Research is commonly imagined as medical doctors in white coats sitting in a lab testing different chemicals. In reality, seeking to find new conclusions can be fun, productive and interesting to any student.
Katie Smeraglia, a senior at Auburn majoring in psychology, chose her major because she enjoys learning about the human condition and interactions between people.
Smeraglia realizes graduate school is a necessity in becoming a practicing psychologist. Good grades and an engaging personality are looked for when applying to graduate school, but researching under a professor is essential in proving work ethic and determination as a student.
“I realized that if I wanted to do anything graduate level in psychology I needed to get involved in a research lab on campus,” said Smeraglia. “Luckily, Dr. Knight was my orientation to psychology professor and I became interested in her research.”
Dr. Elizabeth Brestan-Knight is an Auburn psychology professor who researches Parent Child Interaction Therapy.
PCIT is a treatment for conduct-disordered children that strives to improve the quality of the parent-child relationship. In PCIT, parents are taught skills to create a nurturing and secure relationship with their child while improving the child’s behavior.
“I’m really interested in what’s the best way to observe a child and parent together and what’s the best way to have information you can give to the parent so you can say this is the type of parenting we’re seeing,” said Knight.
PCIT intrigues Smeraglia because it focuses on a warm relationship between the parent and child. As a senior, she is overjoyed that she got involved in research early on because it helped focus her plans for the future (pictured below).
“Being in this lab has helped me realize how much I love working with children, especially children who have behavior problems, and it has also really helped me refine my research area of focus for when I apply to graduate school,” said Smeraglia.
Knight explains that although many undergrads shy away from asking to become involved in research too early, she loves it.
“I love when I get freshmen coming my way," said Knight. "That way I can train them up and then we can have several years of working together so we’re real productive.”
A simple application is all it takes. Grade point average, grades in psychology classes and why a student is interested in psychology are included in the application.
“To go and work as a psychologist you have to go to continue your education at grad school and it is very competitive. Getting involved in research early looks great on any grad school application,” said Knight.
Auburn's Department of Psychology website has a list of professors who are conducting research with a summary of what they are studying. Anyone can simply send an email to the professor asking to get involved. Although the research starts out as volunteer work, it can turn into class credit or even a paid position.
Not only are the topics interesting to students like Smeraglia, there are also exciting perks to researching under a professor.
“Working in Dr. Knight’s lab I’ve been able to do things like code, analyze data and watch many therapy tapes,” said Smeraglia. “I’ve also been lucky enough to go to several conferences including one in the Bahamas (pictured right), which was awesome, to present a research project.”
Psychology professors conduct diverse research ensuring any student could find a place that suits their interests. While thinking about graduate school, picking a profession or having the opportunity to travel and learn, psychology research is fundamental in the process of becoming a psychologist.