My name is Rochelle Embling, and I will be entering the third year of my Psychology degree in September after a busy but exciting summer completing an 8-week research assistantship scheme thanks to the British Psychological Society.
I entered my second year of university knowing I wanted to go on to further study but had no career in mind. Shortly before Christmas Dr Laura Wilkinson, an eating behaviour psychologist in the department, brought up the opportunity of applying for the assistantship under her supervision. I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t miss. We had just completed lectures on obesity and eating behaviour as part of the Brain and Behaviour module, so I knew it was an area I enjoyed studying. The fact that I like writing research reports didn’t hurt either. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when we found out we had been awarded the scheme shortly before I finished my final exams of the year.
Our project focused on the reasons why people pick the portion sizes they do. This involved showing participants different portion sizes of various foods and giving them some questionnaires to complete. Right from week one my role was hands on as we sorted the final details of the experiment and I created posters and emails to recruit participants. Immediately I learnt a valuable lesson in food research as I searched for the best foods to photograph and use in the study. For practical reasons, it had to be easy to change the portion size. This is because the first image of the food would be a small portion size (like one or two chocolates on a plate). For the second photograph, I would then add more food to that already on the plate (like two more chocolates), and so on for the remaining 48 images! I then went on to edit all of the 250 photographs I had taken, and created the questionnaires online using the survey software Qualtrics. Though time consuming, I developed technical skills I didn’t have before, and the finished presentation of the study was definitely worth it.
Not only did I get the chance to work on the project, but I also got to experience what it is like to be a part of a thriving research department. I attended a meeting for SNAC, the Swansea Nutrition, Appetite, and Cognition group at the University, during which lecturers and researchers in the department talked about their own research. I even had the opportunity to get more involved, as I was able to sit in on the statistical analysis of data that was far beyond degree level.
By the end of the 8 weeks, I was able to collect a third of the data I needed for the project. Though finding these 33 participants was more challenging than I originally thought, my perseverance definitely paid off as this was a great outcome. I will now continue to collect data in the coming months, and continue to work on my report as I am currently writing the introduction. By October, I will compile what I have done so far into a research poster for the BPS conference next year. Perhaps my biggest reward from completing this scheme is that I know for certain I want a career in academic research. I cannot stress the importance of gaining experience enough, as without this opportunity I would still have no idea about what I wanted to do. I hope this demonstrates the kinds of opportunities that are available during your time as an undergraduate at Swansea, and the importance of getting involved.
To find out more about the SNAC lab please click here
To find out more about the BPS Summer Assistantships please follow this link.