The SPSP SPUR fellowship has given me a wonderful opportunity to improve on many personal skills that are essential in professional research environments. While I had had some experiences working in research labs at my college, being a part of Dr. Sarah Gaither’s Identity and Diversity lab taught me a lot about doing research at a large research institution. The fellowship has certainly helped shape my trajectory to graduate school.
I was trained to run multiple studies about social perception that involve deception and working with children. Running studies was much more difficult than it might sound. I got nervous easily, so it was challenging to conceal the hypotheses while following all the steps of the procedure at the same time. However, I started enjoying this process a lot as I practiced and became more competent. Several studies were also run at a museum, and that gave me a new perspective on working with children. While children were fun, they could also be unpredictable, especially when they are in a distracting environment like a museum. I realized how important it was to know the procedure well and standardize my interactions with children throughout the studies to avoid creating any confounding variables.
During my fellowship, I also participated in an undergraduate research program (VIP) with Duke students and spearheaded project under the supervision of Dr. Gaither and her PhD student, Adam Stanaland. In a month, I developed a coding scheme to measure participants’ socialization with traditional gender norms from their open-ended responses and tested its relationships with other variables such as varsity athlete status and gender pressure. As my study involved working with other research assistants who were my response coders, I realized how research requires everybody to work together, and that clear communication and mutual trust are vital. While the data was already collected as a part of Adam’s study, it was challenging to create the study and a poster in a month. I particularly learned many valuable skills from this process. Dr. Gaither and Adam showed me how to make a professional poster in a concise and informative way. A lab meeting was also held to help me and other VIP Duke students practice presenting our posters within one minute and answering follow-up questions. Working collaboratively was also another invaluable skill that I improved on throughout the project. While it was important to think independently as a researcher, it was also crucial to discuss and incorporate feedback effectively. I am very appreciative of Dr. Gaither and Adam for helping me carry out the project under such time pressure.
Dr. Gaither was also very enthusiastic in guiding me through other job applications. She offered a lot of professional advice such as how to write emails and CVs to highlight my skills. It was also a joy to learn about her views of diversity and research: Everyone should be included in research, whether as a researcher or a participant. The SPSP SPUR fellowship marked an important period of my research career. It was a great experience for me to not only develop professional skills but also personal skills. I am very grateful to be a part of this research program.