Liberal arts colleges do not always come to mind when considering undergraduate research. However, research flourishes at colleges like St. Olaf because we’re able to offer small class sizes and personal attention from professors. There are no graduate students at St. Olaf, so professors devote their time and resources to undergraduates. This allows students from a variety of departments to pursue independent research projects. In this post, Henry Burt ’16 describes his connection to professors and the research that followed.
The first class period I had at St. Olaf was on a bright, sunny morning in Regents Hall of Natural Sciences. It was Personality Psychology, 8AM, Professor Carlo Veltri. Not only was I new to the school, but so was the professor teaching the course. He had a thick brownish-red beard and mustache, round glasses, and a soft-spoken disposition. I won’t get into the details of the course, but I will let you know that I thoroughly enjoyed it!
Carlo and I passed each other in the Psychology Department and in the Cage cafe from time to time throughout the rest of my freshman and sophomore years, exchanging the usual greetings and news about upcoming vacation plans. It wasn’t until the first week of junior year when our interactions became much more frequent.
He had recently returned to his dissertation data on personality inventories examining the traits of compulsivity, rigidity, obsessiveness, and perfectionism in a large sample of college students. Carlo was interested in exploring if there were certain underlying “factors” that correlated with these traits. Subsequently, he called upon me that first week of junior year to help him identify these factors using a statistical factor analysis.
But why me? Well, over the spring semester of sophomore year, I had been in contact with psychology faculty about the possibility of assisting professors with their current research. I had taken enough psychology courses in my major to feel confident that I was headed into a career as a psychologist. Now I wanted some hands-on experience and taste of what this profession would entail. Furthermore, my academic advisor mentioned that having undergraduate research would set me apart from other applicants when the time came to apply to graduate school. Eventually word got around that I was on the hunt, and I am sure that the faculty whom I had taken courses with put in a good word for me as they were talking with one another about open positions for professors’ research assistance.
My small classes and relationships with my professors helped me take on this research opportunity. Carlo and I are now meeting on a weekly basis to pare down and fine tune our factor analysis. We plan on presenting a poster of our current findings at a regional symposium this coming year. Many professional psychologists will be there scrutinizing our work, but I’ll also be able to network and explore future collaboration in the field of clinical psychology. I’ll be happy to represent St. Olaf College by sporting a black and gold tie!
My college days began well that first day in Professor Veltri’s class, and I expect it to end well alongside him as I undertake my senior year!
You can find more information about undergraduate research at St. Olaf (including an exciting list of recent projects) here.