Kate Boudreau: Discovering health psychology research through coursework

Kate Boudreau ’17 (CLAS) earned her bachelor’s degree this spring and shares her serendipitous introduction to health psychology research in this essay.

Upon entering UConn as a Chemistry major, I pictured my future involvement in undergraduate research in a lab filled with beakers, chemicals, and expensive equipment. Even so, research was not at the forefront of my freshman agenda. I was sufficiently overwhelmed trying to find the delicate balance between succeeding in organic chemistry, getting involved in the right extracurriculars, making friends, and sleeping. My only exposure to research that year was my Honors First Year Experience class called Discovering Undergraduate Research, which helped to open my eyes to the many different types of research happening at UConn.

I discovered my research accidentally when I came across an ad in the Daily Digest that piqued my curiosity right at the time that I was considering changing my major. This allowed me the privilege of taking a special one-year, 10-credit class called Obesity Prevention Learning Consortium as a sophomore, that would ultimately change the course of my college experience. In this class, a mixture of undergraduate and graduate students studied the world obesity epidemic in-depth and discussed potential strategies to combatting weight gain to improve global health. In small groups, we designed our own research projects that aimed to change or prevent behaviors that could lead to unhealthy weight gain in UConn students. This class was eye-opening for me because for the first time, I felt like I was taking an active role in my education and getting to learn about a critical issue through the lens of hands-on research experience. Furthermore, as a pre-medical student taking plenty of lab science classes, I was excited to discover the realm of health psychology research as well as the importance and fascination of working with and studying people.

Kate BoudreauOur projects were completed in Spring 2015 under the guidance of Dr. Amy Gorin, with the encouragement that each group considering furthering their research by submitting abstracts to conferences or editing manuscripts for potential publication. Finding the class and the project rewarding, I jumped at this opportunity to share what I had learned with a community of like-minded researches. Our expectations were low but we were hopeful as we submitted abstracts to international conferences where undergrads rarely present, which made the news even more exciting when we found out our project had been accepted as a poster presentation to The Obesity Society in Los Angeles, California. The pressing question then became: How do we get to California? This is where the Office of Undergraduate Research played a fundamental role.

Thanks to the Office of Undergraduate Research, I was awarded a Travel Grant that assisted with the expenses involved in flying to and staying in California to present my work. Although I could only be in Los Angeles for 48 hours, my trip was overflowing with plenty of new experiences and adventures. Not only did I get to present as an undergraduate at an international conference, but also I experienced the great food in LA, visited the famous farmers’ market, and hiked to the Hollywood sign. Furthermore, being an independent traveler proved to be an invaluable experience in and of itself.
In presenting my poster—a study of college students’ stair taking behaviors in university dormitories with and without motivational signage—I enjoyed the opportunity to talk to experts in the field about my project. Many were interested in what we had done and others provided thoughtful commentary about considerations for future studies. Additionally, I got to talk to other presenters and learn more about recent studies in the field.

I continued working as a Research Assistant in the UConn Weight Management Lab and am completing my Honors Thesis related to a couples’ weight loss study. As a freshman, I could not have imagined that I would be so involved and passionate about research in health psychology come my junior year, but I cannot express my gratitude for the opportunities provided to me at UConn that allowed me to accidentally stumble upon this path. As obesity becomes an increasingly grave problem in the United States, I am certain that I will be involved in combatting it for the foreseeable future as I pursue a career in medicine.