One of Oberlin’s (many) strengths I considered as a prospective student was its small size and access to professors and undergraduate research opportunities. As a now declared psychology major, I can really only speak to the opportunities within my department, but I know plenty of students who do supervised/independent/honors research within their majors, and even some who get special grants to do research over the summer in Oberlin! As a high school student, I didn’t necessarily expect to be doing research in a concrete sense: I considered it a possibility, but it wasn’t something immediate on my to-do list or anything like that, it was just something cool I knew was an option. And I certainly didn’t expect to be presenting research at a conference as a second-year undergrad student!
I am now in my third (non-consecutive) semester of statistics at Oberlin. My first semester I took Intro to Biostatistics, followed by a semester of tutoring stats as a peer tutor, and then two semesters of Research Methods for my psych major. Therefore, I have now had a decent exposure to statistics and to the wide variety of things they can be used for, but it wasn’t until this semester that I was finally able to use them for something real. This is really satisfying to make the theoretical practical! And there’s nothing like nerding out about a presentation featuring a mixed model ANOVA, which you just learned about in Methods II and therefore actually understand what the heck is actually going on...
In addition to independent and Honors research options, psychology students can do supervised research with professors in a variety of subjects: this can be done on a volunteer basis, or as a half-course (2 credits), which is what I’m doing. Last semester when talking to my psych advisor, Nancy Darling, about my goals, she recommended I start getting involved in research as early as possible. Of course, no psych student HAS to do research, but it’s a great experience and opportunity to apply knowledge in a real-world setting. As admissions-brochure as that sounds, it really is true. The lab I joined is definitely the largest one this semester, with around 12 students, while most labs have on average around 3-6 people. Professor Darling’s lab focuses on adolescent development research, but this semester we are researching adolescents and chronic pain, and we even won a prize from the LaunchU Business Competition and got funding to develop an app to help teens with chronic pain (I think I’ve linked this before but check out this article here to read more about the project). In addition to learning about the nature of chronic pain, brainstorming ideas for the app, calling moms of kids in pain and interviewing them, and analyzing survey data, the lab got to take a trip to the Cleveland Clinic’s pediatric pain rehabilitation center, and we got a tour of their facility and learned more about the work they do. It was a really awesome experience! Being part of the lab so far this semester definitely hasn’t been what I expected, but I’ve learned a lot and been exposed to many new things.
Besides being able to visit the Cleveland Clinic, the coolest experience I’ve had in lab was going to a conference two weekends ago to present research with three other students from my lab! The conference we attended was the Ohio Undergraduate Psychology Research Conference, which took place this year at Otterbein University, a small school about 2 hours from Oberlin, just outside of Columbus, OH. Undergrads from colleges and universities all over Ohio attended, and it was a great first conference experience. There were panels all day with a keynote speaker at lunch, and we got to attend whichever panel we wanted, with about 4 groups/individual students presenting at each panel. I was DEFINITELY nervous before my group did our presentation, but it went well in the end. The conference was pretty low-key, and it was interesting and inspiring to see other students presenting their own work. We went to a bunch of different panels and saw talks ranging from the effect of color and music on change blindness to feminists in the MeToo Movement and attitudes towards service dogs and emotional support animals. My group gave our ten-minute talk on Legitimacy of Parental Authority and Pediatric Chronic Pain Rehabilitation. Here was our (super short—we only got 50 words) abstract we had to submit for the program:
Adolescent perception of legitimacy of parental authority exists within three realms: conventional, prudential, and personal (Darling, Cumsille, & Peña-Alampay, 2005). A prescreen of 157 students in Oberlin College’s Introductory Psychology Course determines areas of parental legitimacy of authority relevant in pediatric chronic pain rehabilitation and explores implications for treatment and compliance.
If a lot of those words are confusing, don’t worry about it, we had to explain everything pretty extensively to psych majors and professors too. Basically, my group looked at how what kids think their parents have rights to set rules about—or not—impacts how well they comply with their treatment plans for chronic pain. Our study was a really preliminary one, and we have a lot more things we want to look at before the semester ends, but it’s really encouraging to know that the research we’re doing now could actually go towards making sure teens with chronic pain (5% alone in the US!) do the things they need to do to increase functioning despite their pain.
Overall, I’m really glad I decided to join a research lab this semester even though I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. Next semester I’m hoping to be in Professor Darling’s research lab again, looking at LGBT+ stress response in students at Oberlin vs. a university in Texas (I forget which one). The skills I’ve gained this semester—data wrangling, brainstorming, people skills, and presentation-giving and public speaking—and that I will continue to gain in supervised research labs will serve me well as I move through the rest of my Oberlin career and into the post-grad world!