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Students participate in important research at IU Northwest

Psychology alumnus Angela Phillips receives regional research award at national conference


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Emily Banas
Office of Marketing and Communications

Erika Rose
Office of Marketing and Communications

“If you want to pursue a higher degree in psychology, you absolutely need research experience.”

Though spoken in reference to her particular field, this advice from recent Indiana University Northwest graduate Angela Phillips applies to most other disciplines, as well. Aiming to get the most out of her education, Phillips went looking for a research opportunity and found herself in the office of Assistant Professor of Psychology Frances Daniel, Ph.D., who invited Phillips to assist in her research.

It did not take long for Philips to formulate her own project. Daniels told her about the Undergraduate Research Fund (URF), a program in which upper-level students can apply for an opportunity to engage in a faculty-sponsored research project. A URF grant furnishes financial support and a stipend, along with the most invaluable asset of all -- hands-on research experience.

Phillips received the grant, launched her research project, entitled “Effects of Gender and Ethnicity on Memory for Criminal Events,” and presented her findings at the College of Arts and Sciences’ (COAS) Undergraduate Research Conference in early April. She later presented it at the annual meeting of the Midwestern Psychological Association (MPA) in Chicago in May.

Psi Chi, the National Honor Society in psychology, was so impressed with Phillips’s work that the organization presented her with a regional research award, an honor bestowed upon only 24 researchers out of more than 430 submitted abstracts.

Phillips, whose interests lie in social psychology, said she formulated the project after reading some interesting prior research. Researchers had discovered that, when asked to recall a criminal event, women tend to be more accurate observers. However, men tend to express more confidence in the accuracy of those memories than women.

This intrigued Phillips, especially given the importance of eyewitness testimony in court cases. She wanted to replicate studies that revealed this nuance, but she wondered whether ethnicity might also play a role. Phillips suspected that ethnic stereotypes people hold might influence what they remember about a crime.

Under the direction of Daniel, Phillips conducted part one of her experiment with students who were taking core psychology courses. She asked them to read two passages describing a non-violent crime, with the details varying slightly for each. One week later, the participants were asked to recall what they had read previously and to write down as many details as they could remember. They were also asked to rate how confident they felt about the accuracy of the information they had recalled.

With 28 subjects and only four males in Phillips’s research sample, it turned out that her preliminary results were not statistically significant. However, as Phillips learned, this is all part of the learning experience.

Phillips hopes to continue her research while at the same time pursuing graduate school and eventually a doctorate in social psychology. She aspires one day to be able to put her research to work in the legal system.

“It’s possible this whole field of research, of looking at the accuracy of witness memories . . . could have a big impact on the court system and how much importance is placed on eyewitness testimony,” Phillips said.

Research opportunities like the one Phillips enjoyed are abundant at IU Northwest. Students at larger universities do not always have access to such research projects or the financial support to carry them out. Oftentimes, the research to which students contribute is published in professional journals or otherwise creates real-world impact within their disciplines and beyond.

For example, during this spring’s Public Affairs Week, sponsored by the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, 10 student researchers presented data they’d collected and analyzed from area hospitals in order to investigate the need for a trauma center in Northwest Indiana. Under the direction of Associate Director of SPEA Samuel Flint, Ph.D., the students showed that Northwest Indiana qualifies for a trauma center. The research is being used by physicians and administrators to help establish the case for funding a trauma center in the region.

During the 2011-12 academic year, 14 students took advantage of the Undergraduate Research Fund and more than 60 students presented research projects at the April conference. In addition, IU Northwest’s Office of Academic Affairs also provides travel grants support students’ travel to conferences to present research.

Another resource is IU Northwest’s Minority Opportunity for Research Experience (MORE) program, which strives to connect students from minority or low-income populations with faculty mentors on research projects.

Still another is the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSMAP) program, which is designed to increase substantially the quantity and quality of students, especially underrepresented students, who study Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. LSAMP offers science and math majors the opportunity to receive a stipend for doing research in their major field.

“When you get involved in your own project, something that you create, you are invested,” Phillips said. “It’s hard as an undergrad to know where to look for resources to begin your own research project. That’s where I think Dr. Daniel was helpful in that respect. She brought this to my attention, that IU Northwest has this entire fund of money that they want to give students to start their own research projects.”