During the spring of my sophomore year, after a semester and a half of taking online classes, I decided to look at the psychology website’s undergraduate research page in an effort to get more involved at Pitt. Instead of going with a direct goal in mind, I browsed through the options looking for the lab that appealed to me the most and seemed the most fun. When I saw that working in Dr. Iverson’s Infant Communication Lab meant that I would be going on home visits and playing with adorable babies, I knew it was the right fit!! Despite my potentially shallow thought process on applying to the ICL, my time spent in it has had an incredibly influential impact on my undergraduate career.
The first team I was placed on in the ICL involved coding infant speech during naturalistic play sessions with 36-month-old children and a parent for a dissertation project. Although this project was out of the realm of anything I had ever done, my graduate mentor was incredibly helpful throughout the whole training process. Our team met weekly to discuss our progress and share ideas, allowing me to have an integral role in her overall dissertation. Learning the research process under someone who is experienced and passionate about their work was both rewarding and inspiring.
After a semester of settling into the lab, I began to develop my own questions about the naturalistic sessions we coded. I think it is crucial to give yourself the time to ease your way into research. If I would have jumped into a solo project in my first semester, I wouldn’t have been able to create an informed research question. Through several meetings with my graduate mentor, Dr. Iverson, and other peers, I was able to come up with a project I was confident about. Since that time, I have continued each semester to expand my project and dig deeper into topics that interest me.
With all this in mind, my main advice to other students interested in conducting research would be to find something that you find enjoyable and that sparks your curiosity, despite the subject matter. The main things I’ve learned through conducting research—working on a team, coming up with creative ideas, clearly presenting my project—have little to do with the specific research I perform, yet loving the topic is an added bonus! These skills are what I will take with me into graduate school and my future career, and I don’t think I could have gained them from a lecture. I believe that any student, in any major, could attain similar skills by joining a research lab. Even if you don’t think it’s for you, I encourage you to read what research is out there at Pitt! Chances are, it will present you with a fantastic opportunity to learn from professionals in the field and gain highly transferable skills, while having fun along the way!