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Summer Research at a Children’s Hospital

Catie Shipp presents her research.

Finding the perfect summer research experience sometimes requires asking the right questions of the right people. Catie Shipp (psychology ’19) did just that and participated in a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. She was one of 129 students selected from a pool of almost 1400 applicants, and in her time there, she gained valuable hands-on research experience. She found herself working at a high level on various research projects and has been asked to return next year as the clinical research coordinator within the Department of Developmental Disabilities and Behavioral Pediatrics.

The program paired each fellow with a mentor, and Shipp worked with Dr. Anna Esbensen. With her mentor’s guidance, Shipp worked on four of her ongoing research projects. “These projects aimed to improve sleep and behavior, and also to test cognitive measures for school-aged children with Down syndrome. I took on a variety of roles throughout the summer which included creating data sets, entering data, scoring psychological assessments, creating and prepping research folders, organizing protocol, creating visual schedules, creating stimuli for research visits, and preparing recruitment for future and ongoing studies,” Shipp said.

Her work culminated in a capstone project, presented at the University of Cincinnati SURF Research Symposium. Shipp researched a topic in her field of interest while gaining professional networks. “The SURF program provided many outside opportunities for students to learn and to connect with fellow students within the program. For instance, I attended a professional development workshop, a networking mixer, and a SURF summer picnic to name a few,” she said.

Working in a top tier national hospital provided Shipp with countless opportunities to shadow top-ranked professionals. She said, “I was so fortunate to observe amazing psychologists within the department who were so willing to let me see what their job entailed and were always eager to answer my many questions that I would have after each visit. I also learned and observed evaluations, assessments, and treatments performed by various mental health professionals.” Internships provide the necessary skills for students to succeed in a future career or trade.

Both Dr. Esbensen and Emily Hoffman, the clinical research coordinator, with whom Shipp worked with daily, had an impact on Shipp’s overall experience this summer. They gave her the freedom to work on large projects, trusting in her work ethic and knowledge about the material. “My mentor, Dr. Esbensen, never ceased to amaze me with her hard work, intelligence, and passion for the work she did. She was so encouraging and informative, and she really helped me to feel confident about my future. Further, Emily Hoffman was an amazing role model to me. It seemed like she always had all of the answers,” she said.

Shipp’s appreciation for her mentor was reciprocated. Dr. Esbensen appreciated Shipp’s dedication and enthusiasm that contributed to the research. “Catie met and exceeded the high standard set by prior SURF students. Her efforts on our project measuring behavioral and cognitive outcomes for children with Down syndrome were invaluable to our team. She supported our recruitment efforts, our ability to conduct day-to-day evaluations of research participants, and our ability to analyze clean data,” Dr. Esbensen said.

“Catie was able to quickly and independently perform assigned tasks with a limited need for supervision. She asked insightful questions about tasks and was clear and confident in her communication, and she demonstrated a level of professionalism beyond her schooling,” Dr. Ebensen said.

This fellowship allowed Shipp to push herself and to discover new passions. Before this summer, Shipp was unsure about what her future after Georgia Southern University held. “Upon entering this position, I had never considered working with children with developmental disabilities,” she said. “To be honest, it was a part of the field that really intimidated me because I knew little-to-nothing about it. However, with the amazing guidance of both Dr. Esbensen and Emily, I have acquired a new interest that I am really considering pursuing upon graduation.”

One lesson Shipp took from her time at the hospital was to take risks. She would have never known about this fellowship if she did not directly email the head of the Clinical Psychology Department. This fearlessness to reach out gave Shipp an unforgettable experience as well as a career in a field of interest. Shipp hopes that other students will take advantage of the resources on campus that will lead them to experiences during and after college.

“I would encourage all students to look for opportunities to gain whatever hands-on experience that they can. I learned so much about the field of psychology, the professional world, and about myself as a worker and a student that I would never have learned by only taking my scheduled classes. There are so many opportunities out there, but you definitely have to be bold by communicating to those who can help you to get those positions,” she said. “Further, these positions lead to amazing relationships and skills that are so important, and overall these experiences are so helpful in the long run. So I would just encourage everyone to be on the lookout for opportunities, and to not be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone to chase after your career goals.”


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