Name: Ann Jeanette Santos
Internship, Co-op or Research Site: UMBC Department of Psychology - Behavior Analysis
Position Title: Research Assistant
Current Class Level: Junior
Work Term: Summer 2020
Tell us about your internship, co-op, or research opportunity, including your day-to-day responsibilities.
This research opportunity allows me to work closely with one of the assistant professors at UMBC, Dr. Mirela Cengher, BCBA-D. In Dr. Cengher's lab, the goal is to research procedures that will enhance the learning of individuals with developmental disabilities, most notably, Autism-spectrum disorder. My current duties include reading up on current literature to become familiar to what is known about procedures already in place for behavior analysis, creating experimental materials, such as Institutional Review Board (IRB) documents and Qualtrics surveys, and taking interobserver agreement (IOA) data. Because Dr. Cengher has a special interest in learning about language development and skill acquisition, I have been reading about how individuals learn foreign languages and how individuals best learn new information. Most of my work during quarantine is in preparation for when we are able to return to engaging with participants face-to-face, or for finding online substitutes for projects. I was also graced with the opportunity to learn how to program online experiments using experimental software. Every week I meet virtually with my mentor/supervisor, Dr. Cengher, and we review what I have accomplished for the week and what my goals should be for the upcoming week. Since I work in a team of research assistants, I also meet with the other research assistants every week to two weeks to discuss what we have accomplished individually and as a team.
Describe the process of obtaining your position. When did you hear of the position and submit your application?
At the end of the Spring semester, my PSYC 210 (Psychology of Learning) professor posted an announcement about a research opportunity happening during the summertime. Since the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of my initial internship opportunity, I was excited to hear that this research opportunity would be held remotely in the comfort of my own home! To express my interest in joining Dr. Cengher's research team, I emailed Dr. Cengher in May and she sent me an Interview Form to complete. After I sent back my interview form, we scheduled a virtual interview a week later and she asked me questions to see if I would work fittingly in her lab. A week later, I was informed of her interest in working with me as her research assistant.
What have you enjoyed the most about your position or organization?
Working as a research assistant this summer has sparked an interest for pursuing behavior analysis as a career in the future and further ignited my passion for working with children with developmental disabilities in the future. In addition, I have been able to push myself out of my comfort zone to learn things I never thought I would learn how to do. For example, I have had zero experience in programming/coding, and although it was not an easy process, I am proud to say that I have learned a little bit about coding through putting together online research material. Dr. Cengher has also grown to be one of my greatest mentors as she talks me through applying for graduate school, learning more about Applied Behavior Analysis and allowing me to explore my own interests as her research assistant. Although there is work that I have to complete, I have full freedom to let my research mentor know what my areas of interests to study are, as well.
How do you believe you have made an impact through your work?
Through my work, I am helping to improve teaching procedures that will enhance learning for children with developmental disabilities, like Autism-spectrum disorder (ASD). Although there are procedures currently in place to treat children with ASD in Applied Behavior Analysis, much research needs to be done to continue to strengthen ways to teach children using empirical data. Some areas of research are the number of stimuli and order of stimuli concurrently taught within a session.
What advice would you give to another student who is seeking an internship or similar experience?
It takes just a few seconds of courage to discover your full capabilities by stepping out of your comfort zone and being open to new learning opportunities. That is what is ultimately going to prepare you for the professional field.
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