Q: What? A detailed description of your STEP experience.
A: This summer, I continued working in the Emotions and Quantitative Psychophysiology Laboratory (EQP Lab) run by Dr. Julian Thayer within the psychology department. I have been working in this lab since September 2013, so this was my first summer research experience. At least initially, my duties within the lab remained unchanged. I was still in charge of running experiments and monitoring participants throughout the duration of these experiments. Unlike other labs within the psychology department, the EQP lab’s REP experiments are run on an individual basis, so naturally, experiments are much more tailored to that specific participant. While this tends to make things run much smoother, occasionally there are individual accommodations that must be made. As the saying goes however, this is simply “part of the job”.
In addition to running and monitoring experiments, I also gained much more a creative influence within the lab which has continued into this academic year. However, this process was not an overnight type thing and became a weeks and even months long process. I was given more autonomy in terms of specific projects and creative endeavors within the lab. For example, towards the end of the semester I was placed in charge of submitting an abstract with a colleague to be presented at the Society for Psychophysiological Research’s 54th Annual Meeting, a national, widely-lauded academic conference.
After the submission of these abstracts, my duties within the lab only became more independently and creatively driven. A major turning point occurred closer to the midpoint of the summer, when I was placed in charge of creating and submitting a manuscript to SAGE open publications. The manuscript focused on pain perception and pain experience in various Norwegian prison populations. This project helped me grow immensely as a researcher and gave me an idea of what research, specifically at the undergraduate level, was really like. The process of shifting my writing from a more rhetorical basis towards a more scientific and academic one was truly a transformative process as both a researcher and a student.
Q: So what? A personal response to your STEP experience, including feelings, thoughts, judgements, and what you learned about yourself and your assumptions from what you did and how you reacted.
A: This summer was a truly instrumental in defining my interests as a student and who I aspire to be in terms of academia and throughout my life moving forward. Having this increased role within the lab and becoming more creative in my day to day efforts really opened my eyes to the world of academia and scientific research as a whole. Throughout the past few months I have gone from working countless hours and long nights honing my skills with mindware, microsoft excel, kubios, and a handful of other computer programs to writing abstracts and manuscripts, collaborating with a host of colleagues, and pitching ideas for future lines of research to graduate students and post-docs. The continuation throughout the summer of my just under 15 months of working in the EQP lab has really immersed me in the world of scientific research and has successfully given me a glimpse into the life of a graduate student and a research scientist.
Although this was technically past the summer, my feelings and thoughts about the EQP lab and research in general were solidified this past September, when a handful of colleagues and I flew out to Atlanta for four days to present our recent findings at the Society for Psychophysiological Research (SPR) annual meeting. Attending and being a part of such a fascinating international event was truly an experience that has shaped me as a person and will be one I will never forget. Throughout my time in Atlanta, I met researchers from places throughout the world such as Germany and Australia, and places as close to three doors down in the Psychology building. I’m almost positive they were talking to me purely based on Julian Thayer’s name on my research poster, however as an undergraduate I’ll take whatever I can get!
As a whole, my experiences throughout the summer and the past few months have been essential in shaping who I am as a person as well as in the development and manifestation of my aspirations and inspirations moving forward.
Q: Now what? Discuss how the things you experienced and learned during your STEP experience will affect your academic, personal, and life goals moving forward.
A: Expanding my role within the laboratory throughout the summer as a result of the STEP experience was a decision I look upon with great admiration, in retrospect. Spending the so called dog days of summer inside of a laboratory reading papers, running participants, and even having the opportunity to come up with future ideas and even write a few papers and abstracts while forming both business and personal relationships that I now value very highly in my life is an opportunity I can never be adequately thankful for. Despite the often-referred to horror that comes with enrolling in a graduate/PhD program, those forty hours per week in the lab for three months made me realize that moving forward towards the last few semesters of my undergraduate career, there is nothing else I could envision myself doing.
As of this fall semester, I now consider it an academic goal to successfully apply and hopefully enroll within a PhD program sometime after the conclusion of my undergraduate career. Ideally, I would like to enroll within a cognitive psychology program in order to effectively blend my love of neuroscience and brain research with my interest in emotions and psychophysiology research. I am currently undertaking a study regarding pain catastrophizing (perhaps more commonly classified as pain anxiety and worrying about pain) and the relationship it shares with various cardiovascular indices such as heart rate.
Regarding my personal goals for the near future and beyond, having a full time laboratory job greatly helped me with time management and productivity, especially during the summer months. Looking forward to the next calendar year, I hope to become more productive throughout both the academic year and summer term in terms of research manuscripts and publications, as well as attending and presenting my research in as many national and international conferences as possible.
I cannot thank the STEP program as well as a handful of other helpful sources and mentors enough throughout the past few months for giving me a clear vision of my goals and aspirations for the next few months, the rest of my undergraduate career, and beyond.