It was during final exams week in the Fall of 2018 when I received my acceptance email for the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research, which was just the kind of good news that I needed to help me power through to the end of the semester.
I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Virgil Zeigler-Hill at Oakland University. After having my first meeting with Dr. Zeigler-Hill, any anxiety-producing thoughts and worries (e.g., “how much will I be expected to already know?”) that I had prior to arriving, quickly dissolved. Dr. Zeigler-Hill and Jennifer K. Vrabel (my graduate student co-mentor) assured me that this was an opportunity for me to learn and that they were there to help guide me.
Throughout my eight plus weeks at Oakland, I was able to fine-tune elementary skills such as cleaning up data and running bivariate correlations, as well as get hands-on experiences with conducting advanced statistical procedures and interpreting their outputs (e.g., multiple regression, PROCESS macro outputs), and even help draft manuscripts. In other words, I was able to go from the very beginning stages of a project to the writing stage. I was also able to broaden my knowledge of our field during lab meetings, key topics of discussion revolving around the dire need for honest and thorough research methodologies in order to produce significant and, perhaps most importantly, replicable results. Moreover, with the help of Virgil and Jennifer, I was also able to take my broad and general ideas of interest and chisel them into more finely tuned research questions. I even took advantage of my time at Oakland by sitting in on a few of Dr. Zeigler-Hill’s lectures—experiencing how other researchers taught certain topics has allowed me to gain a deeper appreciation for our field.
My Summer at Oakland, though, was not all “p < .001” walkovers. There were definitely some frustrating moments, courtesy of the research process. However, the minor setbacks that we encountered allowed me to gain a very mature understanding of the research process. I learned that the neat and pretty publications that I read in the past actually had hours of sweat and dozens of rough drafts from the researcher(s) working behind the scenes. I truly believe that these experiences will play to my advantage in my future research endeavors.
Moreover, contrary to what my very worrisome family thinks, I was able to experience life outside of the lab. Walking around Oakland University and the surrounding area was a very different experience for me because this was the farthest that I had ever been from home (and, excluding the 16-week academic semesters, this was also the longest I had ever been from home). Yet it’s the feeling of walking around somewhere unfamiliar which makes it that much more memorable. As someone who has lived most of his life in the much warmer weather of South Florida, I quickly befriended the employees at the university café (the “usual” for me being a cup of hot tea). I will end my note on life outside of the lab by mentioning that walking to and from the lab was one of the most interesting things I have ever experienced—not because of the scenery of OU’s campus (which was beautiful), but because of all of the deer! As a South Floridian, I had the misconception that alligators were the only animals that were brave enough to both live near and approach humans (light joke but also a concerningly serious statement).
Towards the end of my time at Oakland, my co-mentor, Jennifer, asked me “So, do you still want to go to grad school?” After experiencing the research process on a daily basis for over eight weeks—essentially a preview into the life of a graduate student—I can confidently say that yes, I still want to go to graduate school. Coming in on my first day, I heard “regression” and “ANOVA” and I felt a sting in my stomach, with flashbacks of writing out equations by hand in my Applied Statistics course emerging. Now, I can confidently look at various statistical outputs and think, “oh please, give me something more complicated to interpret.” Cleaning and organizing data files is now a second nature to me, as are many other important aspects of the research process (e.g., interpreting our findings into clear and coherent results and discussion sections of a manuscript). Essentially, I don’t just think that I would like to go to grad school, I know that I want to go to grad school and, in the near future, pursue a job in academia. The scientist in me ended up loving every moment of my time as a research assistant in the SIR laboratory, as well as engaging with Dr. Zeigler-Hill and some of his graduate students in our lab meetings.
Coming into the Summer, I did not know what to expect. Now that my eight weeks have come to an end, all I can say is that I am grateful to have been a SPUR participant. As I previously mentioned to Jan Kang (Resource Manager for SPSP) during one of our check-ins around mid-Summer, the only thing I can grumble about was the fact that it was only an eight week experience because I genuinely enjoyed my time as a SPUR participant. However, this experience has galvanized me to continue to work hard because I am now more determined than ever to advance further in our field.
In closing, I would like to thank Dr. Virgil Zeigler-Hill for being a great mentor, as well as for making me feel welcome in his lab. It definitely made my experience that much better knowing that there was someone looking out for me throughout the entirety of my stay. I would also like to thank Jennifer K. Vrabel, my graduate student co-mentor, for being patient with “first week, wide-eyed and curious” me, as well as for being someone that I could talk to regarding just about anything—from serious graduate school-related things to our more casual sessions of venting out our frustrations with the Game of Thrones finale. I would like to extend an additional thanks to the entire department of Psychology at Oakland University for making me feel so welcome (it’s because of how welcome I felt that made leaving feel bittersweet). Finally, I would like to thank Jan Kang from SPSP for delivering to me the good news of being selected, as well as for all of her help and communication throughout my entire SPUR experience (replying to her emails was a nice distraction from the eye-soring long string analysis).