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CSA Day 2021: Student Spotlights in Psychology

Interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.

Safa standing in front of greenery, smiling
Photo courtesy of Safa Ahmed

Safa Ahmed

Project title: “Not Your Typical Neuroatypical Experience: Changing Portrayals of Neuroatypical Individuals in Popular Media”

Please describe your research.

I did my research under Dr. Steven Benko, who is a professor of religious and ethical studies. My research falls under a mix of different subjects, though it is mostly psychology-based. Equal representation in media is essential — whether it be for different ethnicities, religions or disabilities. I specifically did research on how the media has represented Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) over the decades, and how that has influenced stereotypes. The issue with media representation of ASD is that the media has propagated wrong stereotypes about ASD for more than half a century. For example, savant syndrome is extremely rare, but many movies and TV shows, like Rain Man and The Good Doctor, repeatedly stereotype people with ASD as being geniuses. To see exactly how the portrayals of people with ASD have changed, I watched shows and movies that portrayed people with ASD from multiple decades and conducted a historical and philosophical review of the portrayals. I reviewed shows and movies like Rain Man, The Good Doctor, Atypical, Mercury Rising and What's Eating Gilbert Grape. Overall, I studied how the portrayal of ASD has evolved over time and how the portrayals have affected popular perceptions and propagated stereotypes. I also researched and wrote about how disability advocates feel about present-day media portrayals in relation to past portrayals.

What inspired your topic?

I have volunteered with kids with autism for a long time now. Over time, I came to realize just how many people do not really understand what an autism spectrum diagnosis means. There are many people that are uneducated about autism, though so many people have autism. I wanted to bring awareness to autism spectrum disorders so that I could help educate others. I also wanted to educate myself — while I knew a lot about autism, I used this opportunity to learn more.

How did COVID-19 impact your research process?

Unfortunately, COVID-19 negatively impacted my research process. I was hoping to have an experiment section where I could interview people from the general public to see what stereotypes they believe in. I also was interested in having some people fill out a questionnaire, watch a movie or TV show that portrays someone with autism and then have them re-fill out the questionnaire. I wanted to see first-hand how much the different shows affected the way people thought about ASD. For example, will people who watch Rain Man assume that all people with ASD are geniuses? Atypical portrays autism in boys pretty well, but not for girls. Would people who watch this show incorrectly assume that girls with autism would typically portray the same symptoms that Sam does in the show?

Do you feel that this research or some aspect of what you’ve learned will apply to your future, whether in continuing education or in the working world?

I know that my research will apply to me in the future. First, it made me learn to think critically about what I am consuming from the media. The media incorrectly portrays not just people with disabilities, but also people of different races, religions and more. I've learned to take everything with a grain of salt. Additionally, although I am a biology major (and am planning on double majoring in chemistry), I want a holistic education. I enjoy psychology, ethics, English and art. I plan to continue taking classes in these subjects to supplement my education, and I plan to continue doing research in psychology. I hope to add on to this research too, maybe with a section on how ASD is portrayed in the media in other countries, or maybe I will finally add on an experiment section, like I had wanted to initially. Career-wise, I hope to become a pediatric neurologist one day, and I hope to continue working with kids with autism. Additionally, I know that I will continue volunteering with kids with autism, as that is something that I love doing. Overall, though, the point of my research was to educate others and myself. I know that I learned a lot, but I really hope that by watching my presentation for CSA day, other students at Meredith will also be able to learn a lot.

Veronica Harrison

Project title: “Match makers: A comprehensive review of optimal mentorship pairing criteria”

Please describe your research.

I did an extended literature review where I mapped the literature on adult mentoring to determine how to best match mentors and proteges in ways that lead to satisfactory mentorship outcomes. My goal is to inform Program Directors and HR Managers of the important interpersonal factors to consider before pairing people.

What inspired your topic?

I've been a mentor to adolescent girls for a number of years, and I love it. So when my research advisor, Dr. Edwards, said to start with what I know and what I'm interested in, I immediately zeroed in on mentorship. I figured that the best way to improve mentoring was to examine the reports of negative mentoring experiences and learn from them. What I found was that personality and expectations mismatches were often the largest complaints.

How did COVID-19 impact your research process?

The original plan had been to do a study with Meredith students and their mentors. COVID affected everyone's ability to interact with people to such a degree that it likely would have impacted the validity of our research. Important questions such as "How frequently have you met with your mentor in the past year?" or "How would you rate the current quality of the mentorship?" would likely be skewed. So my plan shifted from human research to the literature review. I learned a new dance last year called the “Covid Pivot!”

Do you feel that this research or some aspect of what you’ve learned will apply to your future, whether in continuing education or in the working world?

I'm minoring in human resources and hoping to continue mentoring in the future. I want to be able to share what I've learned on this project with organizations and maybe start up mentoring programs where once there were none. Mentoring is awesome — everyone needs a mentor...or two...or three. Get yourself a mentor — I'll be happy to suggest to you what you should look for!

Joselyn smiling at the camera
Photo courtesy of Joselyn Marroquin Aparicio

Joselyn Marroquin Aparicio

Project title: “Maternal Mental Health and Adverse Birth Outcomes”

Please describe your research.

I examined if the presence of mental health symptoms during pregnancy puts women at a higher risk for birth complications. My study focused on the first pregnancy and specifically analyzes symptoms of depression and anxiety. Furthermore, I also analyzed how demographic information such as age and race play a role in birth complications. This study consisted of a secondary data analysis on de-identified medical records (N = 4323) from a multi-site OBGYN practice in urban North Carolina.

What inspired your topic?

My topic was inspired through my work with my research advisor, Dr. Betty-Shannon Prevatt. Through working with her for several semesters, I have become very interested in the field of maternal mental health. I came up with this topic because perinatal mood disorders have become increasingly common and I wanted to analyze how mental health impacts physical health during the perinatal period. I feel very passionate about women’s reproductive health and finding ways to provide women the resources they need to better manage their mental health.

How did COVID-19 impact your research process?

Thankfully my research process wasn’t impacted much given that my study is based on past medical records.

Do you feel that this research or some aspect of what you’ve learned will apply to your future, whether in continuing education or in the working world?

I think my research experience will have a great impact on my future. Through research I have developed important critical analysis skills that I know will be an important asset in various aspects of my life. Additionally, all the knowledge I have gained through this specific study will be very useful as I further my education in medical school. Understanding perinatal mood disorders and their impact will be important in my future career.

Interviews compiled by Molly Perry, Features Editor


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