Scholar Spotlight: KayLee Flower

Photo Credit: KayLee Flower
by UCARE Fri, 04/15/2016 - 13:55

Sophomore, Psychology and Women's and Gender Studies
Elkhorn, NE

How did you decide on your two majors?
I started with psychology because I knew right off of the bat that I wanted to be a clinical psychologist, to help people change their lives. I’ve stayed on the clinical side because I like the research that comes out of that section of the field the best. It interests me the most, and I find it to be the most personal on top of all of the practical applications. I’ve always been passionate about women’s issues. I was interested in sexuality studies because of how interesting it is from a psychological standpoint. I started digging into the classes for both majors, and I realized that they would be a good fit together.

What’s the community of UNL psychology students like?
Psychology majors are all pretty different – one (of my peers) wants to do research and another wants to be a therapist. When we hang out, we basically just nerd out together. You'll find a mix of people interested in the things that you are, but they all come at it from a different approach.

How did you decide to participate in undergraduate research?
In my first weeks at UNL, I really wanted to get involved in research, but didn't know what areas I was most drawn to. It was undergraduate research night for the psychology organization, and there were a bunch of people coming in to the event. My faculty mentor spoke about the work he was doing with coping at a halfway house and the different work that was going on in the lab. It was an "aha" moment for me. I listened to him talk and realized that this what I wanted to do. Now, it’s probably what I'll be doing for the rest of my life.

What is your Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experiences (UCARE) project?
My UCARE project is called "Cultural Risk, Coping, and Vulnerability in Sexual Assault Victims." My Faculty sponsor is Dr. Dennis McChargue. The lab title that I work under is the Comorbid Addiction and Mental Illness Lab. I work as a research assistant on multiple projects, but primarily work independently on a UCARE grant, using data from the lab. My research primarily focuses on addiction. I look at sexual revictimization due to alcohol coping. Revictimization is having traumatic incidents happen again. It's a coping issue, which ties directly into addiction. This summer, I am going to be exploring more PTSD symptomology on sexual revictimization in extension of what I am currently working on. My primary work is alone, but I work with teams on other projects.

This year, I'm working with variables in an existing data set compiled a few years ago. It was a vignette (like a scenario) study – obviously, you can't ask people these kind of questions directly and expect them to answer honestly. It describes a date rape situation and the person taking the study is asked what to do in the situation.

This year, I specifically looked at the variables of the perceived drunkenness in the vignette, perceived intimacy and the alcohol audit score. It measured problematic drinking behaviors. We found that if someone had problematic drinking, they were likely to go further in the vignette rather than if there was prior dating or not. If they had perceived to be dating the perpetrator prior, they would trust the perpetrator more. This summer, we will dig into the other parts of this including prior trauma and development of PTSD symptoms.

What’s your greatest struggle right now?
Realizing how important making mistakes is.

In the process of starting your research, how did you learn the skills necessary to analyze data?
I took a research methods class after being given my UCARE grant, which taught me so much. Getting a UCARE grant and having my own project gave me responsibility and motivation to become invested in my research. I've learned a lot about myself, but I've had a lot of support from my lab, the graduate students and Dennis. This research has a really big thinking component, and what has made me successful is my skill to read, read, read and have what's important pop out to me. Dennis noticed that skill in me right away, and has helped me to develop it further. He always pushes me.

Describe a typical work session when you're engaged in your UCARE project – what is the work like?
I've had a lot of people ask me about this. I have a friend who works in a lab that has lots of equipment. When people think about research, they think about that. I don't do that at all. A day in the life of me is probably sitting on the couch at my house or at the library. It's basically me with my headphones looking at my computer or highlighting a literature review. Sometimes, I'll run analysis on my computer. If you were to look at me doing research, you would just see someone who is really invested in her homework – it doesn't look much different.

When you have an idea pop into your head when you aren't working on research, what do you do?
I have this problem a lot. As a person, I'm very daydreamy and off in the clouds, which has actually been my strength. Generally, I'll pull out my phone and type something out in bullet points. If it's a striking thought, I'll probably sit and think about it. If it's a good enough idea, I'll probably read about it or I'll go and talk to Dennis. Then, using the research skills I have, I'll do something with it.

What does it feel like to be an undergrad who takes your studies to the next level with research? What does this mean for your future work as a student and in the future as a professional?
Doing research has put me in a position to understand the applications of the things we're studying and the reasons why I should learn things in class. I've been able to build my education based on the things that I've found in research.

The skills you learn doing research are so applicable to the professional world. As a result, if I didn't want to work in psychology, I think I could find a job in another field.

What’s your dream job? Why?
I always say I want to do research in academia, although I haven't given up wanting to be a therapist. If I could do research and have clients in the university clinic, that would be awesome. Otherwise, I could definitely see myself working in an addiction lab, studying that primarily but focusing on women as well.

What’s the absolute most important thing to know about participating in UCARE?
UCARE is really broad – everyone that does it researches something different. UCARE has given me the opportunity to have a job doing what I want to do most: research. I can't imagine being an undergraduate student without UCARE. I feel like my research is my education. Without it, I think I'd have a significantly different education than the one I have now. As a university, UCARE is tremendous for students.

After you graduate, what will you miss most?
I will miss living in downtown Lincoln and the culture of being part of a university. There's always something new to learn.