Miriam Morales Suarez headshotPhases: Becoming a Better Diversity Researcher

Long before the application process for the SPUR opportunity, I knew I wanted to work in a social psychology lab that addressed race, gender, ethnicity and the social dynamics and complexities that these categories imply in our current times. Steered by these research interests, I began a journey that took me way from my island of Puerto Rico to Duke University—one of the most prestigious universities in the country at the center of the diverse city of Durham, NC.

As part of my SPUR experience I had the privilege to work under the guidance of Dr. Sarah Gaither, lab manager Terri Frasca, and a group of other talented scholars in the psychology and neuroscience department. Coming from a university with limited opportunities to conduct psychological research, I was fortunate to have been successfully matched with a research mentor who was eager to share what diversity research within social psychology has taught her and how much it is needed today with both her students and the world.

During my first week, I was trained on four ongoing research studies in the Duke Identity and Diversity Lab that focused on face perception across human development, cross-race interactions, biracial identity denial and its effects on biracial health, and gender and racial stereotype threat. Through these studies, I had the opportunity to see experimental research methods put into practice through serving as both an experimenter and as a confederate participant (someone who pretends to be another participant as an accomplice of the experimenter to create a planned social interaction).

In order to collect face perception data from young children, I also went to the Museum of Life and Science in Durham weekly to recruit and run kids for one of the most popular studies during the summer—a project looking at ambiguous Asian/White face categorization in children. It was during those visits where we interacted with children and parents from the broader Durham community, strengthening yet another important skill as a diversity researcher.

In addition to running various empirical studies, I also gained more research experience pre-testing surveys from other researchers in the lab, rating and coding new stimuli for upcoming projects, and I began to learn how to program surveys in programs such as Qualtrics. I also learned how to code non-verbal cues and behavior from previously recorded interracial interactions ran in the lab. This task required me to do detailed observations of human interactions and rate participants’ non-verbal cues that ranged from body movements to facial expressions and affect. Undoubtedly, these sets of skills are key for researchers who, like me, aspire to explore the effects of everyday social interactions on minorities.

This research opportunity enabled me to further my understanding regarding the complex dynamics that surround diverse identities from a social psychological angle. Not only did my time in this lab propel me to strengthen my previous knowledge I came in with, but this experience also pushed me to learn how to properly implement and utilize experimental methods within both community settings and with racial and ethnic minority participants. Participating in SPUR also provided me with the opportunity to receive graduate school advice and to network with scholars from all over the country.

My days at the Duke Identity and Diversity Lab made me a better scholar, positioning me at the forefront of experimental methods within social psychology, while at the same time providing me with the opportunity to engage and talk about science as a diverse field with the Durham community. More than ever, I am eager to continue my path as a researcher who seeks to contribute to the broader understanding of intersecting social identities and the multiple effects those identities have on our daily lives.