Student-Led Research in Social Psychology: A Look into Undergraduate Participation and Interest in Social Science Research in the Sociology Group Processes Lab (by Amanda Nguyen)

For the majority of my undergraduate career, I never considered social science research as an option for my future. I had read a handful of peer‐reviewed articles assigned in my sociology courses, but I felt detached from an understanding of how they did the research. I saw research careers as for STEM majors. It was not until I was given an opportunity to actually be involved in conducting social science experiments in the Sociology Group Processes Lab that these stereotypes were broken for me and I finally developed an appreciation for the works of the authors of those journal articles.

I first became involved in the GP Lab in my senior year. I was an undergraduate research assistant helping run graduate student experiments as part of an independent study course. I administered lab experiments, reviewed informed consent forms and potential risks of studies with participants, debriefed participants, and logged payment information. The experience gave me a look at the side of research that I had not before known. My time in the lab challenged me intellectually to think about the kinds of research questions I would want to explore if I was the researcher. In turn, it got me thinking about my future and the kinds of things I could do with my sociology degree. Having the opportunity to work with graduate students and to have Professor Lucas as a mentor strengthened my desire to apply to graduate programs to pursue graduate studies in sociology so that I could see my research ideas come to fruition.

While my semester‐long experience in the lab was worthwhile, I still didn’t feel as though I fully understood the process of research. Following the end of that first semester, I asked Professor Lucas if I could stay on and volunteer my time in the lab. I explained to Professor Lucas that I felt as if I was just starting to get something valuable from the lab and to have to end my time felt like it would be a disservice to myself, especially given the personal research interests that I was beginning to develop. To my delight, Professor Lucas happily agreed.

It was not until the beginning of that following semester that Professor Lucas and I discussed a new idea he had. Professor Lucas was rolling out a new program to target promising undergraduates, particularly sophomores and juniors, to take part in a one year research program in the Group Processes Lab beginning Spring Semester of 2014. To enhance the experience for students, former undergraduate research assistants would mentor and train the incoming cohort of undergraduates to be starting in the lab. The program would span over the course of two semesters for the cohort and challenge students to intellectually participate in research, push them to conceptualize their own ideas and research designs, and actively engage them to be involved in their own data collection.

The main goal for Professor Lucas’s independent study program is to get undergraduates intellectually and actively involved in research that contributes to the academic field. The hope is that this program will be able to serve as a model for mentoring undergraduateGroupProcesses_1 students in research and get undergraduates involved in producing research that contributes to the knowledge base of our discipline.

To help fund the program, Professor Lucas created an account through the college in which moneys raised goes directly towards supporting student projects.

Currently, there are ten undergraduate students in the independent study program. Students are placed into research groups of about 2‐3 members to collectively work on a research project, which they conceptualize and design themselves. Groups meet with Professor Lucas weekly to get feedback and discuss the progress of their individual projects. We hope to see all of the current student‐led projects launched in April and for the students to have data that they can begin to analyze before the semester is over.

Current Student Studies in Progress

Evolutionary Psychology Study—Undergraduate researchers provide participants with scenarios to examine gendered‐effects during an economic downturn.

Text Study—A study on the relationship between the difficulty of understanding text and how important people think it is.

Rule Following Study—Undergraduate researchers evaluate the relationship between competency and rule following.

Undergraduate Student Profiles

Kamilah Wakil—Kamilah is a junior sociology student from Brookeville, MD. She has a culinary and management degree and is currently pursuing pre‐medical studies in addition to her concentration in social psychology. In the Group Processes lab, she has worked on an evolutionary psychology study based off of the lipstick effect, looking at displaying status in times of economic recession. When she isn’t studying or doing homework, she enjoys spending time on her family’s farm and working as a weekend school teacher teaching third grade social studies and Arabic language. After graduation she hopes to go on to graduate school to complete a doctoral degree in counseling psychology and oncology where she can combine her love of natural and social sciences to help others who are dealing with cancer.

Dian Dong—Dian is a sophomore Sociology major student. Dian grew up in China and sees people undergoing vast number of social problems, so she craves finding answers for these intertwining conflicts. She financially supports a girl from a low‐income family in China to finish her education. She also participates in Alternative Breaks to help indigenous kids in Ecuador and their community. She believes that the study of social psychology provides her with knowledge to reflect on real social issues. She appreciates having the opportunity to participate in the Group Processes Lab and conduct experiments with fellow students.

Savannah Doane‐Malotte— Savannah is a sophomore sociology major from Burtonsville, MD. She is currently working on an evolutionary psychology study within the lab, and is specifically interested in international social issues. When she’s not conducting research or drinking coffee, she works as an intern with the international non‐profit Stop the Silence: Stop Child Sexual Abuse, which combats child sexual abuse through prevention and mitigation. She is also President of the Stop the Silence: University Movement club on campus, a member of Cru, a Christian organization on campus, and is a tutor for student athletes. After graduation, she wants to travel the world combating social injustice, specifically gender issues, through a non‐profit or charitable organization.

Meghan Imwold—Meghan is a sophomore from Baltimore, Maryland. She is majoring in sociology with a concentration in social stratification. Additionally, she has a minor in human development. On campus, Meghan is involved with Students Helping Honduras, Phi Sigma Pi, and the University Honors College as an HONR100 Section Leader. During her time with the Group Processes Lab, she has worked on designing a study about rule following and competency. She reflects, “It has been an eye opening experience to see all of the collaboration and editing that goes into social science research!”

Leah Yablonka—Leah is a senior Environmental Science and Policy major, concentrating in Society and Environmental Issues with a minor in Sustainability Studies. This field of study integrates Environmental Science and Sociology to understand the institutional mechanisms that contribute to the current state of the environment. Leah’s spare time in college has been spent in various leadership positions on campus and in internships across the non‐profit, public and private sectors. Specifically, her sociological interests revolve around social and sustainable issues in the private sector, including the lack of women in executive positions and what motivates corporations to take voluntary sustainable action.


To give to the Sociology Group Processes Lab Fund, please visit us here.



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