DegreePsychology and Neuroscience ’21
As an undergraduate passionate about conducting research in cognitive science with hopes of pursuing a future in academia, I’ve always looked forward to my undergraduate co-curricular experiences reflecting the increasingly interdisciplinary landscape of scientific inquiry.
By the middle of the second semester my freshman year, I knew I wanted to prioritize finding a university research experience over an internship in the private sector. Duke had begun to really grow on me, and in retrospect, I am incredibly happy I made the decision to stay in Durham over the summer and become much more acquainted with my campus and city.
Since January, I had been working in Bridgette Hard’s BRITE Lab in the Psychology department studying educational topics of interest from a cognitive slant with behavioral methodologies. Seeking to gain more computational experience in analyzing “soft” data—especially after having made so many friendships with budding software engineers, data scientists and statisticians in the past year—I was strongly drawn to the Data+ program.
I applied to the Women’s Spaces team for several reasons. Firstly, I was looking for an experience that would challenge me to work with a less structured conceptual framework and more subjective dataset, a hurdle that is common in the social sciences. Secondly, having already previously conducted research in gender stereotypes of academic ability in high school under the mentorship of a local psychology professor, I was interested in continuing to study gender and its sociological and psychological implications. Thirdly, this project team appeared to be uniquely interdisciplinary, a fact perhaps best reflected by its eventual makeup—a Philosophy major, a Statistics major, a Psychology major and a project manager and faculty advisor both from the Department of English.
Our project team, like several others, was highly freeform and therefore afforded many avenues of investigation. Unlike most other groups, however, we were not given a dataset at the outset; rather, we were simply provided a general guiding prompt: study portrayals of women in media. Thus, we had to 1.) narrow down our research questions, 2.) operationalize our constructs of interest, 3.) gather data and 4.) analyze the resulting dataset. While all these steps proved equally demanding, the inherent flexibility also proved rewarding. Together, we completed the first two objectives within the opening two weeks. For the remainder of the program, my team’s exploratory approach combined with weekly guest speakers, student presentation talks and the floor-to-floor collaborative environment of Gross Hall familiarized and exposed me to GitHub, front-end development, deep learning, data visualization, topic modeling, sentiment analysis, natural language processing and a whole host of other technical skills and software.
Data+ has been a thoroughly eye-opening experience for me. Surrounded by so many talented individuals eagerly looking to learn more about the practical applications of advances in the tech industry, I think I still do not realize just how much relevant insight I’ve gained from the program. Working closely with a small but diverse team on a daily basis helped develop my interpersonal skills and appreciation for working with a wide range of perspectives. Additionally, the interconnectedness of our entire workplace and the ability to seek input from other teams contributed enormously to the success of our own team, an effect which highlights one of the most significant advantages of an interdisciplinary approach to any goal.