STEP Research Reflection

What?

For my STEP experience, I worked as an Undergraduate Research Assistant in a research lab in the psychology department. I was assigned to graduate student whom I worked under. During my time in the lab, I learned many new computer skills including basic programing with Matlab as well as an open source photo editing software called Gimp. I also was exposed to using new technologies such as eye trackers, heart rate monitors, and EEG machines. The majority of my time was split between the testing phase of our EEG experiment and the final data collection and analysis for a children’s computer based pattern recognition experiment. For the EEG experiment I was responsible for recruiting new adult participants through flyers, monitoring and responding to emails from potential participants, scheduling and conducting pre-experiment screenings (eye dominance testing and head measuring mostly), scheduling the EEG experiments and paying them upon completion. The conducting of all of the EEG experiments was handled by our post-bac though I did learn how to gel EEG caps. For this experiment, I also spent a lot of time editing pictures of fruit and cartoon characters. For the second experiment I worked on, I conducted a computer based experiment on 3-5 year olds by driving out to preschools. Since this experiment was already written by the time I joined the lab, I mostly just followed the pre-written script, monitored the children’s behavior during the experiment, and ensured the computer was recording the data properly. After we had collected all of the data we needed, I was involved in writing a MATLAB code to sort the data from individual text files from every participant into one large manipulatable data matrix.

So What?

Though I did enjoy my time working in the lab, I enjoyed the people much more than I enjoyed my work. Much of the work done in psych research is very isolating and involves hours upon hours of staring at a computer screen editing something or writing code which is something I did not honestly expect. I am a very social person and work best when working with others in a group environment which is something I did not get while in the lab. I’m very hesitant to say I hated working in the lab but a lot of what was said was going to be expected of us vs what we actually were asked to do were two very different things and I think if I had known that going in, I would have either chosen a completely different lab or done a completely different STEP project all together. There were days where I dreaded going into lab because it was a very agitated and somehow correspondingly lonely environment. The grad students didn’t bother to learn our names and often assumed that we had limitless time and energy because working in the lab was more important to them then having a job or going to class. Overall, I did learn a lot about myself and the field of research. I used to think research and grad school was something I wanted to do but now I know that it is definitely not for me. I learned that I need socialization as part of my future career and that I cannot tolerate just working alone behind a computer for the rest of my life.

Now What?

If I had discovered how I felt about psych research before half way through my junior year, I honestly would have changed majors. Unfortunately, I would not be able to change majors and graduate on time and financially, I have to graduate in 4 years because of scholarships. Therefore, I started looking for other future career goals that didn’t involve research or grad school. That’s when I found the Disney College Program so for spring semester my junior year, I happily quit my research lab, abandoned all the other negativity in my life, and moved to Florida of 7 months to work and live at Disney World. Honestly, it was one of the best life decisions I have ever made. I have now decided to make a living out of the theme park world and am currently in the process of applying for a management internship with Disney World. Come graduation, I will be moving to Florida to start the rest of my magical life in the happiest place on earth.