Child’s Autobiographical Memory Study

For my STEP Signature Project, I spent the summer in Columbus performing research at the Ohio State University in the department of Human Development of Family Sciences under Dr. Xin Feng. I acted as an undergraduate research assistant for her Child Autobiographical Memory lab. As an undergraduate research assistant, my primary responsibility was to act as an experimenter in our actual study visits. We worked with depressed and non-depressed mothers and their children, aged 4-5 years old, to examine how the mother’s perception of emotions and autobiographical memory is related to that of their children. I interviewed the mothers, administered tasks with the children, and did general behind-the-scenes work such as analyzing data in R, too. Specifically, I asked the mothers about their past experiences, their child’s experiences, and how they felt about sadness, anger and fear. With the children, I administered tasks which prompted happy, guilty, angry, or sad emotions, and also asked them about experiences which they could remember. Regarding the sentiment analysis on R, I took transcriptions from another study conducted under Dr. Feng, which were recordings of parents and their children and input the phrases into Excel and ‘cleaned’ them to emphasize specific emotions. Then, I ran the phrases twice, using two programs in R to detect the sentiment level (positive or negative). These results were copied back into excel and compared with coders from the actual lab.

Prior to completing my STEP Signature Project, I was very unsure of what I wanted to do with my degree in Psychology and Sociology after graduation. I went into this project hoping that the involvement could provide more clarification in regards to my future, and, at the bare minimum, be a good learning experience. Because STEP requires that you spend at least 20 hours/week in the lab if you are doing research, I spent a lot of time in Campbell Hall or outside of it, basically on-call as needed. My schedule was defined by the lab, and I had very little opportunity to plan around it because I was expected to be available at all times for the lab. In turn, I became the baby-sitter when mothers had other children that needed watching, the filmer for screenings when grad students couldn’t make it, the last-minute experimenter to cover shifts and the secretary for copying, printing and compiling papers. I learned that research is in no way glamorous or easy. There are many aspects of conducting research that are laborious, redundant and boring, and, undergraduate assistants are typically going to receive the brunt of that. This is understandable because graduate students and the actual principal investigator are far more qualified to complete the sophisticated tasks, but being a part of a lab for 7 months (I originally began in November) makes me that much more appreciative of everything that really goes into conducting research.

I learned that research can be frustrating, because you don’t see immediate results. It can feel very trying when you don’t see the direct impact of what you’re doing. It’s for these reasons that my perception of research has changed. While I really enjoyed being an experimenter, working directly with both the mothers and their children, running the same protocol over and over again gets to be a little exhausting.

However, I was able to meet some really interesting and thoughtful individuals through this lab. Many of the mothers I interviewed were quite kind and shared many personal details with me that I was honored to hear. At times I felt like I could be an open ear for someone who hadn’t been able to talk about their feelings for a long time. The children could also be fun to work with, and the ways that they interacted with each of the tasks we presented them was always fascinating. I am also grateful for the graduate students who trained me and who I got to know over the course of my research with them. These students served as role models for me and as key advisors for when I had questions or needed guidance. In watching how they navigated their graduate careers, I was able to gain insights for how I might proceed in my own academic future.

Outside of this research, STEP enabled me to live off campus in the Columbus area independently. With the allotted funding, I found a decently-priced sublease at the Highline at Nine. So, I lived in a luxury apartment by myself for the entire summer – something I would otherwise not have the means to do, and honestly might never be able to afford and/or justify. For once, I had to actually be an adult. I moved myself into and out of my apartment, negotiated rent and utilities, walked to the grocery store and learned to cook for myself, meal prep/plan and navigate the city on my own. Many of my friends went home or on to do their own internships over the summer so I found ways to fill my spare time and be comfortable alone. Because of this, I gained a lot of self-assurance. After this summer, I feel a lot more confident in my ability to network, communicate, adapt and work hard to achieve goals. Previously, I had a lot of anxiety about simply talking to people and working in unfamiliar territory; now I’m a lot more likely to step outside of my comfort zone, because I know that I can carry my own weight. In the lab, I had to quickly respond to unforeseen difficulties, constantly talk to new people, answer questions, and adhere to a certain level of professionalism and personability.

Because of STEP, I can say that I spent my entire summer conducting research at the Ohio State University through the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences. I can email my primary investigator and two very successful graduate students for advice and guidance going forward with my academic career. I can reference my work as an experience for future labs, graduate school or other employment opportunities. I can say that I worked at something many undergraduates (at other universities especially) don’t ever get the opportunity to do. I am so grateful that I was able to spend my summer doing something so interesting, novel and valuable.