A Healthy Half

Wet lab centrifuge and hood, i.e. where they handle the blood and saliva we will collect
Wet lab centrifuge and hood, i.e. where they handle the blood and saliva we will collect
Brandeis Health Psych Lab! Where the magic happens. In the bottom floor of Brown.
Brandeis Health Psych Lab! Where the magic happens. In the bottom floor of Brown.

I’m a little more than halfway done with my summer of Health Psychology, and it is flying by! The Athletes and Stress study is coming along steadily. Currently we are mapping out the different portions of the study, deciding which survey or sample goes at what time, which samples we need to collect on the in-lab study day, and which can be reserved for the take-home portion. It is amazing to see the precision this process requires and the variety of factors that must be considered. For example, if we have participants take a survey about the social support they receive on a daily basis, and this survey makes them realize they are not receiving as much support as they would like, it can trigger feelings of loneliness. This negative affect can influence how participants respond on following surveys, or how they perceive their experience during the in-lab stress test. It is essential for us to eliminate this form of bias as much as possible.

I am feeling more incorporated in the research team and confident in my involvement. I can tell that I am progressing in the lab as I realize I have a voice in the project and can have relevant input. I am also amassing quite a large file on my computer of literature on the subjects we are studying. Here is an example of the type of studies I am analyzing. Luckily, during an internship I held last year at the Brandies Women’s Research Center, I learned how to use EndNote citation software. This has been so helpful in keeping my research organized! The organizational skills I’m fostering this summer will be extremely helpful in my future coursework.

Additionally, my critical reading skills are improving. Originally, I assumed that if the articles I read made it to publication (the psychology student’s dream) they must be relevant to my interests and study. However, I’m learning to be more careful with my scrutiny. Looking at researchers’ motivation and tone, how they collect their data and where the article is published reveals another level of information. Their findings may be true, but for what population or from what angle are they relevant?  Perhaps there is a missing piece of information, or other psychological phenomena taking place that can explain the found association. Between these lines is where I need to look to find the really interesting information that can guide future research.

This is how I am trying to approach the literature review for my independent focus. I’ve decided that I want to examine why and how people communicate about their bodies, how these social interactions translate into internalized body-related attitudes and behaviors, and the larger effects these attitudes and behaviors may have on mental and physical well-being. More specifically, I am looking at the role of “fat talk” communication (a term coined by Harvard Anthropologist, Mimi Nichter), what motivates this kind of discourse and what results it may have. What strikes me most about my research is the volume of work that has been done and is being done. It feels like searching through Mary Poppins’ carpet bag – it just never ends and the findings are stunning! There are always more papers to read, or new angles to examine, or new measures to critique. It is incredible to realize the volume of knowledge that is being generated by researchers around the world, but it is important not to get bogged down or overwhelmed by all the information.

I’m most proud of my personal initiative and organization. I have a lot of freedom with the work that I do – which is both a luxury and a difficulty. I have a much easier time when someone tells me what to research, or when, where, and how to do things. I’ve also found satisfaction doing the more concrete tasks, like working on the online diary, learning to use equipment and organizing the study. During a meeting with my advisor in the lab I was talking to her about all the possible directions my project on “fat talk” could go, and she stumped me with the simplest question. “Why do you want to research this? What interests YOU?” My answer was stuck somewhere between “everything” and “I don’t know.” This is the problem I face when the options are so broad! I’m trying to let these simple questions guide my research and keep bringing me back to the purpose of research – finding interesting questions and important answers.

 

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