DegreePsychology and Global Health ’19
I’ve known that I wanted to pursue a career in clinical psychology for a few years now, perhaps longer, but it was not until my experience with Bass Connections over the past year that I realized what that pursuit would truly entail. This year, I learned just as much about personal skills, such as flexibility, passion, collaboration and curiosity, as I did about technical skills, such as research design, data analysis, institutional protocol and academic writing. Both of these, while different in nature, have contributed more than I could ever imagine to my development as a researcher, a future clinical hopeful and an individual.
Coming on to the project at its early stages allowed me to understand how painstaking the design process for a clinical intervention study can be. The team was consistently involved in sometimes high-level and sometimes incredibly detail-oriented discussions about choosing measures, screening participants, structuring experimental tasks and phrasing instructions. These early planning stages were critical to my understanding of how seemingly simple aspects of a study can make a large difference in its success, particularly one structured as an intervention.
Working on preliminary data run through an online participant pool gave me my first tastes of the benefits (and the pitfalls) of using those networks for data collection. While I have had exposure to clinical settings in the past, I have never been involved in a research study targeting individuals with any level of clinical concerns. From my previous experience working in research with child populations, I understood the necessity for added precautions and considerations for particular research populations. What I never considered, however, was how one may deal with a participant who could benefit from a referral to a therapist or how to sensitively structure a study that intends both to elicit and intervene in certain maladaptive behaviors. I learned how a study run through a medical system could differ greatly from one run through the university.
Additionally, the team facilitated a number of professional development opportunities that allowed me to explore my career interests. With the team, I attended my first academic conference – an overwhelming and electrifying experience that left me with equal amounts answers and entirely new questions about what I want to study in the future and just how many different ways I could do it. I was encouraged to write my first poster submission and abstract to this conference, a big step to take as a newly minted researcher. We spoke with professionals in a number of fields from journalism to computer science that allowed me to understand how wide the reach of our work in the lab could go if we’re willing to collaborate with people outside the discipline. All of these moments contributed to an engaging, challenging, fulfilling work environment that has enriched my skills immensely.
While these skills and understandings were invaluable, I never anticipated the amount of personal development being a member of this team would give me. The design process taught me to be detail-oriented, but it also taught me that it takes an intensely flexible and adaptive individual to question their own choices and make changes along the way. The preliminary study taught me about the difficulties of online databases, but also that a strong academic remembers to have a solid footing in theory before trying to solve a problem. Running participants taught me about the precautions to take with an institutional review board, but also the empathy and strength required to help participants through distressing and tense moments.
Beyond empathy and strength, this experience simply reminded me that while technical and meticulous, clinical research is still personal and humanized, and a good scientist can achieve both. Attending conferences and engaging in the professional world taught me that trusting my passion has not failed me yet and that those who care deeply and dedicate themselves to their questions, communities and peers are the ones who compel others to do the same.
We are only as powerful as those who are willing to teach us. It is in these last few weeks of my undergraduate career that I have realized just how lucky I am to have been a part of a team that encouraged my curiosity, fought against my fears, armed me with experience and reminded me that at the end of the day, research can and should be a collaborative, multidisciplinary, passionate environment.
The mentorship I received from Kibby McMahon and the rest of the team went well beyond what was required. Her guidance was always spot on, and the team was always addressed as a group of peers. Our opinions were valued, our beliefs were challenged and there was never a question that was off limits. Being a part of this project and all that it has entailed was the highlight of my senior year, and I will draw on these moments for a long time as I embark on my own career as a psychological researcher and clinician.