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Pursuing Her Passion, Psychology

Undergraduate Researcher Studies Memory Recall, Social Media and College Students’ Mental Health

headshot of Mackenzie Smith

For the past two years, NC State senior Mackenzie Smith has helped research such topics as memory recall, the cognitive interview process as well as social media usage and anxiety and depressive symptoms in college students.

Smith is majoring in psychology with a minor in cognitive science. She works as an undergraduate researcher for professor Lynne Baker-Ward in the Memory and Narrative Developmental Lab.

We caught up with Smith to learn more about her research experience, career path, time at NC State and advice to aspiring student researchers. 

Why did you major in psychology?

I have always loved learning about how people behave. I loved watching crime shows with my mom that talked about human behavior, and I read behavioral analyses of TV shows and movie characters in my free time.

In middle school, I enjoyed writing analytical papers and that translated easily to writing psychology research papers. In high school, I watched many psychological documentaries and took Advanced Placement Psychology, which deepened my interest in the subject and a career in psychology.  

When I applied to college, the only subject I wanted to major in was psychology.  

Why did you get involved in undergraduate research?

Learning how to organize research questions, to administer experiments, and to be attentive to other people’s ideas and perceptions are important skills when studying psychology. In research, listening to other people’s suggestions can provide feedback about details you may have missed.  

I applied to the Memory and Narrative Developmental Lab because it offers a broad range of topics that intrigue me. 

What are some of the topics you have helped research?

I assisted in a memory recall project, which involved coding the chronological, emotional and thematic associations in mother-child joint reminiscing conversations. 

During another project, I recently conducted more than 50 Zoom meetings with participants to compile data about social media usage and anxiety and depressive symptoms in college students. 

In addition, I collected data on the process of cognitive interviews for a temporal discrepancy research project. And I coordinated weekly meeting times that best fit the schedule of other lab members.

Mackenzie Smith sitting at desk during Zoom call.
Smith, a psychology major, works as a research assistant for professor Lynne Baker-Ward in the Memory and Narrative Developmental Lab.

What do you like most about your experience?

While I have thoroughly enjoyed working in the lab, it especially has helped me form a network of other
researchers interested in the same topics as myself.

What have you learned from it?

I learned many valuable lessons that I can apply to everyday life. In research, you often find that the results of your experiment are not what you anticipated. It is important to remain patient because you can always approach your research question in a different way to produce your desired results. 

I also learned that even if your experiment fails, it is important to keep trying.

How has your experience enriched your time at NC State?

Unquestionably, it has been the best part of my experience at NC State. It helped me break out of my shell; get more involved with the psychology program and the research community within it; develop into a better communicator; and become more open-minded in research and day-to-day situations. 

Additionally, I have witnessed first-hand how professors conduct their research. And I have built relationships with professors and students that will last long after graduation. 

Has your research experience influenced your career or educational path?

Constantly being surrounded by individuals who share the same eagerness to learn more about specific topics in psychology has solidified my interest in pursuing a career in psychological research after college. 

To that end, I have taken classes in neuroscience and advanced research methods, broadening my knowledge of how to conduct efficient and methodical research. 

What advice would you give students interested in becoming research assistants?

Make sure you constantly are offering to help with any project in the lab. Being a present and reliable researcher will open up many more learning opportunities. 

How do you plan to use your degree and experience in the future?

I hope to work as a clinical trial assistant or as a research analyst for companies that seek to understand customer behavior and to improve programs within their institution. 

Being a psychology major and undergraduate researcher has enhanced my communication skills when working in teams. I also learned how to collaborate properly and efficiently with others to achieve shared goals. 

Would you do it again?

Absolutely! My research experience helped enhance my resume, which will be valuable when I apply for jobs after graduation. I also honed different skills that I can transfer to my future job.