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Undergraduate research: Helping define career goals

Each month on Know the Senate of College Councils will shine the spotlight on one undergraduate researcher. This month, psychology major Sarah Kettles talks about her work on The Facebook Project.

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A wealth of knowledge and opportunities is available to undergraduates who choose to get involved in cutting-edge research at the university. The Senate of College Councils, which co-sponsors Research Week, is showcasing the work of one undergraduate researcher a month, in this new Q-and-A series appearing on Know.


Sarah Kettles

“I love working as a research assistant and I really enjoy that my duties allow me to work with participants, and also assist with study design and administrative processes behind the scenes,” says Sarah Kettles (pictured). Photo: Yoon Hoo Lee

Name: Sarah Kettles
Hometown: Mansfield, Texas
Year: Junior
Major: Psychology
Background: Sarah Kettles is a head research assistant (RA) in the Laboratory for the Study of Anxiety Disorders, working with Dr. Mike Telch and graduate student mentor, Annie Steele. She currently assists with two projects in the lab: The Facebook Project, a study looking at social anxiety and response to negative feedback in online social networking contexts and also in face-to-face contexts, and a cyberbullying study that is currently in development.

Senate of College Councils: How has your involvement in research benefited your educational experience?
Kettles: Research has defined my educational experience at UT and I honestly cannot imagine my academic life without it. It has allowed me to look at the world in a different way and know that no question is something that isn’t worth answering. I have learned, experimented and formed new goals and desires through my experience in research that I am confident will continue to drive me through the completion of my undergraduate degree, as well as through graduate study.

What interested you in particular about “The Facebook Project?”
There are two things that immediately interested me about The Facebook Project. First, I remember being acutely interested in anxiety when my Psychology 301 professor first lectured on it during my first semester at UT. I wanted to learn more about it and I was very grateful that I ended up in a lab that has an anxiety component in every study it produces. Secondly, I am truly a woman of my generation and very interested in social media. Computer-mediated communication and the social norms and rules associated with it are a breed entirely separate from face-to-face interaction. The thought of exploring social anxiety within the realm of a tool that I use every day really caught my attention. Plus, who wouldn’t like to be on Facebook and be able to call it work at the same time?

How has your supervising faculty member or graduate student inspired you?
I have worked with Annie for almost three semesters and I feel that she has had an incredible impact on my career. She is constant source of advice that I admire, and someone that I can always count on to answer questions. More importantly, she has provided me with more opportunities than I can count to get involved with research, as well as professional workshops and events. Annie inspires me to work harder, and produce better products each and every day. She is committed to my success and my career in psychology and I am extraordinarily grateful for that.

Why do you believe research is such an essential part of an undergraduate education, the university and the world?
Research really opens up thinking about your educational experience during your undergraduate education. Prior to participating in research, I had a very linear view of my education and often felt as if I was completing requirement to please someone else, rather than myself. Research allows you to take control of your education, discover what drives you and makes you happy, and ultimately teaches you skills in ways that few lecture courses can. It’s an opportunity to work one-on-one with world renowned faculty and highly accomplished graduate students, and truly shows you the worth of learning and education. These are skills that translate from my academic life into my everyday experiences with the outside world. I’m grateful to have those experiences and critical thinking skills and I look forward to the day that I can make an impact on the world as profound as those with whom I work with on a daily basis.

How has the research you have carried out influenced your career path or other academic goals?

Research has not only helped me to discover my career goals, but to define them as well. I attended the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies convention in San Francisco last November, and the research that I discovered there as well as the research that I continue to conduct here at UT have established my research interests and goals. Research has also taught me that I have the capacity for learning at the highest level, and my love for it has led me to strive everyday for acceptance into a Clinical Psychology Ph.D. program upon completion of my undergraduate degree. I hope to continue my research in graduate school, as well as chart a path for myself in both academia and clinical work.