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With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Jenna Sung is a recent graduate who majored in Psychology and Education. She was awarded a Spring 2017 Independent Grant which she used to conduct research on mathematical competence in children under Dr. Stella Lourenco. 

I am a senior currently participating in the honors program in the Spatial Cognition Laboratory. My advisor is Dr. Stella Lourenco and I am currently investigating the research question: Does Mental Rotation Training Enhance Mathematical Competence in Children? Spatial ability is strongly correlated with mathematic competence and plays a crucial role in children’s education (Uttal, Miller, & Newcombe, 2013), specifically STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). However, the causal links between space and math is largely unstudied limiting the practical implications of the relationship. The study tested whether there is a causal relation between spatial and mathematical abilities by implementing a novel online-at-home mental rotation training and then assessing the impact of training on children’s math performance. Results indicated that our training was successful and spatial training significantly enhanced mental rotation scores. However, we found no evidence of transfer of enhanced spatial performance to mathematical competence. These findings have important theoretical and practical implications and may impact future training studies and real-life applications.

The Challenges and Rewards of Independent Research

Jit Hui Tan is a recent graduate who majored in Psychology. She was awarded a Spring 2017 Independent Grant which she used to conduct research on the cultural dynamics of elder care under Dr. Nancy Bliwise.

Embarking on an independent research project evokes many occasions of self doubt and self criticism. Two recurring, and unhelpful, rhetorical questions float around my head frequently: “Why did I put myself through this?” and “I will never make it.” The journey to completion seems long, almost impossible, and yet time seems to fly by and the deadline looms ever closer. Despite this depressing opening monologue, there were very genuine reasons for setting myself on this path. It began with the ambition of having an experience that would be novel, challenging, and set me apart from others. As the term ‘independent’ prefaces, an independent research project gave me the opportunity to exercise control over a research question of interest. Personally, I have a strong interest in the aging population and elderly people. However, there were few psychology research opportunities at Emory that overlapped with my interests. Doing my own research allowed me to delve into a subject that, while I had no formal education of, intrigued me. Luckily, I managed to find a professor/advisor that was not restricted to a particular psychology lab and allowed me free reign to explore my topic of choice: family and cultural predictors of willingness to care and ageism. While there are several days I begrudge not having a full laboratory of graduate students and existing data to support me, I am immensely grateful for having such freedom to shape and mold my project. That, I believe, is very important: let your project be driven by a question that you personally have about the world, because your personal inquisitiveness will sustain you through the arduous times.

Student Narratives of Mental Illness

Nathaniel Sawyer is a recent graduate who majored in Interdisciplinary Studies of Science and Society and Human Health. He was awarded a Fall 2016 Independent Grant which he used to conduct research on navigating mental health resources at Emory under Dr. Kim Loudermilk. 

For the Fall 2016 semester, my research has so far centered on collecting and analyzing student oral histories of their experiences navigating mental health concerns at Emory University so as to better understand the health outcomes, positive or negative, that are being seen by individuals who are struggling with poor mental health who come into contact with Emory’s mental health resources—the centerpiece being Emory’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). A large reason for my interest in both this method and this particular line of inquiry is the existence of a data gap in the evaluation of the efficacy of university mental health systems, both at Emory and at other higher education institutions across the nation. Previous mental health task reports internal to Emory, as well as the general academic literature base, tend to focus on quantifiable metrics of “success”: utilization rates, timely access to services, and staff to student ratio. As such, in-depth qualitative, and quality-focused evaluations of student experiences with resources that are supposed to support their mental health are absent—and as such, the most relevant stakeholders are being unintentionally excluded from having their voices heard and communicated in an impactful, effective way.

A Step Into the Scientific World


Wendy Lee is a junior majoring in Biology. She was awarded a Fall 2017 Conference Grant which she used to attend the 2017 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students.

As my first research conference, ABRCMS 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona, has provided me with an eye-opening and career-launching experience. In contrast to the only research presentation experience I’ve had, which was a small-scale poster symposium at the end of the SURE program at Emory last summer, the ABRCMS biomedical research conference gathers undergraduates, graduates, post-docs, and medical professionals for a 4-day intensive workshop with hundreds of poster presentations occurring concurrently. The wide variety of scientific disciplines, including engineering, chemistry, psychology, etc., provided me an opportunity to be exposed to the current advancements and recent research in the fields that I am unfamiliar with. Through the conference, I was also able to meet scientists who are also studying RNA binding proteins. For instance, I met a medical scientist from the University of Michigan at the phone charging station, and we had an extended conversation about how to further study a specific poly-A RNA binding protein family in neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders with different techniques. He also provided me with his first-hand experience of the M.D/Ph.D track, defining the goals and the outcomes and results of this career path. Our conversation even extended to nutrition and disease, as his clinical practice deals with ALS and dementia patients who would require extensive nutritional care. I’ve never been adept in networking, but with this pleasant exchange, I suppose networking wasn’t that difficult after all. 

Lithium and the Kidney: Love it or Hate it?



Grace Swaim is a senior majoring in Biology. She was awarded a Spring 2016 Independent Grant which she used to conduct research on the effect of lithium on kidney cells under Dr. Mitsi Blount.


This semester has had a drastic change in research for me. For the past year and a half I have been studying the effect of lithium on kidney cells-specifically, how long term lithium treatment causes irreversible kidney fibrosis. Through my research, I investigated MMP-9, a protein that is responsible for remodeling the extracellular matrix and is implicated in fibrosis in a number of systems.