Alysha Chagany credits her research with helping her grow as a student, a researcher and a person. She started research at the end of her third year and quickly became obsessed with her work, spending countless hours in the lab. This passion for her work has helped Alysha determine a path toward achieving her future education and career goals, and given her a strong start on that path. Alysha looks forward to a life of research, hoping to become a professor at a major research university. UROP is pleased to recognize Alysha Chagany for the demonstrating the impact research can have on an undergraduate education.

1. What is your specific area of research (include the name of your faculty and/or laboratory)?

My primary interests reside in positive psychology and social psychology; hence, I wish to explore how the two subfields interact with one another. I would like to explore how positive interventions play a role in buffering against psychological phenomena, such as gender issues. For example, I am interested in learning how positive interventions (e.g., gratitude, forgiveness) buffer against the effects that media has in socializing individuals into various gender roles. Moreover, I am interested in societal factors (e.g., socialization, structures) that impede many women from entering STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and whether positive interventions may play a role in alleviating this issue. I do not wish to restrain myself within a few topics in social psychology; rather, I hope to explore a multitude of topics under the scope of gender issues. Although I envision my future in a social setting, I do hope to learn more about health psychology. Working as a research assistant in Dr. Pressman’s Positive Psychobiology & Physical Health Lab has illustrated how health psychology can contribute in addressing social questions in a concrete, empirical manner. By and large, my career will most likely head in a social psychological direction and my main emphasis will be on positive interventions and its influence on social psychological phenomena. However, I do wish to implement the tools and knowledge I attain through health psychology environments in my future work.

2. When and how did you first get involved in research?

College is a process of learning, growth, and discovery but like many students, I was confused with what I wanted to do with my life. I took diverse psychology courses with the hopes of discovering what sparked my interests the most; however, because I enjoyed so many aspects of psychology, it was difficult to narrow down my interests. I spent countless hours confused but I began to see a clearer path towards the end of my third year after having taken a course in Positive Psychology with Dr. Pressman. Unlike traditional psychology, which focuses on unique populations such as those with debilitating weaknesses or extraordinary intelligence, positive psychology focuses on strengths of the average individual. I became fascinated with many concepts we learned about in class but what really struck my interest is the goal positive psychology encompasses: using positive interventions, such as gratitude or forgiveness, in order to increase one's wellbeing and overall quality of life; these kinds of interventions keep individuals from regressing below normal functioning. I joined Dr. Pressman's lab soon after and found that I loved every moment of it. I became addicted to the flow I achieved while working in a lab and have developed a deep love for research.

3. How has research enhanced your education?

Research has given me skills and opportunities to grow as a researcher, a student, and a person. Working in a detail-oriented environment has encouraged me to embrace my conscientiousness and continue to strive for perfection in everything I do. Being in a lab has given me great respect for research because it is an intensive process that must be conducted through a meticulous lens; it should be taken seriously. This seriousness has prompted me to place greater value and focus on other facets of my life as well. In doing so, I analyze things at a deeper level in order to gain a greater understanding and appreciation for them. But life is not always serious and it never should be entirely serious. Life should be filled with genuine smiles because with genuine smiles, there is happiness. My lab has served as a second family where I not only work in a professional, diligent manner, but also enjoy the company of my peers. When we are not running participants, we hang out and support each other during our times of need. Being in a research-oriented environment that fosters both work and play has helped me become a well-rounded individual.

4. What has been your favorite experience with research (include any interesting stories or specific events)?

I have a unique experience with research. When I first joined Dr. Pressman’s lab, we were in the process of cleaning data. Although this seems like a boring, remedial task that simply must be done in research, I thought otherwise; I was obsessed with cleaning data. I would spend full days on end in lab, just sitting on the computers analyzing data and when I did not feel satisfied (which was most days) I would stay at night and work on the data some more. I ate all of my meals in the lab. I napped in the lab. The janitors who cleaned at waking hours of the night even knew me! Because it was very difficult for me to get into the building on the weekends without a key, I would email a grad student or even Dr. Pressman hoping they could open the door so I could continue my research. If they were unable to, I would stand outside of the building for a few hours betting my chances on someone entering the building and letting me in as well. Additionally, I would plan my meals strategically. Because the building closes at 10 PM, I would bring grocery bags filled to the brim to ensure I would not feel hungry. I even had a care package with extra clothes and some toiletries. Sometimes I got cold so I would dress in layers and leave a blanket in lab. To top it all off, I even secretly designated a drawer for myself to put all my belongings in (people eventually found it!). I know, I sound like a crazy person but I really was. I was obsessed with conducting research and loved the feeling it gave me. I just could not get enough of it. I really went out of my way to conduct research but to me, going through all this hassle was worth it because I got to do what I loved the most: research. Because of my crazy endeavors to always be in lab, I am now known as the girl who lives in SBSG.

5. What are your future plans and how has being involved in research helped to prepare you to meet your goals?

I will be applying for positive psychology related Ph.D. programs at various graduate schools during my fifth year. My goal is to become a professor and conduct research at a renowned institution. I hope to contribute to the research literature by focusing my efforts on combining various psychological constructs (e.g., gender, emotion) with known positive psychology interventions. It makes sense that research has prepared me for this goal because my future aspirations entail conducting research. However, researching early on has also prepared me by allowing me to explore my interests and determine what I really want to do with my life. Conducting research has helped me not only to realize my goals in life but also learn how to achieve them. For instance, there are so many opportunities out there (e.g., UROP, SURP, SE Honors Program) that will assist me in taking the next step to my goals—going to grad school. Being in a lab has elucidated these opportunities and encouraged me to take every opportunity that came my way.

6. What advice would you give to a student interested in pursuing a faculty-mentored undergraduate research project or creative activity?

Start as early as you can! Working in a lab really helps to facilitate your growth as a student and better understand directions that you might want to pursue as a career (even if it is not research!). It is also an excellent way to gain letters of recommendation if you are thinking about graduate school. Also, feel free to talk to professors—they don’t bite, they want to help you! Talking to a professor about your aspirations (even if you are unsure of them) can help you gain insight into what you truly want out of your career. Moreover, professors can point you in the right direction by telling you about opportunities that might interest you.

Past Researchers of the Month

Dec. '13 Alysha Noorali Chagany
Nov. '13 Lori Ke
Oct. '13 Van Custodio
Sep. '13 Noelle White
Aug. '13 Sharon Kuruvilla
Jul. '13 Alisha Bajwa
Jun. '13 Dongjin Suh
May. '13 Jonathan Trinadad
Apr. '13 Edgar Peña
Mar. '13 Himika Patel
Feb. '13 Juancarlos Sandoval
Jan. '13 Kevin Vu