My first research experience was as a first-year community college student; I was required to visit a children’s museum, conduct observational research, connect it to the literature, and write a paper. I did not greet this assignment with much enthusiasm, initially, but in the end I found that I loved it. I wrote about empathy and perspective-taking, and how they were fostered or discouraged by the museum displays, and I will always remember Dr. Lightner’s comment after grading: “Heather, this is graduate level work! You should be doing research!” And since that day, I have been doing research in one form or another, focusing on topics such as stereotypes, identity, and equity in education.
My first research project explored the effects of media on stereotypes of women. Although small, this study found that some stereotypes were strongly activated by the media (e.g., the sex object) while others were not. As a graduate student, I’ve collaborated with an instructor in California regarding an intervention challenging stereotypes of scientists. This research has resulted in two peer-reviewed publications, eight presentations, and two manuscripts under development. It has been supported through community participation and grants, including contributions from a nation-wide network of instructors and NC State’s DELTA.
In 2015, I began working with a team studying identity and motivation among engineering graduate students (EGS). Our NSF-funded, mixed methods project has collected data from over 2000 students. We have used interviews to explore EGS’s identities, producing three peer-reviewed conference papers and a manuscript in-progress. A survey was also created and administered
nationally, producing two more peer-reviewed conference papers and two in-progress manuscripts. Our analytic approaches include multi-level and structural-equation modeling; currently underway is a final mixed methods phase, combining latent profile and directed content analysis in a novel approach.
Equity and Education
Across all of my work is a focus on how marginalized students navigate the academy and how institutions can support them. My stereotypes research is rooted in diverse classrooms and increasing underrepresented students’ interest in STEM, and my work with EGS examines retention in graduate school and students’ intersectional identities. I have also brought this line of inquiry to psychology, demonstrating serious biases in textbooks’ research citations and tailoring the Scientist Spotlights intervention for use in psychology classrooms.
There are many ways that my research can continue to expand. I plan to continue my current work and explore new opportunities with others in the community (e.g., the StoryCollider website and other instructors at NC State). However, I also plan to continue developing my interests. I am a lifelong student of research methods, statistical analysis, and data science, and will eagerly play the stats nerd to anyone who needs me. I have a love for research that extends to other people’s research as well, and my great hope for the future is to belong to a department that fosters collaboration and shared successes.