For my STEP experience, I am working as an undergraduate research assistant at West Virginia University’s department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry. More specifically, I work at the Disordered Eating Center of Charleston (DECC) at WVU’s Charleston, WV campus. This is an “externship” program that lasts from June 16 to July 25 that includes undergraduate students as well as medical students. The project I was assigned examines the various roles of social anxiety, cognitive functioning, and evaluative fears in patients with eating disorders at DECC. The topic of my specific research area involves the roles of anxiety and evaluative fears as treatment barriers for patients suffering from eating disorders. Some of my duties involve administering neuropsychological testing to determine cognitive functioning, data entry/collection, clinical observation, writing the manuscript that will be submitted for publication, and meeting bi-weekly with other externs to discuss our projects. At the end of the program there will be a series of presentations by each extern to discuss our findings.
This opportunity has truly opened my eyes to what it is like to conduct clinical research. It is tedious, challenging, and on occasion it’s even boring. However, I feel that the end result is incredibly rewarding and supersedes any negative thought I may have about the process. My assumptions about scientific writing have also changed. The kind of critical thinking I’ve been doing has challenged me in a way that I feel has better prepared me for future research endeavors. I have learned from this experience that I truly love statistics, which isn’t something I’d ever thought I’d be able to say. Before I began this research, my plan was to attend medical school after I earned my undergraduate degree. Since conducting this research and having numerous conversations with my primary investigator, I’ve realized that I want to enroll in a PhD/MD program after graduation. Research is definitely going to be a much larger part of my life than I had planned. Being part of this program has shown me how wonderful clinical research really is, and has motivated me to get involved in as much of it as I can before graduation.