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Undergraduate Researcher Encourages Peers to Take Initiative

Undergraduate Researcher Encourages Peers to Take Initiative

by Trinity Shaver, Undergraduate Research Ambassador 

Eva MacFarland, from Bridgeport, WV, is a junior at West Virginia University pursuing degrees in biology and psychology. I sat with Ms. MacFarland in the Life Sciences Building where she is involved in rigorous academics and groundbreaking research. 

MacFarland is a junior conducting research under the supervision of Dr. Natalie Shook.

Her research journey began the spring semester of her freshman year in hopes of getting her feet wet with research. “I had friends who were involved in research so I began to look online and email psychology professors that I thought had interesting research.” After her online search, she was able to join Dr. Natalie Shook’s lab who focuses on a variety of social psychology topics such as attitude formation, behavioral immune system, stereotypes and prejudice, and political ideology. “When I first started in the lab, I assisted with a project that focused on anxiety in African American population and how it differs from the Caucasian population. Some of more recent projects in Dr. Shook’s lab that Eva has been involved with are studies that are investigating mindfulness and how it relates to self-esteem, stability, relationships, and the interaction between the behavioral immune system and the physiological immune system.

As a full-time double major and an ambitious researcher, Eva discusses how important time management is. “It is sometimes difficult to balance academics and research, but one of the nice things about the format of social psychology research is that you're not running reactions so you can easily start and stop research. For example, if I’m running a statistical analyses, such as regressions, it's only a few clicks and I can pick it up at a later time. It is really all about managing your time, planning ahead, and devoting yourself to research when in the lab.”

During the summer of 2018, Eva had the opportunity to participate in the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program at WVU where she worked 40+ hours a week in the lab and attended informative workshops. In the program, she had a research project that focused on the relationship between intergroup anxiety and prejudice. “I really liked the program because it was so intensive. You had 40 hours a week to focus on your research, which isn’t time I have while taking classes. It was a very valuable experience that gave me the opportunity to learn new techniques—stat analysis in the lab —and the opportunity to present research in a professional setting. It was meaningful to present my own project which took a long time to develop.” Eva’s hard work and dedication towards her project won her first place at the Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium in the social behavioral science category. 

During her two years as an undergraduate researcher, she has obtained a vast amount of skills that she sees as invaluable. “As a researcher, you have to present your work. By presenting my work, I have gotten a lot better at presenting in front of people. Without having to present research, I would not have been able to articulate science findings and learn how to present in an engaging way.” One other skill Eva mentioned is being able to think critically  about research. “After being involved in research for so long, I feel that I am much better at addressing a research question and figuring out what variables I am interested in investigating.”

Given her background in research,  Eva  aims to attend medical school where she will continue to advocate for mental health and research. “Medicine is incredibly dependent on medical research and I think regardless if you've engaged in medical science or health science research, you should be able to navigate a research article and be able to understand what it is saying. It’s important for doctors to be well-versed since medicine is an expanding field and we’re constantly inventing new ways to help patients.” Eva brings up an interesting point that not only do physicians need to be informed of the research world, but other professions do as well. “In general careers, it’s important for people to be informed, to keep up with field-related publications, and to be well-versed in the field.”

After  speaking with Eva about her irreplaceable experiences as an undergraduate researcher at WVU, I asked Eva what she would recommend to students who are interested in getting involved in research. “Get involved as early as you can! Spend one night researching professors and see if their research interests align with your own. Also, don’t be afraid to branch out! If you get involved in a lab that you enjoy being in, then by all means keep researching in the lab, but if you don’t enjoy being in that particular lab, branch out and be in a lab that you enjoy being in because it won’t be nearly as useful to you if you don’t enjoy it.” In summary, “take initiative!”