Paths to Research: Faculty Mentorship Leads to Independent Research

By Adwoa Imbeah (psychology and Africana studies)

I signed up for First Experiences in Research (FE-R) in my first term at Pitt because I was curious about what research entailed. I was given a list of more than 50 different labs I could work with. Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology Melissa Libertus’ Kids’ Thinking Lab was my first choice. The lab focuses on what factors may predict whether some children are better at math than others.

While working in the lab, Dr. Libertus encouraged me to make my own independent project researching Spontaneous Focusing on Number (SFON), which determines how well children pay attention to numbers in everyday situations. (Our prediction is that 3- and 4-year old children who perform well at SFON are also good at math.) With her encouragement, I applied for and received the Summer Undergraduate Research Award (SURA) to conduct this research.

This is just one of the multiple opportunities Dr. Libertus has presented to me. (She also encouraged me to present at a psychology conference, something I never would have imagined myself doing as an undergraduate!) As a research mentor, she gets to know each student in the lab and makes an effort to see each student, whether in lab meetings, one-on-ones, or just popping into the lab.

Undergraduate research is an excellent opportunity for students to get lab experience and discover whether they have a passion for research, especially for those who want to go to graduate school.  While researching as an undergraduate, I was able to make personal connections with faculty and graduate students in the psychology department who have given me advice and guided me on my post-graduation plans.

As a psychology major, I knew I wanted to do research in that field, but I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to study. When I joined the lab, I became interested in education and academic differences among children, which my work in the lab helped to instill in me. Now I know that, after Pitt, I am interested in going to graduate school for education or clinical psychology.