Psychology Pre-Gran Intern Mareike C. Janiak
I am a Psychology major and will be receiving my B. A. in Psychology from the University of Texas in December of this year. When I first entered college in the Fall of 2007, I had no idea what I wanted to study, major in and much less what I wanted to pursue as a career. I played around with Philosophy and English majors but I knew that getting anything than a teaching job was unlikely with those majors and I had always thought that teaching was the last thing I would want to do. Then I took an introductory psychology class and, I know it sounds incredibly clich, even cheesy, I just knew that I had finally found my major. I learned that psychology was so much more than Freud and therapy; it was a science that could be explored using experiments. Every psychology class I took deepened my interest and reaffirmed my decision to major in this field. However, even though I had found my major, I still had no idea what I wanted to do after I graduate. When asked, I vaguely said that I would like to do research and go to graduate school to get my PhD. My father and aunt both have PhDs in chemistry, which, mostly subconsciously, inspired something in me. My dad once told me, when I asked him why he chose to be a chemistry professor, that he just knew as soon as he took his first chemistry class in 9th grade. Something just drew him to it and fascinated him and now I realize that I feel the same way about psychology. I have known for about a year and a half that I want to pursue this field that I feel so passionate about and get my PhD. However, I never put much though into what I was going to do after I graduate. Graduation seemed so far away and I figured something was going to point me toward a career eventually. The IE program has done that for me. I will explain what it made me realize and how a little bit later.
First let me tell you about my experience with my graduate student mentor, David Lewis. David is a graduate student in Dr. Buss's evolutionary psychology lab. He is a fifth year graduate student and is starting his dissertation research. Unlike most other Pre-Grad Interns, I was not the only intern, but one of five. Being part of a group of undergraduate interns had advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, the other interns and I got to know each other very well and over the course of the semester we became friends. We are all seniors with an interest in psychology and while we don't want to pursue the same fields, we all want to go to graduate or med school. Having a group of people who are going through similar things as me, is a great support system and I think we have learned a lot from each other. Our backgrounds and future goals are so drastically different, but somehow we have this common interest in psychology that brought us together. Another advantage was that we could share the work and expectations that David placed on us. It is possible that he wouldn't have expected so much from a single intern, but coming up with hypothesis and experimental designs was much easier as a group.
The large expectations David placed on us might have been a result of being a group of five and this was definitely a disadvantage. David is a very busy student and has several projects going on at the same time, so often during our meetings he would work on something unrelated to our project and send us to another room to work on a problem by ourselves. Often this would get frustrating, because we would be unclear about what we were asked to do or simply didn't have the extensive background knowledge and understanding of evolutionary psychology that David has. We always tried to come up with hypotheses and ideas to test them, but it becomes frustrating when your ideas get shot down immediately, because they did not live up to your mentors high expectations. I understand that he was trying to push us but I would have appreciated a little more constructive criticism, rather than just blatant disapproval.
Aside from developing hypotheses and experimental procedures, interns also got a chance to learn about the responsibilities of being a teaching assistant. David is a TA for two classes this semester, both of which are writing components. One of his responsibilities is to grade papers for these classes. He taught us how to read, comment on, and grade these papers, which was a very valuable experience. I know that I will most likely be a TA at some point in the future and will have similar responsibilities. I was surprised how critical I was of most of the papers I graded. At first, I was very harsh in my grading but David taught me that I cannot expect the same level of writing skills from a freshman as I expect from myself. When we think back it may seem as though we have always been brilliant writers and master of APA format, but it is important to keep in mind that writing a psychology research report is very different from writing a paper in an English class, for example. Throughout the semester, when grading papers I could see the tremendous improvement most students made, which was an incredible experience.
This week we will be running participants for an experiment in the Buss lab. Running participants is one of the components of this internship I have most looked forward to. I wish we could have started doing that a lot sooner, but there was some trouble with getting the experiment approved by the IRB (another valuable lesson I learned this semester!). Despite the delay, I am very excited about this part of the internship.
Overall, working with David Lewis in the evolutionary psychology lab has reaffirmed my desire to attend graduate school. However, I have learned how incredibly important it is to choose a program and a lab that studies something that you are truly passionate about. Being a part of research that you don't agree with completely or that you aren't extremely passionate about can become very frustrating and will probably not keep you interested enough to complete your degree. I know that I am much more passionate about primate behavior and evolution than I am about human behavior, therefore I hope that I can get accepted to a graduate program that is related to this.
Finally, let me tell you about my career plans, that have become much more defined due to the IE program. It is peculiar that both my father and aunt are professors at research universities but I never seriously considered becoming a professor until I attended the second IE meeting of the semester. I have known for a while that I want to do research and now it seems silly that I didn't consider becoming a professor sooner. The Q&A session with the professors during the second meeting made me realize that academia is a good career choice for me. I love doing research and even though I used to think that I would never want to teach, I realized that that is not the case anymore. In fact, teaching a college class about a topic that I am truly passionate about is something that excites me. I know that I am long way away from being a professor, or even a graduate student, and a lot of things can change before then, but at the moment I am glad that I have a plan for the future.