Why I Decided to Pursue a BPhil (and Why You Should Too!)

Before taking on my BPhil project, I conducted research in the Kids’ Thinking (KiT) Lab as part of the Summer 2020 Brackenridge Fellowship and for Directed Research credits. I thought I knew how much work went into conducting a research project following these opportunities, but completing a BPhil is truly a graduate-level undertaking! I completed the first half of my BPhil over the summer of 2021 before my senior year, which entailed conducting a literature search, deciding my desired research aims and methods, writing and presenting my proposal to my committee for feedback, and completing the research portion of the project. In total, I logged over 400 hours working on the project, which demonstrates the time commitment that a BPhil project demands. By completing the research portion of the BPhil over the summer, I was able to devote more time and effort to the project than I likely would have been able to during a semester due to my simultaneous commitments to schoolwork and extracurriculars.

In addition to the time commitment, the responsibilities placed on you as a BPhil degree candidate can feel daunting, as you are expected to make many decisions yourself as would be expected of a graduate student. For this project, I worked with my graduate student mentor Shirley Duong to create novel coding schemes for different forms of parental feedback, as prior research has yet to provide a detailed coding scheme for parental affirmation or corrective feedback. This involved me engaging in a repetitive cycle of coding a set of videos to identify patterns in parental feedback utterances, modifying the coding schemes based on these observations, and re-coding these videos to account for any modifications. At first this task was quite overwhelming, but as I coded an increasing number of videos, I became more comfortable with the coding scheme I was developing and began to take charge of my project.

The BPhil degree is testament to your ability to take on this level of work and in this way sets you apart from your peers. Although you probably will not encounter physical obstacles like the rocks in this picture, you will likely encounter setbacks along the way and your mentors and colleagues in your research lab and the Honors College will be there to provide support and guidance so that you can overcome them and reach your research goals. Also, if you are considering a research career in academia, completing a BPhil will allow you to learn more about that career path and help you decide whether you want to pursue it!

Although it may seem like I had my undergraduate research trajectory planned out before even stepping foot on the Pitt campus, that could not be farther from the truth. In fact, I did not decide to pursue a BPhil degree until my junior year! As part of the School of Dental Medicine’s Guaranteed Admissions Program (GAP), I had the option of matriculating into the School of Dental Medicine after my junior year such that I would not complete my senior year or obtain a Bachelor’s degree. This is a path that many of my fellow GAP students followed and that I seriously considered for my first two years at Pitt. I was introduced to the BPhil as part of the Brackenridge Fellowship in the summer of 2020 preceding my junior year, after which I reached out to my research mentor Dr. Melissa Libertus to learn more. She has mentored many BPhil projects in years prior and encouraged me to pursue the BPhil degree as well as an Honors in Psychology, since although the two accolades are bestowed by different Pitt departments, many of the requirements overlap.

I ultimately chose to finish my senior year and pursue the BPhil degree and Honors in Psychology for several reasons. Prior to conducting research in the Department of Psychology, I conducted regionally and nationally recognized independent research projects in the fields of biology, chemistry, environmental science, and geology. Although I need to possess a strong foundation in several of these areas to become a successful pediatric dentist, I knew that I also needed to expand my skill set and knowledge base outside of the hard sciences. As a pediatric dentist, it is important to possess strong interpersonal skills and an understanding of how children perceive and respond to their environment to effectively interact with and treat pediatric patients. I chose to pursue research opportunities in the Department of Psychology and the KiT Lab in particular to further develop those skills. I can also leverage this learning to enhance my pediatric-oriented leadership and service activities in my community as a dental student and a future dental professional. Additionally, I plan to continue my involvement in research once I matriculate into the School of Dental Medicine, so completing a BPhil will allow me to develop transferable research skills that I can utilize in my future graduate research.

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