The University of Massachusetts Amherst, the Commonwealth’s flagship public research university, is one of the nation's top universities for research as measured by national and international rankings, academic citations, and research funding. The campus spends more than $200 million on research each year, demonstrating its contribution to the nation’s position as a technological and economic leader.
Being such a large and well-resourced research university, undergraduate research is part of the UMass Amherst experience. In addition to course-related research, opportunities for undergraduates include summer research experiences, foreign exchange, internships, scholarships/fellowships, and working in faculty labs. Regardless of major or field of interest, there is an abundance of research opportunities here at UMass that may be the right fit for you.
One of the many labs on campus is the FAM Laboratory, a psychology lab that focuses on ways exposure to stress may impact the parent-adolescent relationship and youth adjustment. The lab is headed by Dr. Evelyn Mercado, an assistant professor in the psychology department. The lab is very new to the UMass campus and is quickly growing with a strong group of undergraduate researchers to help support its endeavors. We spoke with Kolby, a junior psychology major and a research assistant at the FAM Laboratory, to learn more about her research experience here at UMass.
How did you get a research position on campus?
I knew that if I decided to pursue graduate school in the future, having a research experience during my time as an undergrad would be a great benefit to my application. I also was really curious to get a taste of what working in a lab would truly be like.
Since I was interested in pursuing a research experience, I went into advising for psychology and spoke with an advisor who informed me about the whole process. I had to simply Google "UMass Amherst research assistantship psychology" and it brought me to the psychology department page with a list of research assistantships to apply to. They were simple forms I had to fill out. I got called in by a couple labs for interviews, and found the right one for me.
What skills have you gained as a researcher?
I have gained a tremendous amount of skills since taking on this research position. From learning how to research information for the lab, retrieving resources for the outreach team, data management, learning how to use physiological equipment, time management, independence, and learning how to work in a high speed and intense environment, and much more, this research position has sparked much growth within me in such a short period of time. I am very excited to see how I will continue to grow and learn throughout my experience as a researcher here at UMass.
Were research opportunities part of the reason you came to UMass?
Yes! The main reason I chose UMass is because it is a top research campus and I knew that I wanted to pursue a field in science. Even though I did change my major from biology to psychology, there were still plenty of research opportunities within the psychology department for me to explore. For myself, it was great to realize just how many research opportunities there are at UMass in the sciences and beyond. Whatever your major or interests may be, there will likely be a research opportunity here at UMass that will be the right fit for you and your needs.
Have you been able to build on this research experience?
I just recently started my research assistantship and it has already opened a wide variety of opportunities for me. I have a great platform to build up my resume and gain experience, people who will write me letters of recommendation, and opportunities to join a variety of labs and experiments connected to the one I am working for that have helped me grow tremendously just through simply being a part of this lab. I have even become inspired to take on another research assistantship because I enjoy it so much. I highly recommend anyone who is interested in research assistantships to apply early and have fun with the experience.
What is the coolest/most interesting thing about being a researcher in the lab where you work?
Being able to say that I am a part of important scientific research is one of my favorite things about being a researcher in the laboratory I am currently at. My lab studies stress levels in adolescents and how this is impacted by their parents or guardians. Since I am highly interested in the field of adolescent psychology, I take a lot of pride in knowing that I am aiding in the advancement of the field and working toward a brighter future. It is just so impactful to not only do research in a field that you are passionate about, but to know that the hard work you are doing is helping others. It just makes the whole experience so worth it.