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Dig a Little Deeper: Primary Literature as a Potential Enhancer of Undergraduate Psychology Education
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Mark Evan Klemencic

Major: Biology (Neuroscience Option) & Psychology (Neuroscience Option)
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA

How did you learn about this opportunity?

While I was an undergraduate teaching assistant with developmental psychology instructor Dr. Cathleen Hunt, I frequently conveyed my interest to her about starting my own research project. She introduced me to the opportunity of applying for enrichment funds for the Spring 2017 semester through the College of the Liberal Arts.

Tell us a little bit about your experience.

I acted as a teaching assistant with Dr. Cathleen Hunt in the Psychology Department at Penn State. Through this experience, I gained important insight into the world of education and pedagogy, which truly fascinated me. Specifically, I became interested in the efficacy of textbooks (secondary literature) in teaching undergraduate students about the scientific method. To further investigate this topic, I worked with Dr. Hunt and Dr. Hobart Cleveland (Department of Human Development and Family Studies) to brainstorm ways to test hypotheses about the efficacy of using primary literature (in addition to typical secondary sources, such as textbooks) in undergraduate psychology courses at Penn State. After brainstorming and conducting a literature review, we used online survey methodology and a student sample size of approximately 430 undergraduate students enrolled in psychology courses to collect pilot data for our research questions.

How did this experience impact you academically?

My experience conducting research with two faculty members at Penn State really opened my eyes to the process of developing and carrying out a research project—with this experience, I had the opportunity to go through all of the steps of the scientific method, including developing research questions, creating and testing hypotheses, creating research protocols, developing surveys, conducting literature reviews about research that has previously been done about the topic, and analyzing collected data to arrive at conclusions and identify gaps in the methodology and results that need to be corrected for future study. Although I have engaged with the scientific method in courses that I have taken here at Penn State, this experience allowed me to have more independence.

We are extremely privileged to attend a university that is so heavily involved in research; to not take advantage of the vast opportunities available here would be doing yourself a disservice.

What are your career goals and plans?  How did this experience impact them?

After I graduate from Penn State, I will apply to either M.D., Ph.D. programs to specialize in psychiatry or Ph.D. programs in developmental psychopathology. Either way, my passion is to research behavioral, psychological, and genetic aspects of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). My enrichment experience with CLA at Penn State allowed me to explore my passion for primary literature. Since I am so heavily interested in pursuing research, I am certain that my increased knowledge and appreciation for primary literature will aid me in the future. After all, it is only through keeping up with recent trends and treatment modalities, discussed in primary literature, that I would be able to effectively understand and treat individuals with ASD.

Would you recommend this experience to other Liberal Arts students?

I would highly recommend this research enrichment experience to other Liberal Arts students. We are extremely privileged to attend a university that is so heavily involved in research; to not take advantage of the vast opportunities available here would be doing yourself a disservice. Get involved! It's worth it.

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