Loyola University Maryland


Finding My Next Steps: Why I Chose to Become a Researcher

by Amanda Woodward, '14, Psychology / Biology Major

Amanda Woodward HeadshotWhen I started at Loyola, I was sure of one thing, I wanted to be a doctor. I chose to be a biology/psychology major so I could learn the biology I needed for medical school, and the psychology to connect with my patients. During my first two years, I checked every box I needed to be a competitive medical school applicant. Then one day, I realized I missed something. I did not like blood or needles, and this seemed problematic for a physician.

If I wasn’t going to be a medical doctor, I needed to figure out my next steps. Once the anxiety of being uncertain lessened, I met with my advisor, Dr. Sherman. We talked about potential career paths and the possibility of graduate school. He encouraged me to talk to professors in fields I may be interested in, and if I was seriously considering a Ph.D. program, to learn R programming (the intro book he suggested still lives on my desk). 

Over the next semester, I met with several professors to learn about their research interests and how they became interested in them. These conversations helped me gain insight into areas I may want to pursue, like health psychology or cognitive psychology. I learned more about the steps required to apply to graduate school and started thinking through what I wanted my own path to look like. I even became a research assistant working with Dr. Kirkhart and Dr. Prenoveau, and explored opportunities at Johns Hopkins. More importantly, I saw how excited everyone became when talking about their own research, and I knew I wanted to be as excited with my future career.

During summer orientation, I worked as an Evergreen and was assigned to assist Dr. DiDonato during student registration. We discussed my plans to apply to graduate school and Dr. D suggested ways I could gain more research experience, and that I should consider conducting an independent study. I had enjoyed designing an experiment in research methods, and welcomed the chance to dive deeper into research. Since I was on campus that summer, I met with Dr. D regularly to discuss steps for the independent study.

This project was one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of my undergraduate career. I chose to study how self-compassion related to undergraduate dating strategies. With Dr. D’s guidance, I designed the experiment, chose and trained research assistants to collect data with me, and analyzed the results. I had the opportunity to present the work as a talk at the Undergraduate Research and Scholarship Colloquium and as a poster at the Eastern Psychological Association meeting. With each new step, I fell more in love with my project, and became more excited about it. I wanted to understand the process, the results, and plausible alternatives.

It has been four years since I graduated from Loyola, and I am almost a doctor (of Philosophy; anticipated Ph.D. from the University of Maryland, College Park in Cognitive Psychology). Some things have changed. I work with children, and investigate how they think about the social world. I teach undergraduate researchers how to conduct research, and help guide them through their own projects. I challenge them to dive deeper into the research, and be curious. 

Other things have not changed. I am still enthusiastic about my own research, and excited to hear about the work of others. I still rely on the fundamental research skills I cultivated at Loyola. My love of research, fostered by Loyola’s faculty, motivates me to keep asking questions. 

My first year at Loyola, I never thought I would be interested in research. I am grateful for the professors who went out of their way (and still do) to help me discover my interests and plan my career.