not working, I enjoy cooking, making coffee, and chasing down the best concerts.

Katie Wakeman

As a Kentucky native, I naturally decided several years ago to attend UK. Ever since I was very young, I have had a deep interest in psychology and providing advocacy to individuals who have undergone traumatic experiences. I also have a deep passion for helping health care patients in general. While in college, clinical experiences with doctors of optometery has included assisting doctors in two eye care practices as an optometric technician and opthalmic technician. Thankfully, I have also had the opportunity to work in the Harris Center as a Clinical Assistant, which in turn has led me to the opportunity to assist in Tia's dissertation research. Outside of academics, I enjoy finding new coffee shops, savor browsing at thrifting places, andthen to fall in love wherever there is vinyl. I also enjoy singing, I love all animals, and traveling is also one of my favorite things.

Lab Alumni

Jessica Rivera-Rivera, PhD

B.A. Psychology, University of Puerto Rico, 2012; MPH Biostatistics, University of Puerto Rico, 2013; PhD Clinical Psychology, Univerisity of Kentucky, 2021

I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Before joining Dr. Burris’ lab, I worked for two years as an advisor in Biostatistics for Puerto Rico’s Health Department. While in the clinical program, I did the Health Psychology Concentration and several health psych/behavioral medicine practicum. I did my dissertation on the relationship between psychological functioning (distress and wellbeing) and both social support and social constraint in cancer survivors, which was an extension of my master's thesis and qualifying exam. I did my APPIC internship at the University of Florida Health Sciences Center and am doing a NCI-funded postdoc at Moffit Cancer Center in Tampa, FL. Overall, I am interested in how cancer survivors and their supporters cope after a cancer diagnosis. I am also interested in conducting research in underserved communities and with minority populations. Outside of research, I like running, dancing, and trying new restaurants.

Gabriella Puleo, PhD

B.A. Psychology, Rutgers University, 2013; M.S. Clinical Psychology, Barry University, 2016; PhD Experimental Psychology, University of Kentucky, 2021

I was born and raised in beautiful Staten Island, NY, and relocated to Miami, FL for my Master’s degree. I was a clinical turned experimental psychology Ph.D. student in Dr. Burris’ lab. I’m interested in health behaviors specifically linked to cancer diagnosis, treatment, and quality of life, with particular interest in adult and geriatric patients. My previous research experience has involved a wide range of health-related interests from reward-based behavioral health interventions for preschool children to orthopedic implant studies in chronic pain patients. As a first-year, I won the Kentucky Psychological Foundation's Multicultural Professional Development Award, which allowed me to host an expert in health equity research. Finally, I enjoy spending my free time outside with my dogs, crocheting, and baking -- and I stay very busy raising my twin girls.


4/26/23: Katie presented a poster (using data from Tia's dissertation) at the UK Undergraduate Research Showcase while Will, Tia and Abbey were allegedly at a conference in Phoenix. Upon their return to Lexington, we all gathered for a lab brunch to celebrate an awesome year. Yay brunch!



4/14/23: Tia defended her dissertation like a boss!

Tia defense















4/1/23: Undergraduate RA Katie was accepted into the UK Masters in Counseling Psychology Program and will start in the fall!

Tia matched to the internship at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis and will start the last leg of her PhD training in July!

Will defended his qualifying exam - and in doing so become the 1st student to ever do the clinical case study quals option!

Maisy Webster accepted the offer of admission into the clinical program and will join Abbey and Will in the lab in the fall.

Gosh, it's been awhile since I've updated the announcements, but... (see above)

4/18/22: Will kicked off the summer on a high note by successfully defending his master's thesis. Woo hoo!

3/25/22: Honorary undergraduate lab member, Tristan, gets 3 competetive awards/job offers on the same day. The offers included a paid fellowship with the Markey STRONG Scholars Program, an internship at the Harris Psychological Services Center, and a 395 position in Dr. Peggy Keller's lab. Well done, Tristan.

3/14/22: Yancey, an undergraduate lab alum, got a job as Project Coordinator in the lab of Dr. Michelle Martel, another outstanding faculty member in the UK Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program.

2/5/22: Gaby's quals paper is published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research and is selected as the Editor's Choice! So fancy.

2/1/22: Abigayle Feather commits to UK and joins the CARS Lab as the newest member. Welcome to the fam!

10/1/21: Jessica RR had her first baby, Liam, and they're both doing well!

8/1/21: Will started his new position as a RA in the Center for Health Equity Transformation. This is a great opportunity for him, in part, because it allows him to broaden his network of mentors beyond the Psych Dept.

6/15:21: Gaby successfully defended her dissertation, and now has more time to spend with Aspen and Zara who are growing up so, so fast.

