The Road to the Undergraduate Research Symposium: Building community through interdisciplinary collaboration

By Aleenah Ansari / Communications Intern

[Writer’s Note: Leading up to 20th Annual UW Undergraduate Research Symposium (URS) on May 19, we shared a bit about each of our research interns and their projects on various topics related to social media and adolescent health via Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. This is the second of three features that outline broader takeaways from the URS and how it allowed current research interns to 1) gain research exposure, 2) develop community, and 3) work toward their long-term career and professional goals.]

When Aubrey Gower, a current research intern and graduating senior from the University of Washington (UW) with a double major in Psychology and Biology, interviewed to join the Social Media and Adolescent Health Research Team (SMAHRT) three years ago, she appreciated that students and staff members on the team represented a variety of disciplines ranging from biochemistry to public health, and everyone has the opportunity to learn from other through collaboration on independent and team projects.

Photo May 19, 4 56 44 PM
Aubrey Gower presents her third and final independent research project with SMAHRT – this study focused on the association of problematic internet use and mobile app use among college freshmen.

“Each person I met with had a unique interest in the research they were doing, but also in the team as a whole. It seemed like there was a lot of availability for growth on the team as well as growth as an individual in terms of research,” Aubrey said. “The way we do research with [social media] is very unique, and they take into account a lot of unique perspectives that bench lab research is unable to do.”

 

An interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to research:

Additionally, SMAHRT’s use of social science research methods like content and statistical analysis and field surveys can be new to interns who have just worked on bench lab work, Josh Scheck, a SMAHRT research intern who is double majoring in political science and biology at the University of Washington, noted this distinction when he first joined the team.

“Before coming here, I had a very specific area of knowledge in molecular biology, and I

Photo May 19, 5 04 07 PM
Josh Scheck presents his research poster on how college preparedness programs engage with users on social media, and the type of content that generates engagement.

was in my niche. Coming into this team was sort of a struggle in transitioning to the social sciences, but it is really rewarding to do this type of research after knowing how to contribute,” Josh said. “Now, I feel comfortable with this research and biology research.”

 

SMAHRT research intern Surupa Sarkar, who is graduating from UW with a degree in Biochemistry, echoed this sentiment and said that working on her independent project by conducting interviews, working on content analysis, and identifying salient themes in her research was a more collaborative process than research she had done in the past. For example, Surupa used concept mapping to identify salient themes from the interviews she conducted for her independent project.

Creating a community among SMAHRT interns and staff:

When designing and implementing their independent research projects, every SMAHRT intern works collaboratively with other SMAHRT research interns, Dr.  Megan Moreno, and other SMAHRT professional staff members. They can provide guidance about the research process, suggestions to identify themes in the data, troubleshoot study recruitment challenges, and strategies to present their findings in an accessible way. SMAHRT research intern Jesse Rohwer noted that he valued being able to meet with Dr. Moreno and receive feedback on his interview questions and data analysis process.

“She’s been really helpful on the project but most importantly, she’s just incredibly supportive. She does so much, and I don’t know quite how,” Jesse said. “There’s that support there, and she also provides very valuable advice on studies.”

To help create community, most of the SMAHRT research interns and professional staff attend a weekly team meeting to go over project progress, receive feedback on their independent projects, and discuss relevant topics about social media in the news and their potential implications on SMAHRT’s future work.

“One thing I really like is being able to discuss with my peers about specific parts of our research. There’s a lot more debate, and you have to come informed to meetings,” Josh said. “Everyone conducts themselves very professionally … but there’s also a time to have fun with people on the team.”

In addition to contributing to discussions during team meetings, SMAHRT research intern Christian Tinoco Vera, who will be graduating from UW Tacoma with a degree in communications and a minor in business administration, noted that all of the interns can provide helpful feedback for steps of the research process ranging from developing a codebook to designing survey questions.

“Other interns are always available, and you can run the surveys or whatever you’re working on [by them], and they can help check for usability,” Christian said. “It’s always good to get someone else’s perspective because you might be biased toward the thing you create.”

Engaging with the broader community:

Beyond the support of other interns and SMAHRT staff members, SMAHRT research intern Chad Rosevear noted that he also received support from his own community, which occurred when he posted his research survey that sought to gauge the relationship between mobile application use and how easily a user will experience personal distress.

 

Photo May 19, 5 05 02 PM
Chad Rosevear presents his research findings about the relationship between mobile app use among college students.

“My friends and family all shared it on their own social media and, in less than a day, I reached my population goal. It was really nice,” Chad said. “My friends were also eager to be guinea pigs when I was piloting the study, which was incredibly helpful.”

 

SMAHRT research interns can also work on projects that connect their research with the greater Seattle community. For example, Josh’s independent project focused on the way that college preparedness programs like the Dream Project at the University of Washington interact with students and volunteers on social media. Josh chose this topic because of his interest in supporting underrepresented students, and he wanted to provide recommendations on best practices that could increase social media engagement.

“I come from a pretty diverse community, and I want to help my [community] get into college too. One thing that made more invested in this project was doing outreach on the team. We went to a community that didn’t have much money, and they weren’t really interested in many topics when we talked about our Seattle Children’s team,” Josh said. “I’m hoping a project like this can reach those types of people and maybe get them more engaged.”

Josh worked with other research interns to identify specific themes across engagement posts, which is part of the process of creating a codebook. Josh noted and other team members provided feedback and suggestions that informed his content analysis.

“With making the codebook, there’s so much discussion about how to create it what should be what. Everyone has a unique perspective,” Josh said.  “It’s very [collaborative], but the goal is to make something we all agree on. That’s difficult but if we get there, it’s really rewarding.”

In addition to the SMAHRT community, interns have the opportunity to serve as mentors during the Summer Scholars program, which can be a valuable opportunity for professional development.

“Almost a week into my internship here, I worked with a lot of students [as a mentor], and I got to experience giving feedback and constructive criticism,” Christian said. “That really helped with understanding [how] to communicate [effectively].”

Ultimately, all of the interns contribute to an interdisciplinary community marked by collaboration, which can be a valuable experience for students as they move on pursue team-based work in their academics or future careers.

Through their work, SMAHRT research interns work on meaningful projects and learn how to share it with the community in an accessible way. Because everyone is impacted by social media on an everyday basis, this research has stakes for everyone in the community.

 

Photo May 19, 5 10 18 PM
Research intern Surupa Sarkar presents on her independent research project, which focused on popular culture’s influence on the college students’ attitudes toward marijuana.

“It’s interesting because we don’t know how your technology use affects us yet since social media is relatively new,” Surupa said. “It’s cool that there’s a research team in Seattle that focuses specifically on social media use with adolescents so over time, we can understand what  the health implications of [it are].”

 

Stayed tuned for our final feature on the Road to the Undergraduate Research Symposium, and read our previous post on the value of research exposure here.

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