2016 UWF Student Scholar’s Symposium

20160421_112727The University of West Florida held it’s Student Scholar Symposium on April 21st, and being the insufferable overachiever that I am, I had two posters entered. One was very similar to the one I presented at SEPA, but the second was my PI’s big project on the protective factors of cultural values on language brokers. Maylin was going to be presenting the Grit & Academic Success poster, but unfortunately she wasn’t able to stay long… leaving me with both posters to present on my own.

I was really confident in my research on both projects and and was ready to give my elevator speech on either at the drop of a hat, but the distance between the two posters was a bit of a concern. 20160421_112643Through the crowds of people, I could hardly see one poster from my station at the other. I tried to make the best of it; I ran back and forth between the posters, carrying a post-it note in each pocket saying “Presenter can be found at Poster #24” or “Presenter can be found at Poster #52” so if the judges walked by, they’d know where to find me. Somehow, I still managed to miss the judges at both posters! I was walking back and forth between my posters talking to people that asked about my research when I heard the message for judges to wrap up their judging, but I knew I hadn’t been judged at all yet! I grabbed a friend who was volunteering and asked her to hunt down some judges and let them know what was going on, and she came back in less than 10 seconds with a trio of tablet-wielding powers-that-be. I gave my awesome little elevator speech, waited for them to walk off and make their notes, and proceeded to collapse into a chair I’d set near my poster. Then I ran after them and told them I also needed to be judged for my second poster down the row a little bit and repeated the process!

After getting the really stressful part out of the way, I got to check out my friends’ posters! It was a nice change to have my friends and labmates so close by; at SEPA 2016, I had to deliberately hunt them down over a couple days to support them at their posters. Yasmine in particular knocked the judges’ socks off with her presentation. We hung out and shared bags of complimentary chips for a while, talking about future plans and waiting for the announcements of the winners. I was tempted to take my posters down and head home for a nap, but word around the Psych department crew was that Yasmine was definitely going to win something so I stuck around for the inevitable victory high five. To my surprise, they called out my name for an award. I jumped a little and looked around at my labmates with what I can only assume was a “deer in the headlights” face and then darted forward for my award. I felt like I’d barely had time to sit down when they called my name again! This time I definitely jumped in surprise and grinned all the way to the podium. I even skipped a little on the way back to my chair.

It felt really great to have my research validated like that, especially on what I was considering my last day of undergraduate classes (I graduated last summer but I’ve been taking undergrad classes and doing research just to keep myself fresh and keep my transcript active). Actually receiving an award was a huge step towards feeling ready to start graduate school at Utah State in August!


SEPA 2016

2016 Annual Meeting of Southeastern Psychological Association, New Orleans, LA (March 30-April 2, 2016).

My bestie/lab partner Maylin and I drove to New Orleans for the SEPA convention. We’d had our noses pressed to the grindstone for the last few weeks on our poster about the effects of grit on academic success, and it was finally ready! I was extremely nervous about presenting at my first regional conference; every time I tried to go through my elevator speech, I could feel my heart race. Maylin introduced me to the Sneak Attack podcast; we spent the whole drive laughing at the first few episodes.

When we got into New Orleans, we checked into the hotel and put our bags down, then immediately went out into the French Quarter to explore and find some food. Though we spent a great deal of time out in the French Quarter during breaks in the conference, the first day was pretty special. The weather was nice, we tried on some funny hats, and listened to some crazy music in Jackson Square. We checked out a pretty cool occult shop too, and bought each other a pack of tarot cards!

When it was time to get registered for the conference later in the afternoon, we just headed back to the hotel and jumped into the fray! We got our programs and immediately set out to circle our friends who were presenting as well as any that caught our eyes.

The next morning began the first full day of presentations. It was really great to see so many interesting posters and talk to so many other early career researchers! It did seem like the majority of folks there were undergraduate, so everyone else seemed just as nervous as I was. I loved talking to people about their methods and motivations for getting into their specific research areas; a poster about the sexual subtext in 90s-00s cartoons was a particular favorite.

The research highlight of the whole conference for me came when I went into an oral presentation to support a friend and UWF Master’s student, Kyra. While the presentations preceding her were interesting in their own right, I was more focused on the American Sign Language interpreter!

The only specific neuropsych jargon sign that I remember and could reproduce today is the one for “subcortical”. I spent the rest of the afternoon showing people the new word I’d learned! Even the UWF Psychology department head was getting into it at one point.

Come Friday afternoon, I was feeling pretty sanguine about my own presentation. Honestly, the knowledge that everyone else had been just as nervous as I was at least once was extremely comforting. I did head back to the hotel room for a nap a little while before the presentation itself; it was raining cats and dogs outside so a jaunt into the French Quarter to clear my head wouldn’t work. I needn’t have worried though.

IMG_1357We had several people come up to our poster who seemed extremely interested, or at least feigned it very well. It was easier than I expected to answer all of their questions; it turns out that a years worth of thinking deeply about grit and conscientiousness and academic success is decent preparation for most questions that people can come up with on the fly.

In addition to exploring the French Quarter in my down time and gaining confidence in my skills as scientist who presents research, there was also what we were ostensibly there for in the first place: networking! I hadn’t actually “networked” in person quite so deliberately before, so I wasn’t exactly the most outgoing and networky person there. I did get some good conversation time in with the professors from my own department back home though! The department head shared an anecdote about the time his daughter brought a pet chinchilla home and a professor who wrote me all sorts of letters of recommendation recommended a novel (managing to spoil the big twist in the process).

Even though I had to leave early for my Habitat trip, I’m extremely glad I got to go to the SEPA 2016 annual meeting. The research was all fantastic, and there couldn’t have been a better city to put SEPA in than New Orleans. Hopefully I’ll be able to go to SEPA again one day with another presentation!

