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Carolyn Lapsey | Faculty Mentor: Grazyna Kochanska

June 15, 2015
Carolyn Lapsey

Carolyn Lapsey first became interested in psychology when she took a psychology course in high school. She didn't know at the time that a few years down the road she would find a way to combine her interest in psychology with her love for children. In May 2015, Lapsey graduated with a major in psychology and a minor in social work and human relations. 

Lapsey became involved in a research lab after her freshman year, when she met a graduate student, Jamie Nordling, who worked in the Kochanska Lab.  At this point, Lapsey learned that they were looking for research assistants. When she realized the lab involved working with children, she decided it could be a great fit for her. 

Lapsey is now in her third year of working in the Kochanska Lab and is currently involved in two main studies. 

Professor Grazyna Kochanska, the lab director, explained that these studies are the Family Study and the Play Study, both funded by the National Institutes of Health. The Family Study, according to Kochanska, is a longitudinal study including 102 families. Children, along with their parents, began the study when the children were infants and come to the lab roughly once a year. She added that the children are now about thirteen years old. 

"A typical parent-child session lasts 3-4 hours, and includes multiple situations that allow us to observe how they interact and how they behave under naturalistic but carefully scripted conditions," said Kochanska. 

The Play Study, as explained by Kochanska, is a randomized parenting intervention. This study involves 186 mothers and toddlers who have been followed for roughly eight years. 

Lapsey explained that one of the main things they look at in these studies is attachment, or the relationship between the parent and the child, and how attachment influences social-emotional development and development of conscience.

One of Lapsey's main responsibilities in the lab is coding data. She explained this basically means turning the information they get through sessions with the parent and child into numbers.

Kochanska said coding requires "creativity, intelligence, rigorous and logical thinking, and ability to translate abstract psychological concepts into the language of meaningful, very concrete, precise definitions and behavioral examples." 

Along with coding, Lapsey is also responsible for scheduling and conducting the Play Studies.  She explained that she started doing this over the summer and has really enjoyed it.

"I think the most interesting thing I've actually gotten to do is work with the kids and parents directly and facilitate their experience in our lab," said Lapsey. "It's really fun to direct kids through the games and activities they get to participate in and see how they've changed and grown from previous visits."

As for the findings of these longitudinal studies, Kochanska explained, "we have published numerous papers that have focused on the qualities of biologically-founded children's temperament, parent-child early attachment, parental control and discipline, and multiple ways in which those factors may interact to produce various outcomes in terms of children's developmental outcomes."

Lapsey believes this experience in the research lab has made her more well rounded.

"Not just in psychology, but in any field it's nice to get an experience outside of class," said Lapsey. She went on to say she enjoys learning things in the classroom and then being able to apply them.

Lapsey added that direct experience working with the kids has helped her clarify what she wants to do in the future. She is currently applying for PhD programs in counseling psychology and child clinical psychology. 

"It's kind of stressful and crazy, but I've had a lot of people to help me out," said Lapsey. "If I wasn't in a lab, I wouldn't even know where to start in the whole application process." 

Many people have inspired Lapsey along the way. One of those people is Grazyna Kochanska.

"She has worked so hard for everything," said Lapsey. She explained that Professor Kochanska helped her understand the importance of being determined and ambitious and has been helpful with her honors thesis. 

Lapsey also mentioned Lea Boldt, who has been very helpful with her graduate school application process, and Jamie Nordling, who helped her get a job in the lab and has always been encouraging. Lastly, Lapsey mentioned Megan Carlson, who helped with her application process and letters of recommendation as well as being a very good friend. 

"I think that's one really good thing about working in the lab. You meet so many people that are willing to help you and want to see you succeed," said Lapsey. 

As Lapsey illustrates, working in a research lab connects students to other students and faculty with similar interests, gives them needed experience, and helps prepare them for the future.