5/15/21: I had the pleasure of hooding Jessica RR at a small graduation ceremony with her family present, and then we had a lab reunion at Talon Winery to celebrate the graduation of Jessica RR and Gaby! Huge milestones for everyone involved, and very special moment for me :)

12/6/20: We had a Zoom lab meeting so Tia could practice her thesis defense presentation. It was great to see everyone together again!



























8/1/20: Devin started the UK PharmD program, but since she's at UK, she still hangs out with us from time to time.

2/21/20: Jessica RR matches to her #1 choice for internship: University of Florida Health Sciences Center!

2/13/20: The CARS Lab grows significantly with the birth of Gaby's twin girls, Zara and Aspen!

5/30/19: Jessica RR received a couple of awards this month, including an APA Travel Award and Academy of Psychological Clinical Science "Flexibility Fund" Award, both of which will support her attendance at an upcoming APA Advanced Training Institute on Racial and Ethnic Minority Research Methods. Congrats!

5/15/19: Tia and Gaby took 1st and 2nd place, respectively, for their Clinical Science poster presentations at the 2019 Markey Cancer Research Day! Woo hoo CARS Lab! In addition to some awesome mugs, there was a cash prize.

5/1/19: Devin was selected as a participant in a UK Summer Research Program in Pharmaceutical Sciences! Because she plans to attend Pharmacy School next year, this is an amazing opportunity for her - congrats Devin!

9/1/18: Jessica RR was selected as a DREAM Scholar Associate! The DREAM Scholars program is a new initiative on campus that focuses on training the next generation of health equity researchers, and it is supported by the UK College of Nursing, Center for Clinical and Translational Science, and Center for Health Equity Transformation. This award includes funding for Jessica's research and professional development. Yay!

5/1/18: Kelly -- the first undergraduate student in the CARS lab -- graduated from UK in May 2018! Congratulations Kelly, and best of luck in PA School at Kettering College.

Selected Publications:

Burris, J. L. & Andrykowski, M. A. (2010). Disparities in mental health between rural and nonrural cancer survivors: A preliminary study. Psycho-Oncology, 19, 637–645. PMC2880195.

Sterba, K. R., Burris, J. L., Heiney, S., Baker Ruppel, M., Ford, M. E., & Zapka, J. (2014). “We both just trusted and leaned on the Lord”: A qualitative study of religiousness and spirituality among African American breast cancer survivors and their caregivers. Quality of Life Research, 23, 1909–1920. PMC4141026.

Burris, J. L., Heckman, B. W., Mathew, A. R., & Carpenter, M. J. (2015). A mechanistic test of nicotine replacement therapy sampling for smoking cessation induction. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 29, 392–399. PMC4411194.

Burris, J. L., Studts, J. L., DeRosa, A. P., & Ostroff, J. S. (2015). Systematic review of tobacco use after lung or head/neck cancer diagnosis: Results and recommendations for future research. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, 24, 1450–1461. PMC4592460.

Puleo, G. E., Borger, T., Rivera-Rivera, J. N., Montgomery, D., & Burris, J. L. (2020). A qualitative study of smoking-related causal attributions and risk perceptions in cervical cancer survivors. Psycho-Oncology, 29, 500–506. PMC7054153.

Rivera-Rivera, J. N. & Burris, J. L. (2020). A systematic literature review and head-to-head comparison of social support and social constraint in relation to the psychological functioning of cancer survivors. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 54, 176–192. PMC7455805.

D'Angelo, H., Webb Hooper, M., Burris, J. L., et al. (2021). Achieving equity in the reach of smoking cessation services within the NCI Cancer Moonshot-funded Cancer Center Cessation Initiative. Health Equity, 5.1, 424-430. PMC8237098.

Rivera-Rivera, J. N., Badour, C. L., & Burris, J. L. (2021). The association between psychological functioning and social support and social constraint after cancer diagnosis: A 30-day daily diary study. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 44, 355-367. PMC8131225.

Borger, T., Puleo, G. E., Rivera-Rivera, J. N., Montgomery, D., Bowling, W., & Burris, J. L. (In press). A descriptive study of cervical cancer survivors’ persistent smoking behavior and perceived barriers to quitting. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.

Burris, J. L., Borger, T., Shelton, B. J., et al. (In press). Tobacco use and treatment referral response in patients with cancer: Implementation outcomes at a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center. JCO Oncology Practice.

Puleo, G. E., Borger, T., Bowling, W. R., & Burris, J. L. (In press). The state of the science on cancer diagnosis as a "teachable moment" for smoking cessation: A scoping review of the literature. Nicotine and Tobacco Research.