Psychology Pre-Grad Intern Dan Conroy-Beam
I entered the IE pre-grad internship very ignorant of the graduate school experience as well as my own interests. Though the semester began painfully, as it rolled on I felt both my knowledge and academic drive increasing exponentially. I left every lab meeting excited and confident, every conversation with my mentor was an invaluable glimpse into an experience I too wanted to someday have, and for the first time in my life, I had found work I was genuinely excited to begin. My semester in the IE program provided so much: experience, relationships, opportunity-most importantly, though, my internship gave me direction.
I had met my mentor two semesters earlier, in the Summer '08 session. At the time I was a Rhetoric Major, Pre-Med, taking a PSY301 class for an extra 3 hours credit. This decision was fortunate for so many reasons. Luckily, I had taken the class taught by David Lewis: a graduate student in the Psychology Department studying Individual Differences and Evolutionary Psychology. Furthermore, as we learned later, we both had come from small-school environments that fostered strong teacher-student relationships. It was easy, then, for him to assign (and me to do) very involved work and discussions. As he tells it, during the course of class I said something that to him demonstrated an understanding of Evolutionary Psychology, and so he asked me if I would like to work with him.
In reality, I had no experience in Psychology, let alone Evolutionary. The closest I had come was an A in a Biology class in High School. For some reason, however, the understanding came easily to me. As I said, working with David was at first very difficult me-I was the youngest and least experienced (a freshman at the time) of all of the assistants, and my lack of knowledge of and ability in not only EP but research in general was a burden. David's lab is unique though, in that assistants participate not only in data collection and entry, but also in the development of hypotheses and methods. Being so involved at every step of the projects creates a unique relationship among all members of the lab. Despite our obvious differences in skill, I felt our lab beginning to emulate a small group of experienced scholars, revolving around cooperation and mutual respect.
The more formal direction of the program became a catalyst for our mentor/mentee relationship, and with it, the benefits exploded. My workload and responsibility increased alongside my more formal education about the field. In addition to getting a better taste of the research workload, the assignments from the program forced me to ask the questions that were always in the back of my mind. Through the guidance of the mentorship and my mentor I was simultaneously deciding my life path as I learned more about it.
The greatest opportunity the IE pre-grad internship offered me was the chance to travel with my mentor to an actual academic conference. In May of 2009, David and I traveled to the Human Behavior and Evolutionary Society (HBES) 2009 conference in Fullerton, California. The conference was, without a doubt, the most exciting experience in recent memory. I felt at home surrounded by dedicated scholars in my field of interest, and through David I got the opportunity to meet many of the "superstars" of Evolutionary Psychology, whose papers I had by then been reading for months. I felt the joy of showing off a project I had helped contribute to for a year, and most importantly, I felt myself being critical of others. Interesting as well, while at the conference, David informed me that I have the unique opportunity to become the first Black Evolutionary Psychologist, to which I replied it was my goal to become the "Barack Obama of Evolutionary Psychology". Being at HBES was the ultimate confirmation that I had the desire and the ability to become an Evolutionary Psychologist.
The IE Internship ended up being the exact push I needed to help me discover my passion. Such a valuable opportunity so early on in my academic career is something I know I am going to treasure for the rest of my life. The loose but formal structure fostered an incredible growth environment and opened doors for me academically that I previously never knew existed. Thanks to the relationship the program helped us create, David and I are continuing to work together even though the semester has ended. And now, for the first time in my life, I know exactly where I'm going, and I feel more confident about this decision than any I've made before.
UPDATE (3/14/13): I am so glad to see Dr. Cherwitz on this list of Top 10 Professors. Dr. Cherwitz continually demonstrates a level of personal, genuine care for his students that I have yet to see matched. His work with the IE program has been instrumental in improving the education of countless undergraduates. The IE program completely changed my own educational trajectory. When I started my undergraduate education, I was headed on a pre-med track-not because I was particularly interested in medicine, but because medical school was post-college option I knew anything about. Through the IE program, I was given the opportunity to build a strong relationship with a mentor from the psychology department. This relationship resulted in years of hands-on research experience and in-depth, personal instruction, all of which lead to me discovering a passion for psychological research. Three years later, I am now a second year doctoral student in a top psychological laboratory and I shudder to think where I would be now if it weren't for Dr. Cherwitz and IE. I can't imagine a professor being more deserving of this recognition.