Sometimes, breaking out of your comfort zone is exactly what it takes to understand your capabilities.
Two Miami University students uncovered new insights about themselves during a trip to Chicago to attend the Association for Psychological Science Convention last May.
Senior psychological science major Savannah Wells and senior psychology and neuroscience co-major Sophia Thompson presented a poster about undergraduate students’ understanding of autism. Thompson co-authored the poster with Camilla McMahon, associate professor of Psychological Science. Wells was Thompson’s lab partner at the McMahon Autism Research Lab in Hamilton.
They attended the meeting after receiving several travel grants from Miami Regionals, including a grant from Regional Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Moira Casey. The trip led to many eye-opening realizations for the students about themselves and their futures.
“This was such an amazing experience for me,” said Thompson, a student at the Oxford campus. “We had psychology professionals asking us questions. It was intimidating, but I gained some confidence in my abilities by being there. I would love to do it again.”
Wells agreed that the exposure expanded her horizons.
“I learned a lot of things I wasn’t expecting,” said Wells, a student at the Regionals. “I saw how vast the field of psychology really is. For example, I saw how it plays a role in artificial intelligence, which inspired me. I may never have generated this interest if I hadn’t attended the conference. I was also able to talk to other professionals and learn from their perspectives.”
She also gained a new sense of self-confidence after achieving several “firsts” as a result of the trip.
“I was so nervous because I had never traveled by myself before,” she said. “I felt I learned a lot about my independence through this. I had never attended an academic conference, and this allowed me to develop my skills in public speaking and personal conduct as well.”
In a thank you letter to Dean Casey, Wells wrote: “Before this opportunity, my experience was limited to the classroom settings at Miami University. I found that presenting at a conference allowed me to apply the work conducted in the lab to the real world. This was challenging for me, as I had never presented or discussed research outside of Miami classrooms. However, being able to navigate this novel location with my lab partner allowed me to have confidence when engaging with others.”
Casey said she enjoys supporting students and instructors bringing their collaborative work to external audiences. “In my current position, I don’t get to work directly with students very much, so fielding and granting these requests allows me to stay in touch with the work they are doing.”
Both students said the travel grants were important in their ability to attend the conference due to the high cost involved in travel.
“I wouldn’t have been able to go without the grants,” Thompson said. “It would have been very expensive. Several departments (at the Regionals) gave us funding. Everyone was so helpful.”
After graduation, Thompson plans to attend graduate school to study pediatrics and neuroscience. Wells plans to go on to earn her Ph.D. in neuropsychology. Her dream is to put her skills to work for the military.
Wells said she would encourage any student who might find lab experience intimidating to go for it.
“It can be scary applying to labs and then going to conferences, but it might be the thing that makes all the difference,” she said.
McMahon said she was happy the students felt rewarded by their experience, and she urged all students to consider opportunities to learn outside the classroom.
“Learning begins in the classroom, but it doesn’t end in the classroom,” McMahon said. “I encourage all students to explore creative learning opportunities, such as serving as a research assistant for a lab, a peer tutor for a college course, or an intern for a local nonprofit organization. If you’re not sure where to start, reach out to a professor, advisor, or mentor to help you brainstorm creative ways to extend your learning beyond the classroom.”
Note: Travel grants are available through multiple sources at Miami Regionals for conference presentations. For more information, consult with an instructor or advisor.