Student Profile: Senior Psychology Major Taylor Miller and Associate Professor Christopher Was, Ph.D.

What has been the most beneficial part of working with Dr. Was as a mentor in the research?

Taylor Miller

Taylor (she/her): I think the most beneficial thing is he lets me have some leeway to come up with my own ideas and do the research the way I envision it, so it is not capped off at any point. He is also very good with pushing my academic abilities further. For example, I did not even think to apply to present at the Midwestern Psychological Association for the conference in Chicago this April. He is the one who pushed me to apply, and now we are presenting. So, I am really excited, and I think that has the best part about working with him.

Dr. Was, what has been the most beneficial part of working with Taylor as a student researcher?

Christopher Was

Dr. Was (he/him): I have let her think on her own and pursue her project on her own, but she has also been a great researcher in that she is doing independent work. So, it is nice as a mentor when you can let a student think and work on their own and still be able to say, “let us think about doing x, y, or z,” and, “how might we otherwise think about this?” So, I think the most beneficial thing for me is that I can have a hands-off approach and still know that the work is being done and that she is still coming to me for guidance when needed.

Dr. Was, how have you seen Taylor grow in her time as a student researcher?

Dr. Was: I think the way I have seen her grow most is in that independence. When Taylor and I first started working together on her honors thesis, I felt like I had to prod her a little bit, and now I do not need to. She keeps me up to date on what is going on and she is moving forward with her writing. So, I think the growth I have seen is she is becoming independent in her work. At this point in a student’s undergraduate career, what you want to see is them moving to where they can go on and start to think about graduate school and other areas where they can be independent in the work they are doing.

What kind of research have you been conducting recently?

Taylor: We have gone along with one train of thought, but then branched off from it. The idea of this current research stemmed back from the very beginning (fall 2020) when we were asked to think about what we would like to conduct studies for independently, and his lab is about mind wandering, so I formulated a general idea off that. Since then, we have grown that idea to the extent it is now. That is, how this pandemic has affected online learning and how distractions play into the mind wandering effect. So, it has been the same lose idea, but we have grown it a lot more.

Dr. Was: My research over the years has mostly focused on working memory. I became interested in how mind wandering impacts the learning of people in educational settings. When we started thinking about ideas, we came up with the idea, “how is learning online really impacting students?” So, one of my graduate students started working on this idea, when Taylor came up with the idea that, “in online learning situations, when chats are happening, what is the impact on people’s ability to focus their attention?” So, Taylor has taken what I have done for several years and focused in on a specific problem that is relevant right now, so I think it has been a great trajectory of research in that way.

What has been your proudest accomplishment in the research you have done so far?

Taylor: I thought the Undergraduate Research Symposium was cool. I have never presented to a large group before, so winning first place was validation of all the hard work we have been doing. Afterwards, when the judge panels were asking questions, they said we should keep doing this because they wanted to know the answer to the question we were asking. To have them be interested in it and prompt me to send them more information on further studies we have been doing was satisfactory for me.

Dr. Was: I was really impressed with Taylor’s presentation at the Undergraduate Research Symposium, and the fact that she won first place was absolutely wonderful. I am impressed in Taylor moving forward, taking this to the Midwest Psychological Association as well. I have been talking with my graduate students and other folks and I can see more studies coming out of the study Taylor is doing right now, which will even further what we are doing in this area.

What do you hope to be the long-term impact of your research?

Taylor: I hope it can contribute to little niches in the field that have not been thoroughly addressed yet because of this pandemic. I know there is going to be a huge wave of new studies coming out relating to the effects of distractions and how students learn online in general, because this was not a thing 10 years ago. So, I think it can contribute to branching into a new field of learning psychology.

Dr. Was: This has ecologically valid applications, as Taylor is saying. As more and more classes go online, if we can find those little things that can keep students engaged with what they are doing, that will have a huge impact. So, this is certainly not going to be the last study in this field, but it is one that leads to real-world applications for this kind of research.

How has this research affected your time here at Kent State University?

Taylor: I think it has given me something to work towards, rather than passively taking classes. Learning is always great, but this is a hands-on application of what I am learning in class. It is also working towards the goal of graduating with an honors thesis and some research under my belt which I can show to either graduate schools or future employers. It shows them that I have experience and know how to do the work they are asking me to do.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Dr. Was: I think more students should take advantage of undergraduate research opportunities. It is not just our college or our department, it is across the university that these opportunities are there.

Taylor: I would like to see more students participate in them as well, I think it has been hard gathering people who will do the work they are being asked to do. The incentives are there, I do not know if people do not know about it or think it is harder than it is. So, I think participation would be great to focus on.

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Written by: Ella Wold