Looking Back, Looking Forward: Conversations and Lab Work

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With the summer still far from over (right?!), the past couple months have been both valuable and satisfying. It would be misleading to say that this summer went by quickly, because the time I spent working in Professor Totton’s lab sticks with me. The three projects I discussed in ,my introductory post changed as the summer went along, and so did my role in them. The biggest change was from the original five hours of work a week up to fifteen hours a week, which came as a welcome surprise. The increase in work and responsibility seemed to reflect how employment opportunities “in the real world” progress, so it was valuable to experience the shift. Also, I didn’t realize how short five hours was until I was really interested in the topic and found myself wishing I could spend more time on it.

The first project, which was a content analysis study of Facebook comments in response to transgender news articles, was enlightening. As I reviewed the coding done by two SURF students, I also had to refer to the comments people had posted. Some were shocking; most were regrettably predictable. They reminded me that there is a dire lack of education, understanding, and empathy surrounding trans topics such as healthcare, sports participation, and general discrimination. This exposure to collaboration and reviewing other’s work showed me how thorough the research process can (and should) be.

The second project was data cleaning for the liar study, which exposed me to the quantitative side of psychology research. This study had examined whether perceived deception from transgender people extended to academic dishonesty. Along with a recent Amherst graduate who worked in Professor Totton’s lab and helped design the study, the SURF students and I looked at data generated from the study. We analyzed it in SPSS, but due to my lack of experience with the software I didn’t run that many tests. We discussed presenting the findings at different conferences and the protocol for performing follow-up studies. I came away from this project knowing I want to improve my quantitative skills and software familiarity to strengthen my abilities as a researcher.

The third project, which will look at the effect of anti-trans legislation on trans youth, involved a lot of hunting down contact information for organizations and support groups across the country. These contacts will serve as potential sources for participation for the study. I was shocked by the number of trans support groups that exist. My cursor also now moves reflexively to the ‘Contact Us’ tab when I visit a new website… Working to gather this information reinforced how important it is to set yourself up to conduct the strongest study you can.

The most valuable part of this internship was honestly the weekly lab meetings. Every Friday at noon, everyone involved in Professor Totton’s lab would meet to discuss current research, explore general topics about the field, and talk to recent graduates and current thesis students. We learned invaluable information such as how the thesis process works, what career opportunities exist with a BA in psychology, how to find jobs and internship opportunities, how to apply to graduate school, how social change is related to social psychology, and the role of ethics in social psychology research. Professor Totton was always informative and candid in these meetings, and she opened the floor for us to ask questions about anything we might find helpful. The information and insight I gleaned from these meetings alone made my internship extremely valuable, not to mention the practical experience from working on the studies.

These three projects introduced me to different aspects of social psychology research, and they helped inform my plans on how to further engage with this field. My three projects let me work on three different stages of the research process. The anti-trans legislation study had me working on preparation, the content analysis study exposed me to being in the thick of coding data, and the liar study showed me the aftermath of data collection. These projects also deepened my awareness of inequities and prejudices regarding the trans community, which I hope to continue to be a part of researching and remedying in the future. I am extremely grateful for this experience working with Professor Totton, even though it was only for six weeks. I plan to continue to work in Professor Totton’s lab this fall, and I encourage all psychology students to take at least one class with her while they are at Amherst.