Caitlin Fountain

Did you receive any recognition (awards, publications, scholarship) for your applied learning experience?
Cape Fear Psychological Association Award
Briefly describe your applied learning experience

I began my honors thesis in August 2017. I actually started the literature review over that summer, before I was officially enrolled in the honors course, to get a head-start on my project. I knew I would be applying to graduate schools that fall, so, I wanted to get as much done as I could before the semester started. The literature review really helped me to gain a theoretical perspective for making my official hypotheses. I used a secondary data analysis approach to my thesis, which means that I ran analyses on data that had previously been collected by my mentor. The data were collected using a survey method in classrooms in Puebla, Mexico with middle and high school youth. I hypothesized that self-esteem, depression, and gender trait affiliation (i.e., masculine and feminine traits) would play a role in adolescent sexuality. I wrote my introduction and method sections during the Fall 2017 and ran my statistical analyses over the Christmas break. I used linear and logistic regressions for my analyses; I also looked for significant interactions with gender as a moderater of the associations. After running the analyses and receiving my results, I began writing the results and discussion sections of my paper. This was the most challenging because some of my findings conflicted with previous literature and I had to do extra research (and creative thinking) to figure out why. I scheduled my defense early to ensure that I was able to get a room and find a time that worked for all of my committee members to meet. I am now finished writing my thesis and will defend my project just before Spring 2018 graduation. 

How did you get involved in this applied learning experience and what did you hope to gain from it?

Dr. Espinosa-Hernandez actually mentioned doing an honors project when I joined her lab in Spring 2017. I had conducted an honors project in the past at the community college which I transferred from, so I was excited to conduct another project under Dr. Espinosa Hernandez's mentorship. The reason I wanted to join her lab in the first place was to learn more about cultural issues within psychology, so, I really hoped to gain a better understanding of the factors that are unique to Mexican populations in completing my honors project. As a future clinician, I am well aware of the need to be culturally atuned to clients' varying racial and ethnic backgrounds. 

What did you gain from this experience? What was challenging? What did you learn?

This experience helped me in so many ways. First, completing an honors thesis helped prepare me for graduate school by teaching me critical thinking, research, and scientific writing skills. My mentor was gracious and patient in helping me revise and hone my analytical skills over a period of months. Second, I gained increased persistance and time-management skills during the formation of my thesis. There are many stages of editing and revising when you're completing an honors thesis, so, I really gained perseverance throughout that process. Next, completing my thesis helped me to better understand the statistical methods involved with psychological research. I actually learned how to conduct multiple regressions and other graduate-level statistical analyses, which helped prepare me for graduate school. However, this was also one of the most challenging aspects of completing my thesis. It required a lot of abstract thought and reasoning to understand such complex statistical processes and I found myself with more questions than answers a lot of times. Another challenging aspect of my thesis was trying to explain my findings. I had many variables, so, it was complicated trying to connect all of the variables to my results. Separately, I learned so much about cultural differences in psychology, specifically those that occur within Mexican adolescent populations. I learned about cultural gender role ideologies, sexuality, and mental health risks related to Mexican youth. 


In what way will this experience make you a more viable candidate when you are seeking a job or applying for graduate study?

As I mentioned previously, completing my honors thesis taught me advanced statistical methods, scientific writing, and time-management skills, which helped me get into a psychology doctoral program. The perseverance skills I learned will also serve me well in a 4+ year-long graduate program. Moreover, this thesis taught me how to ask questions and reach out for help when I need it. This is a valuable skill both for career and graduate settings (or life in general, really).