Interdisciplinary Mindset

Upon reviewing the introduction blog posts of the other Brackenridge Fellows, I am astounded at the breadth of research topics that are being explored this summer! What strikes me the most is how the other Fellows are incorporating the interdisciplinary mindset of the Brackenridge Fellowship and the Honors College into their research projects. I am amazed at the number of Fellows who are conducting research in ways that combine various majors and/or combine majors with personal interests. I am not excluded from this observation! In my research project, I am pursuing a passion of mine, psychology, while also drawing parallels between my work and my intended career as a pediatric medical professional.

Utilizing different fields of study in my research project will allow me to approach my research from different perspectives and gain novel insights that may not have been otherwise possible. Furthermore, by interacting with the other fellows, I can welcome more divergent viewpoints that can help make my findings even more robust and widely applicable. I look forward to interacting with the other Brackenridge Fellows in the coming months and I am excited at the opportunity to discover the connections that exist between our varied research projects.

I can already see the links between my research project and the research projects of two other fellows: Emmaline Rial and Ryan Steinly. Emmaline is interested in the variation in communication between individuals, as well as how individuals respond to idiosyncrasies in language. Specifically, she is examining Twitter data to determine whether interactions between groups of people over time lead to more similar language between communicators. I am also investigating how the variability of interactions between individuals can impact those who are partaking in the interaction. With my research project, I am interested in how different forms of parental praise observed in parent-child interactions in a naturalistic home environment relate to children’s later math abilities, language abilities, and general cognitive skills. In addition, Emmaline notes how understanding the ways individuals react to differences in language can indicate how we can be more effective communicators. Similarly, I am interested in learning the impact of a growth mindset (the belief that abilities are malleable as opposed to fixed) on children’s academic outcomes. I can use this knowledge to more effectively interact with my patients as a pediatric doctor, which will result in more successful patient outcomes.

On the other hand, Ryan is investigating the difficulties that non-native English speakers encounter when then immigrate to Pennsylvania due to the lack of policy framework to provide resources and support for this population. He noted that even though this population has grown in recent years, the educational achievement gap between English speakers and English learners has widened. He aims to use the results of his project to create potential solutions that can be implemented to decrease this achievement gap. I am also investigating differences in academic achievement between different groups in my research project. Many children enter kindergarten with disparities in knowledge of fundamental math concepts, which negatively influences their ability to learn later material, succeed academically in school and subsequently in the workforce. It is important that we learn more about the source of the knowledge gaps between children, since this can suggest interventions that can be implemented by policy makers to ensure that the next generation has the knowledge they need to make positive contributions in their chosen fields and to society as a whole. Thus, the researchers at the KiT Lab (my mentor Dr. Libertus’ lab) collected data from families that varied in parental education levels and household income to ensure that we can test the impact of these variables on children’s academic abilities.

I am excited to see the results of Emmaline’s and Ryan’s research projects this summer, as well as the research projects of the other Brackenridge Fellows. The reason I applied to become a part of the Brackenridge Fellowship is because I wanted to expand my skill set and knowledge base by working with professionals in different disciplines with different research focuses. Each researcher brings his or her own unique knowledge base and skill set to the table and I am excited to collaborate with the other Fellows in order to contribute to each other’s research projects and gain valuable insight in the process.

A valuable skill in the research field is to be able to present your research not only to your co-workers and others in your field familiar with the technical jargon required to understand your data on the most intimate level, but also to those who are being exposed to the research topic of your life’s work for the first time. This is a reality that may seem daunting at first, but by reaching out to others in my cohort and the larger group of Brackenridge Fellows for feedback on my work, I can ensure that my research is not only understood by a diverse audience, but is also applicable to various fields, whether it be the medical field, public policy field, or even the educational field! Research has shown that student skills other than those measured by academic achievement tests, such as mindset, predict a range of academic and life outcomes even when accounting for individual differences in cognitive skills (Almlund, Duckworth, Heckman, & Kautz, 2011). In the June 2017 Pitt Student Success Projects Report, one of the projects that was proposed to improve undergraduate academic success was based on that research and outlined the potential incorporation of a growth mindset intervention that could benefit undergraduate students. The results of my research project could support Pitt in that endeavor by examining how to encourage a growth mindset in the next generation of college students long before they enroll.

As a result of the efforts of the dedicated Pitt faculty at the Honors College who make the Brackenridge Fellowship possible (even virtually!), I am able to pursue various interdisciplinary opportunities that I might not have been able to otherwise. As the summer continues, I look forward to conversing with the other fellows and professionals at Pitt to explore how our different research goals could be aligned for synergistic benefit.

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