Food for Thought
Whatever you do, don’t think about oranges.
Don’t think about their round shape, their bright, textured skin, and their aromatic sweet smell. Just don’t.
So you thought of an orange — and that’s ok. We know it’s hard not to precisely because that’s what our brain is built for: rapidly processing and translating stimuli from our five senses into information, thoughts, and impressions of the world around us. In microseconds, we weigh all of this against what we know, what we think we know, what we feel, and what we have experienced.
Given a certain set of variables, the study of psychology then becomes about understanding and predicting what factors might correspond to thoughts and behavior.
From understanding how a certain customer demographic will respond to commercials, to the ways in which children develop a code of ethics, to yes, even why you thought about oranges after you were told not to — the College of Science psychology program works to explore the deepest inner workings of our brains and uncover why we do what we do.
Introduces students to the role of culture in psychological science. Discusses the relationship of culture to psychological theories and research.
Offers beginning students a general overview of the effects of drug use/abuse in many segments of society with particular attention placed on the collegiate population.
Introduces the range of topics that are of concern both to psychologists and to members of the legal profession. Covers the legal and ethical issues inherent in the conduct and process of professional psychology.
Experiment with Experience
Co-op is a cornerstone program for Northeastern University, and the psychology department is home to a variety of co-op opportunities for students. From real-world settings such as Boston hospitals, conducting research in labs both on or off campus, working in these spaces allows students to gauge their likes and dislikes about different psychology careers before making a commitment.
Center Support Teacher at Bright Horizons
“During my co-op, I really loved being able to provide positive guidance to all of the children at the center in order to augment their self-esteem as well as to encourage good behavior. Ever since my co-op came to an end, I realized that I had a preference for interacting with the toddlers at the center. This has made me more aware of the fact that if I were to pursue Speech-Language Pathology as a career then I would definitely specialize in Early Intervention.”
Clinical Research Assistant at CARE Lab, McLean Hospital
“I recently completed my second and final coop at the CARE Lab at the Behavioral Health Partial Program, an acute psychiatric clinic at McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School. During my time there I worked on several grant-funded research projects that focused on targeting various cognitive processes, such as impulsivity and cognitive interpretation bias. Being trusted to administer a clinical assessment was an amazing opportunity that I did not imagine I would be given as an undergraduate student.”
Research Coordinator at CORE Lab, Northeastern University
“For my first co-op, I worked as Research Coordinator at the Conceptual Organization, Reasoning, and Education Lab, a psychology lab on campus. The lab is focused on cognition and education, studying how people organize and apply their knowledge about the world around them. As Research Coordinator, I acted as a bridge between the undergraduate Research Assistants, graduate students, and principal investigator of the lab and made sure the lab was running smoothly and efficiently. One of my favorite parts of this co-op was making connections with so many different people. The undergraduate RAs come from many different majors and all had very unique interests, providing so many new perspectives on the projects. Working with lots of different research assistants and graduate students gave me the chance to expand my own ideas and knowledge.”
Human Factors Co-op at QinetiQ-NA
“During my co-ops, I used motion capture suits and eye trackers to make human-technology interactions more functional. The acquisition of the skills has allowed me to be a competitive applicant in the current job market and has given me the confidence needed to land my dream job at an amazing company, straight out of my undergraduate education!”
Research co-op in the Interdisciplinary Affective Science Lab
“I had previously done a co-op at another cognitive science lab, leading me to believe that working at the IASL would be more of the same. While some surface features remain, the experience I have thus far received at the IASL is significantly different, and no less valuable than that from other placements. Overall, the experience has been enlightening, and most of all fun. I foresee that some of the skills, both technical and professional, that I learn here will be invaluable in the world of active research.”
Research Co-op at Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
“First of all, I came to Northeastern University because of the co-op program. Co-op gave me the hands-on clinical and research experience I so craved and needed, allowing me to figure out whether my mental goals were on point in reality. Most importantly to me, though, I was able to hone my manner of interaction with patients by working closely with them for weeks at a time and administering the non-invasive brain stimulation, which as you can imagine, is a very personal therapy. Developing a rapport with the patients—something I could really only have done in a setting like my co-op at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center— and helping them was my favorite part of co-op: their gratitude was inexpressibly rewarding to me.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic tears through the United States, this strikingly challenging year is shaped by the growing number of casualties and widespread unemployment. In addition to these devastating ramifications, the pandemic also brought to a halt much of scientific research that was not related to the deadly virus.
March saw temporary closures of many university laboratories, including those on Northeastern’s campus in Boston. For many graduate students at the College of Science, these several months of suspended science have proved to be a trying time.
“I paused my research for about 3 months,” said Letícia Angelini, a PhD candidate in the Biology program. “My research mostly depends on [laboratory] bench work, so I, unfortunately, could not make much progress during the time I spent at home.”
Tim Duerr, also a Biology PhD candidate, was one of the few graduate students still allowed to come to the lab during the quarantine months, but not to do research. He helped take care of the lab’s colony of water salamanders. The salamanders had human company in the lab every day, unlike their attendant. “Occasionally I’d see people in the building, but most days I did not. The only interaction I had with people on campus is with the University police officers that let me in the building each day,” said Duerr.
For Duerr, running his experiments on salamander limb regeneration and socializing with his labmates are the best parts of his work, but the quarantine erased those enjoyable activities. “So it has been very disheartening and lonely in the lab,” added the salamander scientist.
Back to the lab
Now, Massachusetts is reopening and researchers have returned to Northeastern’s campus. But the pandemic is far from over, and it is critical to continue observing the safety guidelines that are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These guidelines are central to research resumption at Northeastern.
