Undergraduate researcher pursues a deeper understanding of medical decision-making
Emma Cyr, Commonwealth Honors student in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, has been working as a research assistant in the Affect and Social Cognition Lab. We asked how her research endeavors have informed and prepared her for a future in medicine.
Can you tell us a little bit about the goals of your research?
Feelings and emotions are present in many aspects of our everyday lives, and they can provide valuable information that can shape our judgments, thoughts, and actions. Research on emotions and social processing (the mental activity of actively interpreting events to process and use that information to form judgments) helps us understand how emotions influence medical decision-making among healthcare providers when treating patients with mental health and/or substance use disorders. If we as researchers better understand how experiences affect patient care, then we can educate providers about effective strategies to cope with their emotion in order to decrease diagnostic errors.
How did you get this opportunity as an undergraduate?
I was initially recruited to UMass with the Provost Undergraduate Research Fellowship program (PURF). The PURF program gives up to 50 entering students a one-time award to apply to the cost of a research project under the mentorship of a faculty member. This program is designed to promote early and sustained research training.
One of the responsibilities of the PURF program is to take part in a seminar class during your first semester here at UMass, and one of our assignments there was to reach out professors. That’s how I connected with Linda Isbell, my current mentor. I remember feeling anxious as I walked into her office to discuss her research, but the moment we began to talk, we clicked. It was a coincidence that my career goals and her current research aligned so well. Coming into the interview I was unaware that Isbell had recently received a grant to begin research on diagnostic error in the emergency department. I intend to pursue a career in medicine, specifically emergency medicine, so after sharing this information with Isbell, this seemed like an amazing research opportunity.
"Being involved in research is already helping me to explore career options 'close-up'"
Are there experiences or guidance you’ve received at UMass that have clarified your path?
When I came into UMass as a freshman, I never thought I would be conducting research. Honestly, I was not even certain what research involved. Yet after only four semesters as a research assistant, it has already played a fundamental role in my life at UMass. Being part of a research lab continues to shape and enrich my UMass experience by providing me with excellent opportunities that I could never obtain inside a classroom or from reading a book. These opportunities provide me with essential skills that are allow me to contribute to exploration and development of knowledge through the application of qualitative and experimental research methods.
As a member of a large research team, I have learned how to balance collaborative work and individual assignments. Being involved in research is already helping me to explore career options “close-up,” and develop meaningful relationships with faculty mentors, graduate students, and peers. It’s allowing me to hone my leadership skills, sharpen my critical reasoning and independent thinking skills, become more creative, and discover knowledge in the course of exploring my passions.
Doing this research has opened my eyes to some of the challenges both healthcare providers and patients face in the emergency department. It has shown me how these challenges affect both providers’ and patients’ emotional experiences, and ultimately patient care. Years from now when I am working as a nurse practitioner, I hope I can take this information we have learned from our research and apply it to how I practice so that I can deliver the best possible patient care. I hope that I will be more aware of my own emotions and how my emotions may be affecting both myself and my patients.
Besides your research, what else are you up to?
I have always been a service-oriented person, and I am passionate about helping others. I currently work as an EMT-B for both UMass EMS on campus and Pioneer Valley EMS based out of western Massachusetts. As someone who has struggled with chronic Lyme disease, I am also passionate about health and fitness. I am an ambassador for F45 Hampshire Meadows which is a functional fitness gym located in Western MA. I enjoy pushing myself and others to be the best possible versions of ourselves.
What’s next for you, both in your research, your studies, your career path and goals?
I am excited to continue to dive deeper into the research that I am currently involved in. In May, I presented the results of this research at the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine medical conference, which was a very rewarding experience. I not only want to continue to code and analyze data, but I also want to become involved in other research studies and hopefully publish this work before I graduate from UMass. All of these opportunities will deeply enrich my academic experience and better prepare me for obtaining my RN degree and eventually my Doctorate in Nurse Practice. I want to continue the academic successes that I have already achieved at UMass, and I want to continue to enrich my college experience both academically and professionally—both inside the classroom and outside of it.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of UMass Amherst or the College of Natural Sciences.