Freshman year, I came into Pitt as an astrophysics major. I took physics and calculus classes for a year and a half before realizing it wasn’t my passion and switched to psychology. However, I discovered I missed the science and math that was a big part of my previous major and looked for ways to incorporate them into my education. I knew without a doubt that I wanted to pursue research, however, joining a lab required completion of both Research Methods Lab and Lecture, and I had only completed the lecture. I was looking through the openings for research assistants and stumbled across Dr. Melissa Libertus’ Kids’ Thinking (KiT) Lab, which focused heavily on children’s math learning. I immediately felt a connection and emailed her right away asking if I could join her lab for the summer while concurrently taking the other research methods class. I’m extremely thankful she said yes, as her lab has helped me in more ways than I can say. Joining her lab as a Research Assistant was the perfect way to merge my love of psychology and math.
I was actually lucky enough to talk for my lab at the Open Labs event earlier this week (on 10/18/22). I got the opportunity to talk to students interested in joining psychology labs, but unsure where to start. My best advice is that it’s never too early and it’s never too late. I thought that I was really behind, since I only became a psychology major halfway through my sophomore year, and then didn’t start research until the summer as a rising junior. I quickly realized that everyone is in different positions and everyone’s paths are different, but that doesn’t make a person better or worse than anyone else. While I started as what I thought was late, I have still been able to do a tremendous amount. I have had two fellowships, presented my research four different times, and am now working on my BPhil Honors Thesis. Additionally, even if it feels early and you don’t meet all the “requirements”, such as having taken all the classes, it never hurts to send an email and explain your situation. If I hadn’t, I never would have gotten to where I am now. As for where to start, in psychology I’d say it’s pretty easy since we have a website that lists all the open labs, so find one or a few that interest you and reach out to the lab directors! And have fun!!
I’ve had to think about my professional goals a lot since being in my undergraduate studies. When I first came to Pitt, I thought I wanted a job in astronomy, but everything I thought of felt too difficult and unobtainable. When I switched to psychology, I started picturing a clearer path, but I still didn’t know what exactly I was looking for. For a short while, I thought I wanted to teach high schoolers psychology while conducting research on the side, but quickly learned that wasn’t for me. In April 2022, I attended the Cognitive Development Society (CDS) Biennial Conference to present my work and while I was there I listened to a variety of talks in vastly different fields in cognitive and developmental psychology, with one standing out greatly to me. The talk was about how children’s, especially girls’, perseverance in science learning is associated with terminology, such that children whose parents said “doing science” persevered in learning about science more than children with parents saying “being a scientist”. Months after listening to this talk, I was still thinking about how interesting this study was. During the summer, I had a realization that I wanted to expand my passion for math learning to science and STEM learning. Specifically, I want to target children’s science/STEM learning in informal environments, such as museums, as they allow children to choose the information they are interested in and scaffold their own learning experience. I want to work in children’s science museums and conduct research to discover how children learn best and then create exhibits that promote this science/STEM learning. Learning how to do research, especially my research which is directly related to children’s informal math learning, is extremely beneficial to me as it will allow me to create the best exhibits to promote children’s science/STEM learning.