June 07, 2012

Research experiences open door to doctoral program

Posted: June 07, 2012
Lindsay Perez
While she will miss ASU, Lindsay Perez is excited about tackling new challenges as she prepares to enter a doctoral program at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Lindsay Perez already knew how much she had gained personally and professionally from engaging in research projects with faculty members in ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. Then the director of the Ph.D. program to which she has been admitted told her that the variety of research she conducted as an undergraduate student played a major role in her admission. Perez was all the more thankful for the opportunities the NCUIRE (New College Undergraduate Inquiry and Research Experiences) program provided her.

Students who successfully complete the competitive application process to participate in NCUIRE earn a stipend while working with a faculty member on a research project, gaining valuable research skills and receiving financial support as they pursue their bachelor’s degrees.

Last month Perez completed her degree in psychology through New College, the core college on ASU’s West campus. She also earned a minor in criminal justice. Perez will pursue her doctoral degree through the interdisciplinary social psychology program at the University of Nevada, Reno.

“One of NCUIRE’s greatest advantages is that you are given the opportunity to do any type of research you want, so you’re not limited by your background or major,” Perez said. This enabled her to work on two projects; one with faculty member Dawn McQuiston that was more directly related to her major, and another with Michelle Tellez that originated from a gender studies class she took with Tellez.

McQuiston runs ASU’s Legal Psychology Research Laboratory, located on the West campus. Her research program focuses on the application of psychological science to issues relevant to the legal system. Research in the lab involves the study of jurors’ evaluation of expert evidence, extra-legal factors in courtroom decision making, and eyewitness testimony.

In her NCUIRE project with McQuiston, Perez examined how jurors were influenced by eyewitness testimony and DNA evidence when presented in a criminal trial. 

“I manipulated each variable so that there would be a strong/weak eyewitness account as well as a match/inconclusive DNA test result based on biological evidence collected at the crime scene,” Perez explained. “I found that eyewitness testimony was slightly more influential in jurors’ evaluations of the case, as well as in their verdict choice. However, when asked how each piece of evidence impacted their verdict, jurors rated DNA evidence slightly higher. There is clearly some type of disconnect between jurors’ thought processes and what they feel is informing their verdict.”

“As a faculty member, it’s an extremely worthwhile endeavor to teach a student the skills to develop a good research idea, make a realistic plan for how to implement it, and make it happen in keeping with a timeline,” McQuiston said. “Lindsay’s research skills are top-notch, largely due to her participation in the NCUIRE program.”

That’s exactly the desired outcome that drove New College faculty members to develop NCUIRE, said Todd Sandrin, associate vice provost at the West campus and NCUIRE’s coordinator.

“As we see our first group of NCUIRE participants start to graduate, it’s gratifying to see their participation in NCUIRE pay off as they continue working toward their academic and career goals,” Sandrin said. “Courses provide students with a wealth of information about a particular discipline. Research gives them the ability to apply that information to solve real world problems and to delve far more deeply into many of the most intriguing topics they cover in their coursework.

“Partnering with a faculty member to conduct research enables students to work alongside a world-renowned expert in a field of interest to them. Students learn the craft of the discipline in a unique and meaningful way. They’ll likely acquire a colleague and a mentor who can help guide them as they progress through their academic career and beyond,” Sandrin said.

Added McQuiston, “One of the main benefits of NCUIRE is that it gives students who plan to apply to graduate school practice at writing a solid, well-thought-out research proposal in a competitive process.”

Perez went through the process of writing NCUIRE proposals for her projects with McQuiston as well as Tellez. With Tellez she investigated effects of growing up in a bicultural environment on the education and employment goals of Mexican-American teen mothers. Perez conducted detailed interviews with participants she recruited; she researched correlations between the type of home setting each grew up in and their desire to continue their education, become employed, or remain at home full-time to care for their child.

“Nearly all participants aspired to have careers that required schooling, but only two were currently in school,” Perez said. “This points to the difficulties and lack of resources provided for these young women to pursue their dreams. The imminent need to provide for their children financially competes with their goals of providing a more stable environment for the future. Their goals most often involved attaining careers that required short-term specialized training or schooling, primarily in the medical field. This may be their solution to achieving a stronger foundation for their families in a short amount of time.”

Perez made a presentation based on her work with Tellez at the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies conference in March. Then in April, she presented the results of her juror study at the Western Psychological Association conference. The juror study also became Perez’s honors project with Barrett, The Honors College.

“I intend to continue studying jury decision-making at Nevada-Reno, but due to the nature of their program I also will be able to do some research in other areas related to my work with Dr. Tellez,” Perez said.

With her graduation, Perez has continued a family tradition.

“My mother received her degree from ASU West, which was why I was exposed to the benefits of being a West campus student before I applied to ASU,” she said. “What stands out to me the most about New College is the ability to work closely with one’s professors. I think those interactions were very important in shaping my undergraduate career, and opened up a lot of opportunities for me. For example, my work with Dr. McQuiston began with me approaching her about grad school advice while I was taking her statistics course during my freshmen year.”

Perez started the planning process early for graduate school. Along the way she developed skills at planning, implementing and reporting on research into topics that interest her. “These experiences have provided me the tools to confidently move forward in my graduate studies,” she said.

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