When reading through the profiles of the various Brackenridge alumni, Sam Cwalina’s profile piqued my interest. She obtained a psychology degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 2010 and is currently a PhD Candidate at the University of Southern California studying anxiety disorders and e-cigarette use among adolescents and young adults. Sam’s areas of expertise include biopsychology, health psychology, and emotional health.
On her profile, she states that after finishing her doctoral degree, she intends to conduct research with the aim of developing programs and services for college-aged individuals to improve their long-term health, education and career outcomes. I am currently conducting research with the same goal in mind. The results of my research project could help improve undergraduate academic success by examining how to encourage a growth mindset in the next generation of college students long before they enroll.
In addition, Sam’s research combines psychology and healthcare. Similarly, I am pursuing a career in pediatric medicine, but I am also fascinated by cognitive and developmental psychology. I chose to conduct research on parental praise and mindset as part of the KiT Lab because it combined my professional goals and my personal interests. Through my research in the KiT Lab, I hope to learn how to spark a growth mindset in young adults so I can better encourage my future patients to follow their treatment plans, which will lead to more successful patient outcomes. In addition, I can leverage this learning to further enhance my pediatric-oriented leadership and service activities in my community. That is another thing that Sam and I share: we are both pursuing careers that allow us to make meaningful contributions to the lives of others. Part of the reason I chose a career in dental medicine is my commitment to community service. I have witnessed firsthand how dentists help improve their patients’ lives and the communities they serve, and I hope that my career will enable me to do that in the future.
Regarding how I became part of the KiT Lab and subsequently the Brackenridge Fellowship, my journey began at the start of the Spring 2020 semester. As the first half of my undergraduate career was drawing to a close, I began to think about what I wanted to accomplish during the coming summer months. I reflected back on my years of conducting research in the hard sciences and realized I wanted to expand my skill set and knowledge base by working with professionals in psychology, which had always been a passion of mine. I visited the Department of Psychology website and researched the various psychology labs that I could become involved with at Pitt, and the Kids’ Thinking (KiT) Lab stood out from the rest. At the KiT Lab, Dr. Melissa Libertus and her team study how infants and children perceive the world around them, as well as children’s emerging cognitive skills. This aligned well with my intended career in pediatric medicine and my interests in cognitive and developmental psychology.
I reached out to Dr. Libertus and scheduled a meeting in January. We discussed my research background and interests, as well as the various projects she was heading in the lab, to determine which research project would be the best fit for me. Dr. Libertus was very accommodating regarding my heavy pre-med workload and was more than willing to assist with my applications to various research programs, including the Brackenridge Fellowship. It is very important to find a research mentor who not only has similar research interests as you, but who is also willing to invest time and resources in you in order to help you improve upon your research skills. I am lucky to have found such a great mentor in Dr. Libertus and I am looking forward to the possibility of working with her again in the future.