Hábitat para la Humanidad Sololá

FB_IMG_1459859650823I returned late Sunday night from my first Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip. I saw Antigua, Panajachel, Sololá, San Juan Argueta, San Juan la Laguna, Santiago Atítlan, Pixabaj, and Caserio Chuacruz, as well as Chimaltenango and Cuidad Guatemala from the road. Guatemala was nothing and everything like I’d imagined. It seems to be a country full of contradictions and dichotomies, but it’s contradictions suit it perfectly.

The majority of what I saw was dusty, covered in discarded trash, and truly devastatingly poor. But behind all of the inescapable poverty, there is an equally inescapable and 12961562_2005052729719862_1002075042859138298_nindescribable beauty. In Ciudad Guatemala and Chimaltenango, there’s no room between the buildings, which are almost uniformly either unfinished grey or garishly painted cinder block. The sprawling barrios stretch out between green mountain ranges. Old school buses (“chicken buses”) carrying far too many people move with uncomfortable rapidity and complete disregard for what passes for road law. The chicken buses all have names like “Esmerelda” and are actually quite pretty once you get past the fear that the technicolor Mad Max bus is going to ram you off the road. Motorcycles with too many riders weave through lanes of traffic, narrowly missing the pedestrians hawking water bottles or juggling for tips or just crossing the street. Farmers work in their tiny, dusty, nearly-vertical fields on steep mountainsides just off the road.

Sanitary water is scarce- it certainly doesn’t come out of the faucets- but a variety of colorfully packaged processed snacks hang outside of every shop window in even the most rural towns.20160409_122217 Panaderias sell delicate, delicious breads and pastries in hidden alcoves on nearly every city street. Merchants selling identical but gorgeous handicrafts for pennies line the main street in Panajachel, wait for tourists outside of hotels in Antigua, and set up stalls outside of the Mayan ruins of Iximche. Evidence of ancient earthquakes is everywhere in Antigua; beautiful ruins of abandoned cathedrals and monasteries and convents leftover from a famous quake in 1773 litter the city and serve as excellent photo ops and tourist traps. A trio of massive volcanoes looms over Lago de Atítlan and another trio border Antigua to the south and west, occasionally punctuating the nightly fireworks shows with their own fiery displays.


Though the landscape and cityscape were mind-blowing, it was the people that truly stuck with me. Our team was unanimously awesome. I primarily stuck in a pack with Ashley, another first time Global Villager and my roommate as well as coincidentally in my Language and Culture class!; Melanie, a team leader and Habitat employee who’d been in Guatemala twice before and knew all the best places; Andrew, deflector of merchants, hilarious, and an excellent landmark (he’s over 6 feet tall so easily visible in any crowd of primarily Guatemalans); Jay, generous joker, lifter of heavy things, and another first timer in Guatemala; and Lucho, our local field coordinator and translator who’s amazing smile was a near-constant presence on our trip. I got a little bit of time with everyone else; Fredy (fiercely devoted field coordinator and giver of tours), Bob, Dianne, Skip, Mike (the hardest worker on my team and unintentional solo explorer), Jeanie, Judy (who is a total trooper and excellent ruin-explorer at 75), Ida, and Carol (kind lender of antibiotic cream for sunburned ears).

Our intrepid team! Back row: Mike, Bob, Skip, Jay, Andrew, Judy, Fredy, and Melanie. Front row: Emily (me!), Carol, Ida, Dianne, Lucho, Ashley, and Jeanie.

In taking thirteen people down to Guatemala, we were almost guaranteed to have too many people for any job. 20160406_103529Even split into two teams as we were, everyone had a chance to take a break from amateur stone masonry or mixing mortar or hammering to interact with the locals, a job just as important as the rest that we called “citizen diplomacy”. Sometimes being the citizen diplomat of the moment meant getting completely schooled in fútbol by kids too small for their ages, or learning a few words of the Mayan language spoken in that part of el campo, or chatting about embroidery with the doña. Teenage girls in Santiago Atítlan giggled and blushed behind their phones when I told them I wished American clothing was as beautiful as their traditional traje.13006485_10154040304377207_6624581040437088347_n Two little boys, maybe three or four years old, climbed up onto the outdoor sink and using the hard soap to blow their own bubbles after our liquid ran out, sneaking peaks at me between bubbles to make sure I was watching. We met the woman who’s stove we’d built two days prior in the street, and she stood up on tiptoe to hug each of our necks and say thank you. A crowd of little kids sat around my feet, mothers close behind them, listening intently while I struggled to translate Curious George Goes to the Zoo into Spanish on the fly. Doña Emiliana smiled and whispered in half-Spanish, half-Tz’utujil that she liked that our names were so similar so she could remember it easily when I was gone.

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A new latrine!

When I embarked on this trip I was worried about voluntourism- coming to Guatemala under the guise of helping people but taking work from Guatemalans who could build their own latrines or stoves or homes, taking pictures and buying up souvenirs and calling that life-changing. But as the week passed, that fear melted away. The families we helped had made their own bricks, sourced the majority of their own materials, and got just as muddy as we did by the end of the build. We built three latrines, four stoves, and pressed just under two hundred bricks. Building projects that typically take a family between 5 to 8 days were accomplished in a few hours. People thanked us for coming to help their countrymen when we mentioned that we were there with Habitat for Humanity. Our trip was less about the tourism and more about meeting the people who need help and giving them “a hand up, not a hand out”. We were there to show them that there are people that care enough to come help when they ask for it, to learn about their culture, to see that we’re part of a grander global community, all with our own dignity and struggles and hope for the future.

To my teammates:

Huey ütz trip ya’ll, and matyox for all the excellent memories we made together! I can’t wait to see you in Sololá again next year!