Thao (Kelly) Pham's Summer 2018 SPUR Reflection

Thao Pham headshotOn the day that I received the acceptance email from SPUR, I also found that I was chosen to be one of the ten participants in the most competitive summer research internship program at my home institution. I had two options: going to Texas to intern in a medical research lab at the Texas Medical Center or going to California to work in a psychological research lab at UCSB. It was a hard decision to make, but traveling to Santa Barbara to work in Dr. Shelly Gable's Emotion, Motivation, Behavior, and Relationships (EMBeR) Lab was one of the wisest decisions I have ever made.

Before coming to UCSB, I was excited yet nervous. Being the awesome advisor as she always is, Dr. Gable connected me with Roxie, a former SPUR participant who was a Ph.D. candidate at UCSB at the time, so that I could get some advice and pep talks from her. In addition, knowing that I was interested in working with children, Dr. Gable asked Dr. Zoe Liberman, a developmental psychologist whose lab does studies with infants and toddlers, to co-mentor me.

Throughout the time at UCSB, I got involved in multiple research tasks including recruiting participants, doing literature reviews, running participants in the lab, coding experiments, and analyzing data. I was exposed to a huge dataset of a longitudinal study on romantic relationships and was tasked to come up with hypotheses and test them. I also appreciated the opportunity that Dr. Liberman gave me to develop and conduct a study of my own on children’s willingness to share.

The most valuable part of the SPUR experience was that I got to live as a pre-PhD student for two months. As an undergraduate student at a small liberal arts institution, I had never had the chance to interact with graduate students and to learn about their lifestyles. Moreover, the professor-student dynamic at a private college is remarkably different from that of a public university. It was a privilege for me to be able to see the differences and embrace the experience that I have had.

SPUR helped strengthen my research skills, deepen my knowledge in the field of psychology, and intensify my passion for social psychology. For the first time in my life, I saw a dataset with more than five hundred variables and taught myself a programming language, R. Also for the first time in my life, I individually developed and conducted a research, from the start to the end. The excitement I got when I found significant results was genuinely awesome.

Thanks to SPSP and the SPUR experience, I learned how much I love exploring the datasets, making educated guesses, testing my hypotheses, and eventually seeing a small p-value. The many moments when measurements did not work and when p-values were terribly large were exceptionally memorable. Those moments taught me that the field of psychological research includes both excitements and hindrances. Nonetheless, the highs are worth the lows.

Prior to SPUR, I thought that I needed to take a gap year or two to better prepare myself for graduate school. However, I am much more confident about my qualifications now and have decided to apply this coming academic year. I have the characteristics and have learned the essential skills to become a good researcher. Moreover, I am determined to become a social psychologist and focus on the study of interpersonal relationships.

I was fortunate to be one of the SPUR participants and to have Dr. Gable, Dr. Liberman, and their graduate students, Vinnie Wu and Diane Lee, as my mentors. I hope to continue to learn from them and their work, to potentially collaborate with them in future studies, and to see them at future conferences.

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