Thanks to the generous donation of Dr. Alan and Jennifer Ritter, I was able to pursue a environmental scan project in the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology under the supervision of Marie-Hélène Pennestri. This project examined the communication quality of infant sleep resources aimed at parents in Canada, and gave recommendations for the improvement of these resources in line with recommendations in the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Clear Communication Index. After our analysis, we found that the majority of infant sleep resources from Canadian government organizations did not adequately meet standards of communication quality, which shows an urgent need for the improvement of public health communications so that parents can easily access this information.
I was interested in an ARIA project because I wanted to explore my research interests, especially with the opportunity to do a project in the department where I hope to pursue a Master’s Degree. Additionally, this project allowed me to develop relationships with other researchers who offered me valuable mentorship that will help guide me in my goal of pursuing graduate school in counselling psychology. As a result of the connections I made during this project, in the upcoming academic year I will be doing a year-long research project in the same lab and act as a volunteer research assistant on other projects.
I had several learning objectives when starting this project. Primarily, I wanted to learn how to follow through a research project from the conception stage until the final analysis, which is not often possible as a volunteer in labs, where I have more often helped on smaller sections of multiple projects. I also wanted to learn about environmental scans as a way to evaluate information intended for the general public, rather than a literature review of academic work. Before this project, I had never heard of environmental scans as a research design, so I was able to broaden the kind of methods I am comfortable using in research. My last goal was to learn how to make a research poster, as I will need this skill for my undergraduate thesis and in graduate school. I was able to attend lab meetings where graduate students presented their own research posters and received feedback, which allowed me to have a better understanding of the process. I am looking forward to presenting this poster at the Annual Faculty of Arts Undergraduate Research Event, which will be my first time presenting original research.
A highlight from my ARIA experience was getting to receive so much mentorship, not only from my supervisor, but also the Master’s Degree student I worked closely with, and the researchers of an associated lab at University of British Columbia who collaborated on this project. Any questions I had were welcomed, and I felt I could use everyone I worked with as a source of mentorship, especially when it came to my research poster. Another highlight was being trusted with responsibility on the project, such as being encouraged to lead meetings, train other undergraduate and graduate students on different aspects of the project, and being given the tools to score the data and analyse it myself. This allowed me to foster confidence in my abilities as a researcher to make decisions and pitch my own ideas.
There were times where the project was challenging, mainly because it involved coordinating the efforts of many different researchers, some of which were in different time zones and many of which were busy with other commitments. I dealt with this by communicating clearly with everyone involved about my own project deadlines, and planning out my time to make sure I was staying on track to finish my poster by the end of my internship. This was made possible by being able to work with researchers that were very collaborative and who prioritized my deadlines despite their project timelines being different, which I am very grateful for.
In summary, being a part of ARIA this summer was an unforgettable experience that allowed me to have access to opportunities that I would not otherwise have had. It has already opened doors for me to be a part of further research, and provided me with skills that will serve me in my future career.