Thesis Spotlight with Ingrid Wefing

Amherst College Science Center

Ingrid Wefing is a senior, a thesis student, a Psychology and Asian Languages and Civilizations double major, and an absolute delight to talk to. I sat down with Ingrid to talk about her upcoming thesis that examines the relationship between belongingness and mental well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Did you know you wanted to study psych from your first year? Did you know from your first year that you wanted to write a thesis?

I came into Amherst wanting to study neuroscience and then fell in love with Psych and Arabic. I tried the traditional STEM route, and didn’t like it as much. It’s okay to not go the classically STEM route, because Psych is STEM. I decided that I want to write a thesis in psychology because I wanted to collect and analyze data quantitatively.

I didn’t really expect to be writing a thesis. But, then I learned that a thesis was really an opportunity to explore something and leave college having accomplished something just for you. No one else is graduating having done the same research that I have surrounding belongingness and wellbeing during COVID.

Is your thesis related to any prior research experience?

No, I haven’t worked in the psych department prior to this year but my other experiences led me to this point. I think people get scared off from doing a thesis because they think you need to have been doing research in a lab all throughout college but that definitely isn’t always true.

Can you give a short summary of your thesis?

In my freshman year, when we first got to campus, the convocation’s message was “you belong here” and this idea stuck with me. I wondered if that was something people really believed or if it was an idea students struggled with. It’s really interesting to look at this data about belongingness, especially during the pandemic.

My thesis looks at the relationship between mental well-being and belongingness during COVID and how they differ between students on and off campus, athletes and non athletes as well as by gender and by race. I controlled for COVID-related factors when I was looking at the correlations. I examined general mental well-being, loneliness, social isolation, perceived stress, and help-seeking behavior as different aspects of well-being. People think that well-being is just happiness or sadness, but there are so many more layers to it than that.

What kinds of responsibilities do you have when conducting your research?

I did a literature review and found that not feeling belonging can impact depression, help-seeking behavior, and academic performance. I designed ways to measure all of these factors after doing lots of reading, finding different scales, and synthesizing what I learned in my research proposal. I sent it to the IRB to get approval, recruited participants, sent out surveys, kept track of funding, and got money out to participants. Now, I just turned in my thesis after writing up all the results and thinking about their implications for future research.

I’m not sure how many ASN readers are familiar with the IRB. Could you talk a little bit about the board?

For psychology studies, all questions that are included in the survey must be reviewed and approved by Amherst’s Institutional Review Board in advance. This process protects the human participants in the study and ensures that I’m not sneaking in any damaging questions or causing any harm through my research. The Board reviews the wording of everything that is sent to participants — including my scales, their scoring, and any other questions I asked. I submitted a description of my study, what I intend to do with the data, how it’s being collected, how I’m promoting the study, and what people get in return for taking my study. This is all to make sure that human participants are being treated well and there is transparency.

What advice do you have for students interested in writing a thesis?

If you’re gonna do it, make sure you’re super interested in what you’re doing. If you don’t enjoy the topic, don’t write the thesis. Take some of the amazing classes that we have here instead! It really is that simple.

In what ways does your research play into the bigger picture that you find meaningful?

Belongingness matters differently for different people. Notably, students not on financial aid, athletes, and students living on campus reported higher levels of belongingness. In terms of well-being, women and nonathletes reported lower levels of well-being, but women also reported higher likelihood of seeking help. Interestingly, with regard to well-being, nonathletes on financial aid reported significantly lower well-being than athletes on financial aid suggesting protective effects of athletic status. My research raises a lot of interesting questions as to why some people feel they belong more than others at Amherst. Hopefully, down the road, someone will examine that mechanism more clearly.

I think in a way my thesis reminds people that Psych isn’t simple. I had a lot of people try to tell me they could explain why I found certain things in my study, but it’s more complicated than they think. Psych isn’t easy! Belonging has implications for well-being and is experienced in a multitude of ways depending on intersectional identities.

To see Ingrid’s results, come to the in-person poster session on May 14th at 3PM in the Powerhouse!