PULLMAN, Wash. — The second annual Washington State University Psychology Undergraduate Research Symposium will be Thursday, April 15, and involve poster presentations by 11 student researchers.

The lecture will begin at 3 p.m. in the Samuel H. Smith Center for Undergraduate Education, Room 203. Posters showcasing psychology undergraduate research projects will be available for viewing from 2-5 p.m. in the atrium of the Smith Center. Presenters will be on hand to answer questions about their research from 4-5 p.m.

Research titles range from “Understanding text: Online inferences and memory operations after severe closed-head injury” to “Habituation: An investigation of the role of the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus.”

“The symposium formally recognizes the outstanding research being done by undergraduate students who are working in collaboration with psychology faculty members,” said Samantha Swindell, director of undergraduate studies in psychology at WSU.

Kristie-Lea Kelley, a senior psychology major from Seattle, will present poster highlights of her research on “Reversibility of postpartum hormone withdrawal-induced depression through the use of an antidepressant.” Kelley worked with professor Rebecca Craft and used an animal model of postpartum depression to examine whether behavioral changes caused by postpartum steroid hormone withdrawal could be reversed by antidepressants.

After graduation from WSU, Kelley will do an internship followed by graduate school and hopes to do field research overseas.

“My experience in research goes onto my resume as well as my transcript,” Kelley said. “I feel that it gives me an edge over other applicants and shows my responsibility and determination to potential employers/grad programs.”

Summer Sweet, a senior from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, is pursuing degrees in both neuroscience and psychology and agrees that undergraduate research is a tremendous benefit for her goals. Her research project, conducted with professor Paul Whitney as her mentor, examines how decision-making affects performance on a gambling task.

“This experience strengthened my knowledge about psychology, and I hope that the knowledge and experience gained will benefit my future goal of graduate school,” Sweet said. Her plans also include medical school. “I hope this experience, along with my previous experience with neuroscience research, makes me a first choice candidate,” she said.

Kelby L. Holtfreter, a senior from Yakima, also has sights on medical school and envisions a career that alternates between teaching and practicing preventive medicine. “I hope to become specialized in the holistic nature of the body, which will include an extensive knowledge of physiology and behavior,” Holtfreter said. 

Working with professor Jay Wright, Holtfreter tested the effects of altering brain function on an animal’s behavior. “Being encouraged to produce and develop research proposals at the undergraduate level is very motivating and inspiring,” she said “It gives a student the chance to test out areas of interest in research and further helps to decide post-graduation plans.”

Shea Colleen Bower, a senior from Tumwater, worked with professor Frances McSweeney to examine how changes in the dietary properties of a food stimulus affect the rate of responding for that food stimulus. She sees multiple benefits from her research experience.

“My experiences involving research will aid me in my future goals of becoming a valued researcher in the field of behavioral analysis. The opportunity to perform my own research will contribute to better performance and acclimation in any type of scientific environment. It promotes flexibility in problem solving and critical analysis of theoretical concepts,” Bower said.

Undergraduate James Bales, working with faculty member Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe as his mentor, is examining the relationship between inferential processing, memory deficits and comprehension among individuals with severe closed-head injury.

Bales said this research experience has caused him to alter his plans for the future. He still wants to attend medical school but says he now believes he should also get a doctorate in psychology. “I now feel that medicine without understanding the foundations of research is rather pointless. I hope to combine my knowledge of medicine and clinical psychology,” he said.

Emily Verbon is a senior from Fall City. She said she reaped unexpected benefits while working on her project with faculty member and mentor John Hinson. Verbon’s project investigated how impulsivity may be a risk factor for alcohol abuse or dependence among college students.

“It helped me to improve many skills such as time management, verbal and written communication and collaborative skills,” she said.

Verbon hopes to attend graduate school and get a clinical doctorate, specializing in pediatric therapy. She hopes to have a career involving a child life specialty. “Although my current research is not directly related to the field,” she said, “it has taught me many skills that will enable me to pursue my goal. Graduate school and PhD. programs require a lot of research, and with this background, completing such projects should be a lot easier.”

Positive student comments about their undergraduate research opportunities in psychology are proof positive for professor Swindell who helped create the student research symposium.

“Our department believes that research experience is an invaluable learning experience for all undergraduate students,” Swindell said.  “It teaches students how to think analytically and critically. It improves their writing. The symposium gives them the opportunity to polish their oral-presentation skills. These skills apply to a variety of future career goals, whether those goals include the pursuit of an advanced degree in psychology or immediate entry into the job market following graduation.”

The research symposium includes an invited lecture to be given this year by Dr. Carl Swander, a WSU alumnus and owner of Ergo metrics and Applied Personnel Research Inc. in Edmonds. His talk, “The Future of Hiring: Research Drives Exciting Advances in Job Simulation,” will highlight the value of applied research and how this research is being used to answer important practical questions.

“Specifically, he will demonstrate how a new generation of sophisticated computer and video-based simulation tests is being used to place candidates into a variety of high-profile jobs,” Swindell said. She added that Swander’s talk would be particularly relevant to people interested in psychology, business, computer programming and communications.