Written by Keenan Jenkins, GRC and graduate student in the Department of Psychology
I am the Graduate Research Consultant for PSYC260: Honors Social Psychology, taught by Dr. Melanie Green. In this class, the students learn about how humans can affect each other’s thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. I took PSYC260 in 2008, during my first semester as an undergraduate at UNC; by the time the first class period ended, I was certain that I wanted to go into social psychology. I hope to light a similar fire in the students by showing them how exciting research can be.
Recently, I spoke to the class about the Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference, which was held in New Orleans, LA from January 18-20, 2013. This conference boasts the most current and compelling research in the field. I explained to the students that while reading about previous research (as they often do for class) is a great way to learn about fundamental concepts in social psychology, attending conferences is a great way to learn about what is happening right now and what advances are being made in the field.
For example, I shared with the students one of the more interesting lines of research I learned about at the conference. This research, being conducted at the University of Virginia, is investigating how race, socio-economic status (SES), and physical space interact with one another. Researchers found that low-SES people take up less physical space (i.e., sit cross-legged, legs hunched together) in a common area than high SES people, who tend to stretch out and even lay down. Because SES is often linked to race, the space effect is present between races, too. Perhaps the low-SES people felt less entitled to the space, felt more like visitors than the high-SES people. To relate more to the students in PSYC260, I posed this question: Would you feel more comfortable stretching out and lying down on the quad at UNC (a place you felt you belonged) or at Duke (a foreign territory)?
I also spoke to the students about more local conferences that they could get involved with, such as the UNC Celebration of Undergraduate Research. I presented at this symposium in 2012, and I valued the experience to be able to present my research not only to psychologists, but scholars in different disciplines from all over campus. I will definitely be encouraging the students to attend (or present!) at the CUR this year.