Becoming a Researcher: Branching Out

I knew that I would eventually become involved in research from the moment I stepped onto Pitt’s campus. In fact, I considered the easy accessibility to research here at Pitt to be one of the major benefits of being a student. After taking freshman year to acclimate myself and focus on my courses, I began to branch out and scour the Psychology department website for any labs with available positions for undergrads. Eventually, my search brought me to the FEND Lab. While some other labs had maybe one or two topics that interested me, the FEND Lab had it all. Anxiety and depression in adolescents combined with mother/daughter interactions seemed particularly appealing to my interests. After working in the lab for a year and gaining a better understanding of the current studies and the inner workings of a research lab, I decided it was time for me to explore my own questions about parental interactions.

Finding opportunities for research can actually be very simple. If a student has no previous experience with research, they can apply for the First Experiences in Research (FE-R). This program provides a succinct step by step methodology for matching with a mentor who currently researches topics of interest to you. Once you pick a couple of mentors from a neat catalog, you can interview with them in order to determine if you are a good fit for their lab. Other than the FE-R program, securing an undergrad research position can be as easy as sending a few emails. Checking your department’s faculty web page is a good way to discover what professors share your research goals. After coming up with a couple good names, a quick friendly email about who you are and what you’re interested in can be a great way to start a conversation with a potential mentor. I recommend that students keep in mind that professors are often very busy and some of them may not have any positions open. Keeping this in mind, it is a good idea to branch out as much as you can. If the first couple attempts don’t work out, don’t worry! If you keep an open mind and stay persistent, you are bound to find the right research mentor for you.

After undergrad, I hope to pursue a PhD in Clinical Psychology. Given that this degree is based in research, it is important to have some prior experience in research in order to determine whether or not you enjoy research. It is also probably the most effective way to determine which research topics you are interested in pursuing during graduate school. The CURF fellowship provides support as I take the time to flesh out my interests and decide whether a career in research is right for me.

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