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Spotlight on undergraduate research

The most rewarding part of psychology major Margaret Sanders’ research experience was the opportunity to design and conduct her own study from start to finish.

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Research Week showcases the exciting work of undergraduates across campus and highlights opportunities for students interested in getting involved. Co-sponsored by the Senate of College Councils and the School of Undergraduate Studies, Research Week takes place April 11-15 this year. To celebrate undergraduate research and creative activity, we’re highlighting profiles of student researchers.

Margaret Sanders
Major: Plan II and Psychology
Research Topic: The Effect of Categorization on Judgments of Paintings
Faculty Supervisor: Dr. Bradley Love, Department of Psychology

“With this undergraduate research experience, I feel prepared for graduate school and confident that I will be able to make the most of it from the start.” — Margaret Sanders

Briefly describe your research project.

What makes a urinal a piece of art when Duchamp puts it in a museum, but not when we see it in the bathroom? The overarching goal of my research is to explore how categorization affects the process of engaging with a work of art: identifying the object as art (or a urinal), noticing the perceptual qualities of the piece, culling some sort of meaning from it and experiencing a particular sort of pleasure in the engagement. In my study, I created a categorization task to examine the effects of implicit and explicit categorization on participants’ ratings of painting value and beauty.

How did you become involved in research?

I became increasingly involved in research over the course of my time at UT. I first volunteered as a research assistant (RA) in one of the psychology labs on campus the summer after my freshman year. Although I enjoyed learning how to guide participants through the experiments, I found myself wanting to be more involved in the actual research design. The next year, I had the chance. In a different lab, my fellow RAs and I helped review the literature, discuss hypotheses and design questions. I feel very grateful to the principal investigator on that project for seeking out and respecting our input, even if we were undergraduates. That experience helped solidify my interest in conducting my own research, and I was lucky to have the opportunity to do so through the Psychology Honors program.

What was the most rewarding part of your research experience?

The most rewarding part of my research experience was the opportunity to design and conduct my own psychology study from start to finish. Having participated in many different parts of the research process, from being a research participant to collecting data to designing questions, I relished the chance to direct the creative aspect of the project. It was very satisfying to use the tools I had learned in my classes and the labs where I’d worked to answer some of my own questions about art.

How do you think getting involved in research will be helpful to you in the future?

Getting involved in research has given me a much better idea of what I want to do and ways to go about doing that. I am more familiar with the process of conducting research in psychology and comfortable with the methods and statistics that are used. With this undergraduate research experience, I feel prepared for graduate school and confident that I will be able to make the most of it from the start.

What advice would you give incoming students about getting involved in research?

I would advise incoming students to get involved in research no matter what, and to get involved early! Participating in research is such an enriching, invigorating experience, and UT offers so much support for undergraduate research that it would be a missed opportunity not to get involved. Conducting research has certainly been one of the best parts of my experience at UT.