Fasika Hailu, a rising senior at the University of South Florida, was one of 10 undergraduate students who packed up, and moved across the country (or, in some cases, around the world). Why? To spend eight weeks working hands-on in a social-personality psychology lab through SPSP’s Summer Program for Undergraduate Research She describes her experience this summer in the below reflection.

My goals for 2017 were to work on my honors thesis, study for the GRE, and look for/apply to social psychology graduate programs. I thought my path was pretty straightforward for 2017, but I was thrown a curveball when the PI in my lab recommended that I look into the SPSP Summer Program for Undergraduate Research.

We were able to gather all the necessary materials and submit my application in the nick of time. Little did I know that a few months later, I would be traveling all the way across the country (from Tampa to Seattle) to begin one of the most rewarding summers of my undergraduate career!

When I first came into the Stereotypes, Identity, and Belonging Lab (SIBL) at the University of Washington, I was given a very informative orientation by the lab manager. She went into detail about the ins and outs of the lab and what was expected of me as an RA.

I was pleasantly surprised by the order and thoroughness of this lab, but it also made me realize that an unfamiliar amount of responsibility would be given to me. I was a bit nervous, but all of my concerns were solved after speaking with my mentor (and PI of the lab), Dr. Sapna Cheryan.

We were communicating quite frequently over email before I came to Seattle, but speaking with her in person on that first day really set the stage for the rest of my time in her lab. She assured me that we could move at my pace, but that all my goals for the summer would be completed with the help of her and everyone else in the lab. I was excited for the challenge the summer would bring!

The first project I worked on was an intervention project with Dr. Cheryan. This was totally new for me, since I have never really done intervention research. It was very fulfilling to know that this project could directly help people even before its completion. I spent a lot of time making the materials, and constantly meeting with Dr. Cheryan to make sure we were on the same page about everything.

Our meetings were where I felt I had learned the most during my time here. We talked about research in ways that I hadn't before, and I felt like I had fully immersed myself in the research process starting my first week there. By the end of my eight weeks in the lab, we had already run two studies. I felt like a mini-graduate student!

I also spent a lot of time working with a graduate student, Laura Vianna. We worked on a project together that was still in its beginning stages when I got there. Laura was determined that I would learn all the steps of the research process by working on this project with her.

It was so nice to know that not only did Dr. Cheryan want to mentor me every step of the way, but other people in the lab were making sure I would learn as much as I could out of this experience as well! My main goal in working with Laura was to become more familiar with SPSS. With a lot of guidance from Laura, I learned how to write syntax. It was a bit intimidating at first, but I came to understand how useful it is and it actually started to make my life way easier when it comes to analyzing data!

Not only did I become a better researcher through this process, but I was able to learn even more about graduate school and how to prepare myself for it. I feel as though these past eight weeks in the SIBL lab have shown me that I absolutely am on the right track; I feel much more confident applying for graduate programs this fall and even more excited to continue doing research!

I am forever grateful to SPSP, Dr. Cheryan, SIBL, and friends of the lab for one of the best experiences in my undergraduate career!