The Road to the Undergraduate Research Symposium: Projecting forward to graduate school and future careers

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 final feature in a series of articles that outlines 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.]

Research interns at the Social Media and Adolescent Health Research Team (SMAHRT) work toward a variety of long-term goals that could include medical school, graduate programs, or a career in social services. Regardless of the specific industry they enter, most interns are looking for outlets to positively impact people’s lives in some way. Learning how to design and implement an independent research project at SMAHRT can help students develop skills to work toward this long-term goal.

For research intern and recent University of Washington (UW) graduate Surupa Sarkar, working with SMAHRT taught her that data analysis was an integral part of research, and the project introduced her to new social sciences research methodologies like content analysis and code book development.

“With this internship, I’ve learned that there are so many different ways to analyze your data through programs, whether it’s quantitative or qualitative data,” Surupa said. “I’m hoping to use what I’ve learned about data management and hopefully go to school for biostatistics.”

Photo May 19, 5 04 41 PM
Nikki Singh presents her independent project on themes of alcohol and alcohol safety messaging on Facebook event pages.

Similarly, SMAHRT research intern and UW student Nikki Singh identified an interest in health care early on her college career, but she initially didn’t know how she wanted to contribute to the field. Through conversations with other SMAHRT interns, Nikki identified a strong interest in public policy as an outlet to create impactful change.

“Through Dr. [Megan] Moreno, I connected with past interns who have worked here, and I’ve talked to them about where they are now,” Nikki said. “It’s nice to connect with all these different careers so I know what my options are.”

Nikki also gained exposure to legislation and policy after working on the bullying research project, which focused on creating a conceptual model for cyberbullying and standardizing the language of bullying policies in the United States. Now, Nikki hopes to pursue a Master’s of Public Health in epidemiology or statistics to prepare her for a potential career in public policy reform.

SMAHRT research intern Jesse Rohwer is also interested in public policy but wants to

Photo May 19, 5 21 07 PM
Jesse Rohwer presents his poster on the ethical codes for social service providers, and how they address client-professional interactions on social media.

work in social work or behavioral science, and he will be graduating from Seattle Central College this spring with a degree in Applied Behavioral Science. Because of these interests, Jesse chose to focus his independent research project on compliance of social science professionals with ethical codes.

“Other than being interested in the ethical sides of social media, the most interesting parts of my program have dealt with public policy and political economy,” Jesse said. “I’ve gotten the impression that that’s where the work gets done and things really change, and I would like to get involved with it and possibly [have] a career [in it].”

Photo May 19, 5 12 18 PM
Marina Jenkins presents her findings on the discourse among parents about vaccine attitudes on parenting blogs, and how these attitudes are influenced by events in the community related to vaccines.

Before joining SMAHRT, research intern and recent graduate Marina Jenkins had previously explored different aspects of the humanities, epidemiology, and disease-oriented research methodologies through her coursework in biocultural anthropology at the University of Washington. She noted that this internship allowed her to build on this past experience and identify a new research question to explore.

“I have been particularly interested in subjects relating social media use to health outcomes, or representation of health information on social media,” Marina said. “[This] caught my attention [when I was] being introduced to some of the projects here and their applications to public health.”

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

For other SMAHRT research interns like Chad Rosevear, working on a research project at SMAHRT provided more exposure to the healthcare field, which is where he wants to work in the future.

“I want to pursue a career in medicine or biomedical research. While the SMAHRT team is not necessarily either of those, it has provided me with valuable professional skills as well as many networking opportunities,” Chad said. “It has challenged me to learn how to work independently for something that will be fantastic in the long run.”

Although many SMAHRT interns are interested in careers related to epidemiology and health care, these research skills can be applied to any industry. SMAHRT research intern Christian Tinoco Vera will graduate this spring with a degree in communications and a minor in business marketing from UW Tacoma, and he believes that working on his independent research project will prepare him to work in the marketing and consulting industry.

“Going into marketing, it’s interesting to see what drives consumers to do certain behaviors,” Christian said. “This project gave me an opportunity to look into how students think and what influences them.”

Although all SMAHRT research interns may go on to a variety of industries or careers, their research questions and projects can inform interventions, programs, and policy that impact current and future social media users.

“There’s a lot to learn from social media, and it’s something that influences teenagers, young adults, and even children right now. We need to do a lot of research to figure out who it’s influencing, and how we can utilize [this knowledge] to create interventions,” Jesse said. “We can strengthen interventions if we build better trust with [the community].”

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