The Practical Benefits of Being a Research Assistant

September 20, 2019

Gabriel Shubert ’20

Samantha Fitzsimmons Schoenberger ’17 came to Grinnell completely undecided about a major. At one point she seriously considered studio art. After taking a few psychology courses in her first and second years, she decided to focus on psychology

Samantha Fitzsimmons Schoenberger ’17
Samantha Fitzsimmons Schoenberger ’17

“I found that I was using psychological theory as the lens with which I approached other academic courses and extracurriculars. Psychology helped me make sense of what I was learning in religious studies courses, what kind of art I was making, and the crisis hotline work I did for the Grinnell Advocates program.” 

She spent three years working as a paid research assistant for Ann Ellis, professor of psychology. By her fourth year, Fitzsimmons Schoenberger was Ellis’ leading research assistant and mentored other student psychology researchers.

Immediately after graduating, she went to Malaysia as a Fulbright Scholar. There she researched health care access and stigma in populations of HIV-positive people who use drugs in a majority Muslim context. “Grinnell prepared me to check my privilege as a white researcher in a foreign country and gave me the tools to conduct research on my own,” she says. Fitzsimmons Schoenberger is grateful for the confidence she gained for conducting independent research at Grinnell.

Today she works as a senior research assistant at Boston Medical Center with a dually trained pediatrician and general internist, balancing six or seven projects related to substance use among young adult populations. “The reason I feel competent doing something like this is because I did it as an undergrad.”

Much like her time working in Ellis’ lab, Fitzsimmons Schoenberger supervises research assistants in quantitative data collection, while her focus has turned to qualitative work. “Now that I am a researcher and in charge of other people, I see how that experience in Ellis’ lab really prepared me for what I do professionally and how I approach mentorship,” Fitzsimmons Schoenberger says.


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