This summer, nine students from five different universities participated in the Center’s inaugural Summer Internship Program. Each intern supported the Center’s mission through research with a host site, supervised by a Center researcher or affiliate scientist. In this Research Spotlight, we highlight the experience of three interns and how their summer placement has shaped their career goals and future research ambitions.
A rising senior studying psychology at Boston College, Cayley was placed with Center Affiliate Dr. Elyse Park
at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). Cayley supported the Frontline Clinician Resiliency Study, which assessed the efficacy of the Stress Management and Resiliency Training Program (SMART-3RP) with clinicians who are currently treating COVID-19 patients. “My involvement in the study was extremely rewarding, and I was particularly excited to observe the weekly resiliency groups where eight Partners Healthcare doctors shared their trials and triumphs on the front line of patient care while learning adaptive stress coping strategies,” she said. “I felt tremendous respect and gratitude for the clinicians in this group and for those aiding on the frontlines everywhere.” Through her internship, Cayley gained familiarity with both qualitative and quantitative pre- and post-intervention data, as well as exposure to an interdisciplinary environment. “Each week, I attended numerous meetings in which MGH faculty members and affiliate scientists met to present their current research projects,” Cayley said. “Regardless of the specific focus of a researcher’s specialty, the community of doctors, nurses, and psychologists offered support and insights to their colleagues.” Cayley will continue her internship with MGH into the fall and is eager to explore interventions that promote emotional well-being during the pandemic and beyond. “My conversations with the talented professionals I encountered helped to clarify my educational and career aspirations in psychology,” she said.
An MPH candidate at Boston University and an ECFMG certified physician, Ashima Dogra came to the Center with an interest in understanding chronic stress and its role in physical health outcomes. Her placement with Center Affiliate Dr. Gregory Wagner
at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, under the co-supervision of Dr. Susan Peters
, allowed her to fine-tune her understanding of research methodology and to gain first-hand experience writing for two different research papers. “One thing that surprised me the most about research is the amount of active learning the process involves,” Ashima said. “There’s a perfect blend of creativity, in terms of proactive research questions, and intricate data analysis.” Ashima’s support centered on the development of an instrument to assess well-being in the workplace, a project which received seed grant funding
from the Center. “Finding quantitative evidence for your hypothesis and watching it come together as a paper is highly fulfilling,” said Ashima, who will be listed as an author when this work is published. At the conclusion of her internship – which was extended through August – she plans to apply for medical residency. “I want to understand and diagnose chronic stressors before they convert into somatic conditions,” she said. “I hope to do that on both a clinical level as a physician, and on a population level as a public health researcher.”
For Dora Nathans, a rising junior at Brown University, placement with Center Affiliate Dr. Leslie John
at the Harvard Business School provided an opportunity to explore behavioral questions at the intersection of economics and psychology, Dora’s two academic majors. Over the course of her internship, Dora worked on four projects, each headed by a different researcher in Dr. John’s lab. Dora’s contributions included a literature review on the function of play, transcriptions of mock interviews for an AI language-detection project, and data-coding for both a negotiations study and a study on parental rituals and emotional well-being. In this dynamic environment, Dora observed high levels of collaboration among researchers. “I was struck by how often researchers give each other feedback while developing their papers and brainstorm together about interesting ways to study a given phenomenon,” she said. “It was exciting to watch the faculty and doctoral students I worked with really feed off one another’s ideas.” For Dora, one of the summer’s highlights was seeing doctoral student Serena Hagerty
present her work on wealth inequality and moral judgments about consumption. “In my experience, we tend to analyze the wealth gap through the lenses of economics and public policy, but to hear about the insights we can glean from studying inequality from a psychological/human behavior perspective was powerful,” Dora said. “In terms of my next steps, it has made me determined to gain research experience in that area.”
A complete listing of our summer 2020 interns is available here.