After spending last summer working as a cashier for a Safeway grocery store in Portland, Ore., I was very adamant about finding a more intellectually stimulating (and less customer service related) occupation for the summer of 2007. From the beginning of my third year, I had been planning to apply for summer research in psychology at Grinnell. I waited for an e-mail from the psychology department notifying me how and when to apply, but no such e-mail was forthcoming.
I got impatient and started trying to look up said information on the school’s website. To my absolute horror, I found that the deadline to apply for summer research was the previous day. I frantically e-mailed my adviser, asking if it would be possible to get an extension, only to be told that the psychology department wasn’t actually hosting any research assistants this summer because of the Noyce construction. My heart sank, and I began to mull over alternate possibilities for summer employment. Perhaps I could wait tables or make pizzas (I do have an extensive background in food service). None of these options sounded very appealing, but I had promised myself that I wasn’t going to spend another summer watching TV at my parents’ house.
In a stroke of tremendous luck, I received a different e-mail the next day saying that psychology professors were, in fact, hosting researchers, and that the application deadline had been extended to the following Monday. Alone in my room, I squealed with joy at my renewed possibilities for academic employment. I quickly but carefully filled out applications for each available research position.
Then, I waited. And waited. And, just for good measure, I waited a little bit more. By the time spring break rolled around, I had pretty much resigned myself to flipping burgers or sprinkling cheese on dough once again. Just as I was about to hit the maximum freak-out point — stuck in April with absolutely no summer plans — I received an e-mail from Professor David Lopatto offering me a position as a summer researcher. In less than a day, I had managed to go from intense stress and disappointment to ecstatic joy. I was going to get paid to do psychology!
Throughout the course of this summer, I have been working with Professor Lopatto and another student, studying the epistemological and vocational impact of the summer research experience on undergraduate students. Yes, you read that correctly. My summer research project is to study other summer research students. We began by reading a series of articles on previous empirical studies in this field, which was a very strange experience. My first day as a summer researcher, I was reading about how the research experience helps students solidify their graduate school plans, increase their sense of belonging to the scientific (or, more broadly, academic) community, and improve their research and communication skills. I had to wonder, would I be receiving all of these same benefits, even though my project was somewhat more unorthodox? Or, would knowing these were the things that were supposed to happen to me prevent them from actually happening? (I mean, a watched pot never boils, right?)
I became more and more interested in the topic. I’ve even caught myself referencing articles about the various stages of epistemological development in casual conversation with my friends. Fortunately, they are all Grinnellians and are willing to put up with my massive nerdiness (with the implicit agreement that I won’t judge them when they excitedly bring up obscure historical details about the Civil War Reconstruction period).
Summer in Grinnell does have the occasional setback. Hot, humid days without air conditioning, the responsibility of having to pay rent and feed myself, and the lovely task of researching in the science library as the cacophony of construction occurs not 20 feet away spring to mind. However, I am still extremely grateful to have been offered this opportunity, and I’m very appreciative of the fact that Grinnell does such as excellent job of providing research experience to its students.
Lindsay Dennis '08 is a Psychology major from Beaverton, Oregon.