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STUDENT PROFILE

Alexis McDonald

Alexis McDonald
Major:
Psychology
Minor:
Sociology
Graduation Year:
Spring 2020
I think it’s important as we provide a voice for student experiences and provide support for UT students that we don’t forget to acknowledge the additional barriers that might affect traditionally marginalized groups of students. We must be intentional about our modes of support and continue to listen to the unheard.

Faculty supervisor: Dr. Mary Steinhardt
Graduate Student Mentor: Jaylen Wright
Name of project Psychological Well-Being and the Role of Social Support: A Qualitative Exploration of Black Women and Latina College Student Experiences

Please give a brief, simplified overview of your research project.
The transition to and through college can be a difficult and challenging experience for college-aged young adults. Historically marginalized women, specifically Black and Latina, are considered to be at an increased risk of experiencing psychological distress and unique barriers throughout their college-years. This qualitative study explored the narratives of Black women and Latina college students, and how their utilization of social support resources influenced their mental health and well-being.

Describe the tasks you engage in as part of your work.
As a student enrolled in the Psychology Departmental Honors Program, I was given the opportunity to conduct original research in my field. The program consisted of four courses, taken across two semesters. During the first semester, I conducted a thorough literature review and developed an original research proposal. During the second semester, I worked closely with my faculty and graduate student mentor to design my study, conduct study interviews, write up a complete honors thesis, and presented a research poster and presentation.

Describe what you thought college might be like before you came to UT. Did you consider research when thinking about college?
Before I came to UT, I thought college would be like a giant fish tank, where you have large amounts of people, classes are large and lecture style, the professor doesn’t have time to know your name, or get to know your interests. I did not consider research when thinking about college because I didn’t have a complete understanding of what research is at higher institutions, such as UT. Once, I got to college, I realized that there are opportunities to make a big college feel smaller, especially by finding a faculty mentor and getting involved in research that you are passionate about.

How did you get involved with your research project?
I got involved in my research project by enrolling in my department’s honors program. Of course, it is possible to complete an independent research project without enrolling in a program, but it was helpful for me to provide structure to the research process.

Do you see your project connecting with your plans for your future?
I definitely see my project connecting with my plans for the future. I purposely selected my research topic based off my interests for graduate school. I plan to pursue a doctoral program in psychology, and I was interested in exploring how uniquely marginalized identities fit into previous research. In order to bridge the gap between mental health treatments and traditionally marginalized groups, I began asking research questions. Now that my project is complete, I hope to continue to explore this particular topic in graduate school.

What is the most interesting or surprising thing you’ve gotten to do for this project?
If you would have asked me last year if I could write a 50-page research thesis, create a research poster, and present that poster to the psychology department, I would have doubted my abilities. It surprised me to know what I was capable of achieving. My entire cohort got a lot done in two semesters, especially in the midst of a pandemic.

What advice would you give to a student who was thinking about research?
My advice would be to only get involved in research that is meaningful to you. As students, sometimes we get involved in research for the sole purpose of putting it on our resume. I did this at first and believed that I didn’t enjoy research. However, when I got the opportunity to research topics I was passionate about, I learned to love the research process as a whole. My work was more meaningful to me, and I didn’t dread it. I would also advise other students to find mentors! It doesn’t just have to be just one. Talk to faculty and graduate students about their interests, and if it matches your own, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for their guidance and mentorship.

What is/was it like working remotely? What difficulties have you faced?
Working remotely was difficult because the body and mind had to adapt to a completely new environment and mode of learning. For me, continuing to write a thesis in the midst of a pandemic was difficult because of a lack of motivation and ability to focus. In addition, I think all graduating seniors can agree that it was a cloud of disappointment that flooded our final months of college. Presenting my honors thesis was to be a major accomplishment, so knowing that all in-person celebratory moments were taken away made it difficult to get through each day. I definitely had to push through with the help of my peers and mentors. At the end of the day, I had to continue to be compassionate with myself and remind myself that I was doing the best I can, and it was enough! Overall, I was grateful for the finished product!

Any final thoughts relating your research to current events and issue, or anything else you would like to add.
My honors thesis was dedicated to every Black woman and Latina student who might feel like their voices are never heard. Know that your experiences matter and you are never alone. I think it’s important as we provide a voice for student experiences and provide support for UT students that we don’t forget to acknowledge the additional barriers that might affect traditionally marginalized groups of students. We must be intentional about our modes of support and continue to listen to the unheard.