First Week (back) in ParaDEIS

As a WOW fellow I am so happy to be joining a group of engaged, motivated and adventurous students. While this year’s WOW fellows span the globe from India to LA, South Africa to Vietnam, I have begun my summer work in more familiar ground: Waltham, Massachusetts. I am working in the Laboratory for Biological Health Psychology right here at Brandeis University. Though my surroundings are familiar, my experience thus far feels new and exciting. Waltham as a city has much more to offer than I realized: local cuisine (Lizzy’s Ice Cream? In a Pickle?!), a farmers market en plein air,  a beautiful bike path, an outstanding thrift shop, and there’s still more to find! I am living independently and looking forward to this opportunity to expand my self-reliance and personal initiative.

Health psychology is a fascinating new field, and I am particularly interested in it as I intend to pursue a career that promotes both psychological and physiological wellness. The Laboratory for Biological Health Psychology investigates how psychosocial states – such as anxiety, depression, acute stress and chronic stress – can affect our health, and the intracellular pathways that link these mental states to physical outcomes. I became interested in this lab while taking Health Psychology at Brandeis. I expressed my interest to my TA, and she put me in contact with the professor in charge. I began attending lab meetings, and was offered a position as a summer research assistant.

As a research assistant in this lab I am primarily working on a new, upcoming study known as Athletes and Stress. The lab team consists of one head professor, several Ph.D. and masters students, myself, and one other undergraduate research assistant. This team is inspiring, diverse, friendly, helpful and funny, and it is an enjoyable environment to work in. Athletes and Stress is a large and long-term project looking at differences in the emotional and biological stress response in student athletes, active non-athletes, and minimally active. The purpose of this study is to examine the extent to which these three groups differ in their stress responses, and determine the potential contributing factors for these group differences.

My lab responsibilities are varied and will change over the course of the summer. While we await final project approval from the Institutional Review Board, I am being trained in the lab protocol and procedure, learning about equipment use, helping to set up and format the two-week take-home diary portion of the study, and doing literature search and review. Next week I will also be joining a subgroup within Athletes and Stress. This group of graduate students is working on writing papers from different angles relevant to the study. I will be helping find sources for their papers, peer-edit their work, and engage in frequent group discussions.

I will be concentrating on the diary portion of Athletes and Stress as I am being allowed to do an independent focus on data collected in the diary. For this independent portion I am doing lots of literature review.  If you’re interested in learning a bit more about how stress affects our health and the types of research being done in this area, check out this fantastic documentary on the work of Robert Sapolsky. Sapolsky is a neuroendocrinologist and professor at Stanford University, and a leading researcher in this field.

This summer I am looking forward to learning the many steps that go into conceptualizing, creating, and conducting a psychological study. Since I am joining in its preliminary stages, I have the chance to see how a research question is developed into a full-fledged study.  I hope to learn what sort of complications psychological researchers face and how we can overcome these obstacles. I also hope to learn what aspects of research ignite my interest and my personal challenges and strengths. I think this will be a summer of learning and growth, and I am excited to have begun!

– Clara Gray ’15


3 thoughts on “First Week (back) in ParaDEIS”

  1. It sounds like you’re really making the most of your internship at the Health Psych lab! Do you work with Professor Wolf? I actually saw Sapolsky’s Stress documentary in Sports Psychology this past semester when I was taking Prof. Wolf’s Sport Psychology course. We also read excerpts from his book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. I highly recommend that you take the course if you get the chance- it sounds perfect for you!

  2. Hi Clara,

    I think the work you’re doing in your lab is really interesting and important. It seems like a lot of people are researching either psychological or physiological problems, while not many people are investigating the connections between the two, even though they appear to be clearly related. You mentioned that you are allowed to do an independent focus on data collected in the diary. Do you know what in particular you want to focus on?


  3. Hi Ricky and Avi! Thanks for your comments 🙂 Yep, Professor Wolf is in charge of the project. Sports psychology sounds like a great course; I’ll definitely consider it. I read part of that book for Health Psychology with Professor Rohleder! I really liked how it was written – easy to read and full of good information.

    Avi, yes that’s what I find so interesting about health psych! It just makes sense to me that psychological and physical health should be studied in conjunction. I’m working on creating my actual hypothesis and methodology for my personal focus, and I’m finding it to be quite the involved process. I want to look at how social communication about body-related attitudes and behaviors correlates to internalized body-esteem variables, and how these variables may relate to broader psychological and physical health concerns. More specifically I’m looking at “fat talk,” which basically refers to a type of communication where people openly complain about and criticize themselves, usually with the intention of receiving positive feedback from peers. I’m still working on making it a bit more focussed and deciding exactly what I want to measure, but it’s an exciting process!

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