Christina Tahtouh's Summer 2019 SPUR Reflection

Christa Tahtouh headshotMy summer spent in Dr. Jay Van Bavel’s Social Perception and Evaluation Lab at New York University was an incredibly inspiring experience. I want to pursue social psychology because I believe the field has the power to promote equality and social harmony. As I approached my senior year at UT Austin, I grew curious about how psychological research tackles social issues.   I had the wonderful experience of learning how Dr. Van Bavel’s lab studies the moral and political angle of social issues and grouping. My very supportive mentor, Elizabeth, guided me in meeting my summer goals and provided honest advice about the graduate school experience. I felt very welcomed and encouraged by both the lab's members and the environment. By the end of the SPSP Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR), I felt empowered by the skills I’d gained and confident in my future in the field.

My first meeting with Dr. Van Bavel, Elizabeth, and the lab members was held in Washington Square Park! I immediately felt welcome and comfortable. Prior to SPUR, I’d never worked in a social neuroscience or political psychology lab. So, I spent the first week familiarizing myself with the areas by reading articles and discussing the studies with Elizabeth. Elizabeth encouragingly and patiently answered my very long list of questions! I became involved in a new project on the replicability of the Backfire Effect lead by Elizabeth and another graduate student, Diego. The experience was valuable because I witnessed the beginning steps of an experiment! I conducted a literature review of Backfire effect studies and learned a great deal about the study of partisanship. While discussing the project with Elizabeth and Diego, I witnessed how psychological research examines prior work and builds upon it. I felt the momentum of the project, which sparked my excitement for ultimately pursuing my own research questions.

Every Friday I joined the lab for their weekly lab meetings with Dr. Van Bavel. The opportunity provided a look at the graduate student experience. The topics spanned from new research in social psychology to Open Science and collective intelligence. I learned so much participating in and listening to a range of perspectives in these discussions. In these meetings, I also gained a better understanding of graduate school culture and supportive lab practices. The exposure made the prospect of graduate school less distant and scary and more of an attainable goal. One of my goals for SPUR was learning about the graduate school experience to solidify my goals. Elizabeth provided valuable information and resources, even connecting me to a former lab manager for information on post-undergraduate research jobs. I also got the chance to meet Ahmed, another SPUR participant at Columbia University, who became a great friend to have in NYC!

During the summer I got the chance to improve my R-Studio skills. Elizabeth provided tutorial resources and provided practice work. Toward the end of the program, I assisted Diego with the beginning stages of a project focused on debate polling by helping build the database. The research involved the current 2020 Presidential Election, so it was very exciting to contribute to such a topical study! I also worked with Dr. Van Bavel to design a new template and update lecture PowerPoint slides. I not only enjoyed creating the template but I gained insight from discussing and working on how to effectively communicate research to students.

I am extremely grateful for my experience in the Social Perception and Evaluation Lab at NYU! The mentorship, resources, and confidence I gained from SPUR are beyond valuable. The lab showed me the importance of a fundamental understanding of social neuroscience in addressing social issues in the United States. My summer was full of growth and enrichment and I owe it all to the efforts of so many wonderful people! Thank you to my UT mentor Sanaz Talaifar for showing and encouraging me to apply for this wonderful opportunity. Thank you to Dr. Jan Kang and SPSP for making the experience possible. And, finally, thank you to Dr. Van Bavel, Elizabeth, and the Social Perception and Evaluation lab members for welcoming me into the lab and teaching me!

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