5 Things I’ve Learned in My First Year at ETR (and How These Have Further Shaped My Research Interests)

5 Things I’ve Learned in My First Year at ETR (and How These Have Further Shaped My Research Interests)

By Beverly Iniguez-Conrique | July 11, 2017
Research Assistant, ETR

This time a year ago, I was taking the last final exam of my undergraduate career! I was also preparing for the next chapter of my life as an ETRian in our Research/Science Department. Now that a year has gone by, I’m looking all over for where the time went. I guess time flies when you’re having fun!

Here are five things I’ve learned since being at ETR.

  1. Randomized-controlled trials (RCTs) are pretty much the gold standard for clinical interventions. Many of those studies I learned about in undergrad were RCTs. I didn’t fully realize this until I actually began working on an RCT at ETR. I joined the evaluation team on a project with Carnegie Mellon University and West Virginia University.

I’ve also become familiar with the varying components that make an RCT the rigorous design it is. I’m impressed by the ability of RCTs to reduce bias when evaluating a treatment or intervention. Randomization and blinding make a difference!

This has sparked my interest in possible uses for RCTs within social psychology. I’d like to explore interventions that will mitigate the negative impacts of system-justifying beliefs, attitudes and behaviors as they relate to systemic inequalities across areas of race, class and gender.

  1. Recruitment and retention of participants is always difficult. This especially rings true with populations that are not already featured generously in the literature. It is so important to understand the population with whom you’re working. Sometimes this increased comprehension occurs over the process of the work. Research approaches need to reflect the ways participants spend their daily time (working? caring for children? helping out family members?). Adaptability, flexibility and innovation can make participation more appealing.

Ideally, participants will stay for the entirety of the study, especially if the work is longitudinal. Making your data collection approach convenient to participants often means using a range of strategies. For example, on one study we’re doing (the Community College Information Technology study), we send out online surveys to obtain a snapshot of the study population’s attitudes and experiences. The online approach allows community college students to complete the surveys at their own convenience. This is important because we are working with non-traditional students who are also likely, between work and family, to have a lot of varied demands on their schedules.

Working with populations that have not been studied often is, in and of itself, a valuable contribution to the research community and literature.

  1. Technology has been an innovative driver in many areas including research, and it’s great for getting a lot of data really fast. But it’s also wise to be wary about the potential for data falsification and fabrication.

Data fraud poses a huge threat to data quality. As a researcher, it’s important to be cognizant of both how great, and how detrimental, online survey data can be. Integrity is crucial to the validity of results. The ability of respondents to be more anonymous online has heightened this threat in recent years. We need procedures in place that ensure data is actually from the intended population.

  1. Things take longer than expected.

In undergrad, I would start an assignment or begin studying for a test the same day it was assigned in order to stay ahead amidst everything else I had going on (work, student government, research lab work, etc.).

Those four years of undergrad consisted of a lot of task switching and running around completing a variety of projects. My work at ETR, although similar, has been a lot more focused and specific—more like something you would encounter in graduate school. Because it’s more focused and we’re working at greater depth, some tasks take longer than others.

And honestly, when you put everything together, all tasks can take longer than expected! For me, that’s okay as long as my days are still productive. Being busy is the nature of research, and I’d say it’s a pretty good thing.

  1. Connecting with other researchers, experts and practitioners in a given field can be an incredibly valuable way to spark new proposals to launch important and necessary research and work.

I was lucky enough to attend the Second Annual Kirby Summit back in May. I had a great time conversing with experts in the field of developmental neuroscience. Coming primarily from a social psychology background myself, it was really special to think about the same thing in different ways and ask questions based on the distinct ideas we’ve brought to psychology and other social sciences.

At the Summit, we spent our time together talking about adolescent health within the context of developmental neuroscience. We left with at least five concrete ideas for application within adolescent sexual health!

I also realized how important it is to address all causes of behavior in a transdisciplinary way—including neuroscience, social science and biology. When we are too focused as an organization, or even as a society, on a specific contributor to human behavior, it is detrimental to the overall science itself. We must think about behavior as being affected by matters of nature, nurture, and everything in between. In other words, human behavior is all-encompassing, nuanced and complex.

My work at ETR in both Equity & Inclusion in STEM and Sexual and Reproductive Health projects has definitely influenced my research interests as they relate to social psychology. My interests lie in the realm of social neuroscience. I’m interested in how motivated social cognition, social norms, and system-justifying beliefs (e.g., social dominance orientation, system justification) relate to inequalities and disparities within socio-economic and health outcomes. I am also interested in what factors influence individual social cognition—attitudes, beliefs and behaviors—through a social-neuroscientific lens.

Since being immersed in this haven of applied research at ETR, I’ve also recently wondered how we can use explanatory findings in my areas of interest to change society in positive ways. Could interventions targeting beliefs, social norms and behaviors work? If interventions don’t work, what will? Can we target societal thumbprints on individual minds that influence systemic inequities; can we address implicit biases in some transformative way? Are system-justifying beliefs malleable? Under what conditions?  How do all these questions factor into the larger question of why and how individuals think and behave in ways that contribute to increased disparities? I could go on and on.

If you’re interested in these questions as much as I am, watch for my next blog post! In the meantime, I’m absolutely stoked to be at ETR and learn even more in the year to come.

 

Beverly Iniguez-Conrique is a Research Assistant with ETR. Her research focus includes building greater equity among participants in STEM learning and careers. She can be reached at beverly.iniguez-conrique@etr.org.

 

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