Clinical Psychology Pre Grad Intern Sarah Kettles

Sarah KettlesI had the pleasure of working with Annie Steele this semester, a graduate student in Clinical Psychology working in the Laboratory for the Study of Anxiety Disorders (LSAD) run by Dr. Michael Telch. Initially I came into this semester wanting a clear cut decision on graduate school and whether or not it was the place for me upon completion of my Bachelors degree. During the course of the semester, I have discovered that this decision is not as black and white as I had initially hoped it would be. I have learned that it is a multi-faceted decision with many aspects that I still have not fully contemplated. However, the experiences that I have been lucky enough to have gained this semester have given me much more information than I could ever have hoped for and I now feel much more confident and closer to a decision about graduate school. Some of the activities that I participated in this semester include hands-on research with the LSAD, a trip to the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies Annual Convention in San Francisco, California, and a much deeper understanding of graduate school and the life of a graduate student in Clinical Psychology.

I came into this internship with no research experience and had the opportunity to work on two research projects with the LSAD this semester. When I first began this internship, I worked on a longitudinal study of fear-of-fear in participants who were studied around 15 years ago. The goal of this study was to correlate this fear-of-fear to a long-term development of anxiety disorders. This research project is still in its infancy and has been very challenging as far as tracking down all of the participants. Some of the most valuable training I gained from working on this study was an introduction to dealing with participants. Although I never dealt with anyone face-to-face, I made phone calls and was trusted with the personal information of over 900 people. I learned a great deal about privacy and the ethical concerns that surround human participants and I feel like this will continue to be valuable to me beyond my time at this university. I also gained experience in data input over the course of this study. I was tasked with inputting personal information provided to us over 15 years ago into an online database. Not only did I get to work with hard copies of the information, but I had training on an online database. This was beneficial to me because our society is becoming more digital and learning how to deal with the difficulties and issues that can arise from the shift to online networks has been a very valuable skill to acquire.

The second research project, and my favorite by far, is one that is still in its infancy stages as well. Annie is currently working on the IRB document for this study, but I have had a very intimate involvement with this project since its conception. This study is aiming to take a look at social anxiety and online social media and networking. I have been able to gain experience using all different types of online databases and search engines to help Annie search for appropriate measures for this study. I also feel very blessed that Annie has trusted me and another research assistant to co-author a review article on the literature concerning social anxiety and social media. This is an ongoing project that will extend into next semester, but it is something that I am very passionate about. One of the challenges of writing this review is that I have zero experience with scientific writing, especially not the clear and concise kind that is required of published work. At times I have been extremely frustrated with the search process and of the daunting amount of work in front of me, but I have always had Annie right there to help me. She has treated me like a graduate student in a lot of ways, which has helped me to become very independent and produce work that I am proud of, but she has never hesitated to offer advice or aide me when I really need it most. Although this study has proved to be a more time-consuming and difficult project I feel like it has really given me a hands-on view into what it is like to perform like a graduate student would. I am very grateful for the research opportunities that Annie has given me, and I am unbelievably excited to continue this work on into future semesters.

The pinnacle of my semester in this program was definitely my trip to San Francisco for the Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies Annual Convention, funded by a generous travel grant through IE and the John B. Pope Excellence Fund in Liberal Arts. Although I did not have the opportunity to present research at the convention, I used my time there to familiarize myself with other areas that I had not had the opportunity to experience during my internship in Austin. I went to several poster sessions detailing research being conducted all around the country in many different areas of psychology. Some of my favorite poster sessions were on eating disorders and obesity, couples and relationships, and anxiety disorders. From looking and talking to researchers about their studies, I really narrowed down a field of personal research interest. I discovered that I have an intense interest in body image, media exposure, and social anxiety. After talking with Annie about these interests, she encouraged me to research some measures to test this and is now allowing me to include a couple of these measures in the IRB that she is submitting for the social anxiety and social media study. I'm very excited that I will be able to do my own research on the side of this larger project. I also had the opportunity to discuss graduate programs with actual graduate students from universities that I am actively considering. This was probably the most invaluable experience that I gained while at the conference and has really opened my eyes to several mentors and programs that I didn't previously have knowledge about. In addition to the poster sessions and discussions with graduate students, I also attended several lectures given by prominent professionals in the field. Some of my favorites were a lecture on clinical practicum and neuro-imaging of Social Anxiety Disorder. Although I have very little experience with these areas of psychology, I enjoyed being exposed to new fields and therapy techniques. I feel like I gained a lot of good insight into areas that I may eventually practice in my career, even though I may have not understood all of it completely. Overall, my experience at the convention was invaluable to me in more ways that I can imagine and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit.

At the beginning of the semester, I simply wanted a concrete answer of whether or not I would continue to pursue graduate school. As I continued to learn and work in the lab, I discovered that this is not such a simply question to have answered. What I enjoyed learning most throughout the semester is all the intricacies that are involved with making the decision to go through with a graduate education. I learned about social consequences, the work load, the do's and don'ts of the application process, the benefits of such an education, and so much more. Annie, in particular, really opened my eyes to the kind of life I would have as a graduate student. This is something that I still find to be very daunting and I vary daily on if I think I can handle such a focused and disciplined lifestyle. I value this type of information, though, because it has helped me shed the picture of graduate school that was all rainbows and butterflies and has helped me to consider the prospect of it in a real and honest light. I also enjoyed having the opportunity to talk with several professors about their career paths and graduate school. I received perspectives from a researcher, a professor, and an administrative professional. These allowed me to visualize different career options that are available to me through a graduate education and also gave me some great insight into the application process and the work load of a graduate student. Now I can say that I have a thorough understanding of what is going to be expected of me in graduate school and I have decided that I want to pursue a graduate education. I am very excited about this, but also very scared of what lies ahead. Because of this internship, I now have a feasible plan to work towards for the remainder of my time at UT. I realize that as a sophomore, I am in a better position than most as far as applying and getting in to a graduate program. I want to take advantage of the time I have left and continue to learn about graduate school and continue to be heavily involved in research on campus. I have loved every minute of this internship and have started on a path to discovering true research interests and that is what I think will end up carrying me through the triumphs and difficulties that graduate school will bring.

Thanks to the IE program, I am now deeply involved in research that I am passionate about and I have many plans for my future at UT and in graduate school. I am continuing to work in the LSAD with my mentor as a lead on a new study next semester. I am extremely grateful for everything that IE has exposed me to and all the doors that have been opened because of my participation in this program. I cannot wait to see what the future of my undergraduate years hold and I know that because of this program, I am much closer to achieving my dream of becoming a clinical psychology doctoral student.

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