Before returning to the lab, researchers had to submit a safety plan and have it approved by the university’s Environment, Health, and Safety office. They also completed a safety training model on practices to reduce transmission of the virus. Finally, all scientists must wear masks and practice social distancing while in the lab.
Brandon Miller, a PhD researcher at the Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department, described that he and his labmates work in shifts, ensuring that the lab occupancy is at half of its pre-COVID-19 capacity. Their lunch breaks are staggered, too.
“Additionally, we change our gloves and lab coats more frequently than before,” said Miller.
Working from Home
With the labs locked down, graduate students strove to stay productive while working from their living rooms – which often came with complications.
“Meetings with my group have been challenging,” said Amin Abou Ibrahim from the Physics program. “Meetings and discussions via Skype may not always be ideal.”
Laboratory scientists found themselves adjusting to an unfamiliar work environment. Brandon Miller shared that his writing-heavy quarantine workload kept him looking at a computer screen for an unusually long time. “My eyes would be so strained by the end of the day and it was harder for me to focus as the day went on,” said Miller.
Staying at home can undermine not only productivity, but also mental health. Homebound researchers shared their strategies for mitigating cabin fever and anxiety.
“I think the best thing to do to maintain good mental health is exercising,” said Letícia Angelini, who went on plenty of runs while socially distancing and wearing a mask. Summer Harvey, a PhD candidate in Psychology, agrees. An avid runner, Harvey increased her mileage to 50-60 miles a week during the quarantine. This impressive workout regimen (the distance between Boston and Providence!) may not be feasible for most non-athletes, but it helped Harvey keep her mental health in check.
Non-exercise ways to maintain mental well-being can include picking up a new hobby or rediscovering an old one – like cooking. “My new quarantine hobby is cooking traditional Colombian recipes (passed down from my mother),” said Andrea Unzueta Martinez, a PhD candidate at the Department of Marine and Environmental Science at Northeastern’s Nahant campus.
Even in quarantine, graduate students managed to meet their milestones. Tim Duerr, who passed his PhD candidacy exam over a Zoom call, admitted that this remote format was less stressful than a traditional presentation to a roomful of dissertation committee members. “The worst part of it all was being unable to celebrate with people afterwards,” shared Duerr.
Some PhD candidates even completed their programs. “I already defended [in the] end of May via Zoom and it went well,” said Amin Abou Ibrahim, who now holds a PhD in Physics.
However, this lengthy hiatus in research is likely to delay dissertation completion for some College of Science students who are still collecting data. Those whose research is “wet lab”-based, or relies on conducting experiments in a laboratory setting, are at a particular disadvantage. “I feel it’ll be very hard to catch up on the experiments I need to perform in order to finish my project,” said Letícia Angelini, who studies how bacterial communities grow.
Brandon Miller at the Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department echoes this sentiment. His research focuses on synthesizing chemical compounds that are typically produced by bacteria – and those experiments must be done in the lab. Because of the quarantine and the current reduced work schedule, Miller predicts that his graduation will be delayed by at least six months.
PhD students who can conduct their research remotely are more optimistic. For Summer Harvey, the campus closure has not been too disruptive to the dissertation progress. The Psychology PhD candidate, who studies accuracy of personality judgments, spent the quarantine crafting her dissertation proposal – the research plan for the rest of her program.
With the campus reopening, Harvey expects to stay on track with her research progress. She will start conducting experiments with human participants this fall, which can also be done remotely if necessary. “I’d just have to figure out a way to run participants virtually, which wouldn’t be impossible,” said Harvey, adding that the logistics behind this option are still not ideal.
Working from home was also not a hindrance for some graduate students in the final stages of their programs who have already acquired their data. For Andrea Unzueta Martinez, the finishing line is in sight despite the quarantine. Martinez, whose research is about host-associated microbiomes in marine creatures, used the time in the lockdown to analyze data and write her dissertation chapters, and she expects to graduate on time.
Hopes for the Future
Back at the bench, Northeastern’s PhD researchers are facing limited work hours and reduced density in the labs. Although rubbing elbows with labmates helps create an atmosphere of collaboration, in-person teamwork gives way to public health regulations. Scientists are resting their hopes for research continuity on the new rules.
“I really hope the safety measures we’ve been applying in the lab can prevent us from having another lockdown,” said Letícia Angelini, expressing many researchers’ wishes.
Northeastern’s guidelines on the reopening can be found here.
There are plenty of misconceptions about COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. And that’s especially true during a time when false information about the disease, the virus, and possible treatments is so hard to counteract.
Different misconceptions about the coronavirus—about how it gets transmitted, and how it leads to COVID-19 complications, for example—can result from a limited understanding of microbes and disease.
Misconceptions can also arise from a mix of different beliefs and ways of thinking that people inadvertently use when they try to make sense of things they don’t fully understand, says John Coley, an associate professor of psychology at Northeastern who has been studying those thinking modes for the past 10 years.
Have you been hearing of the “Murder Hornet” in headlines recently? Assistant Professor of Psychology Ajay Satpute weighs in on the fears of the murder hornet, a huge wasp that recently showed up in the Pacific Northeast. Satpute says fear can play a functional role in society to handle different problems. Without fears toward certain circumstances, people and animals wouldn’t be motivated to take useful and corrective behaviors.
Psychology Professor David DeSteno says that instead of confronting people for going against public health guidelines, it might be more fruitful to have a conversation that emphasizes how wearing a mask could help protect others at risk, and not just oneself.
Seeing other people engage in behaviors that might be harmful to others could evoke anger and frustration. But even when those feelings might compel people to turn into mask vigilantes, it’s best to focus on how those behaviors can help protect people who are more likely to develop complications. Don’t approach an uncovered face with hostility, DeSteno says.