Edinboro student awarded first place at regional psychology conference

Category:  News
Wednesday, April 25th, 2018 at 5:55 PM

A group of Edinboro University students took part in the 46th Western Pennsylvania Undergraduate Psychology Conference (WPUPC) at Penn State Behrend on April 14. One student even walked away with a first place award for her research. 

“It’s (WPUPC) a scholarly but friendly environment, so it’s good for those who have completed their one and only research project, as well as for future scientists who want to give their first presentation to a supportive audience before going to an international conference with 30,000 attendees (as many of my students do),” said Edinboro psychology professor Dr. Peter McLaughlin.

McLaughlin supervised three research projects presented, including senior psychology major Kimberly Zimmer’s first place research on acetylcholine and divided attention. The psychology students present research and results at conferences for many reasons, McLaughlin said, and many present as a requirement for the capstone psychology course. 

Zimmer said she came across the idea for her project after she found out McLaughlin had similar interests in neuroscience as she did. When she reached out, he was already partially planning a project involving rats, so Zimmer thought this would be a good opportunity to see if this was “something I could find passion in.”

“Kim Zimmer has been a great student to work with,” McLaughlin said. “My lab is very collegial, and top-quality students like Kim work together to create and analyze a set of data that helps us understand how we think. Kim’s work spoke directly to the impact of increased distractions in our modern lives and how we have limited ability to process information.”

In regard to her prize, Zimmer said “it was a huge surprise” to her. 

“I have never done something like this before, but it honestly felt awesome to be able to get up in front of a large crowd and articulate something that I’ve spent the last two semesters doing,” she explained. “This was the only real conference I’ve been to where it was also a competition. However, I didn’t know that it was a competition until they said that I won!”

McLaughlin said he calls his research faculty-student research. While some professors simply provide some guidance on student research, McLaughlin’s lab “makes real discoveries, meaning the project Kim presented might be published in a scientific journal.”

“It’s more collaborative and doesn’t simply end when one question is answered.”

McLaughlin went on to say that Zimmer’s project has already led to a collaboration with another psychology professor, Dr. Wayne Hawley, where they’re looking at the cognitive effects of sex hormones. 

“I’d guess one thing that impressed the judges was her ability to present some advanced neuroscience in very plain terms to students and faculty with diverse interests,” McLaughlin said. 

In that regard, he said he works with his students on knowing their audiences so they can convey their facts successfully. 

“Faculty from schools all over western Pennsylvania really tested the limits of her knowledge, and approached her more like a Ph.D. student, not like an undergraduate,” McLaughlin said. “But that’s the level where my students are, and it is apparent to other scholars.”

He continued: “One of my proudest moments was when a student was looking for a Ph.D. program and was told by a potential graduate mentor that she was already doing the work of a mid-level doctoral student. My students who engage in research are almost over prepared for the next level, if they want to be scientists in psychology or neuroscience.” 

Dakota Palmer is the executive editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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