As a pre-med undergraduate, one of the things I need to do before med school applications is gain research experience. Medical schools like undergrads to explore research, both to rule it out as a possible career choice and to see the work that goes into advancing the scientific field.

Northwestern has a webpage that lists all of the current research groups, teams and labs on campus. Over this past summer, I browsed through the page, found a couple of labs that piqued my interest, and emailed a few. The Infant Cognition Lab emailed back saying they had positions open for undergraduates so I went in for an interview the next day.

My conversation with the lab manager went well, and she gave me the paperwork for the position, which I turned in to the psychology office that day. The coolest part about this paperwork is that it allows me to get class credit for my research, which goes towards graduation!

This past fall, as school started up, so did the lab, and the new undergraduates and I began our training. Each week I’m scheduled in the lab for eight hours, but I only go in when we have babies to run experiments on, so my schedule varies each week, but that keeps me on my toes. We run experiments on babies, and essentially, we’re looking at when babies start to form categories of things and recognize “same” vs “different”, and when they start to understand abstract physical concepts like density.

I expected research to be dry and dense, and it’s ended up being the polar opposite – my lab jokes that we have to be the happiest lab on campus since we work with babies. We have a plethora of toys, some of which hang from the ceiling, we have a candy drawer, and we spend multiple hours each week staring into the eyes of babies. So far this quarter we’ve also designed two new experiments, and I’ve gotten to be a part of those design conversations.

While I don’t plan to go into studying infant cognition, my experiences with the lab so far have been invaluable. I’m learning how to run experiments, how to interact with participants, how to work towards gathering good data and how to organize that data. I’m also getting class credit towards graduation, and I’m getting real-world level research experience right on campus as an undergraduate.

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