Hello! My name is Allie Day, and I am a senior from Wilkesboro, North Carolina majoring in Psychology and Sociology. This semester I am interning at UNC Mother Infant Research Studies with Pam Beiler as my mentor. My involvement in Dr. Bharathi Zvara’s maternal and child health lab within Gillings School of Global Public Health sparked my passion for research within the field of child development. In Dr. Zvara’s lab, I use observational coding methods to study parent-child interactions, and I am involved with a research project that studies how childhood adversity affects parenting later in life. I plan on pursuing a dual master’s degree in public health and social work in the near future.
UNC Mother Infant Research Studies maps onto my interest in maternal and child health exceptionally well. The research lab operates within UNC’s School of Medicine, specifically within the Department of Psychiatry. Overall, their mission is to learn about the relationships between lactation, hormones, relationships between mothers and babies, and brain development. The primary study I am involved with this semester is the Baby Brain Development Study which seeks to analyze how cocaine use during pregnancy affects infant brain development and behavior. I help to ensure that study visits run smoothly by collecting cardiac data via Actiheart monitors and preparing babies for mother-child interactions and saliva samples.
When I am not assisting with study visits, I am busy working on projects to supplement the research lab’s efficiency. One of the main projects I have taken on this semester is assembling resource packets for mothers that participate in our studies. The resource packets contain information about programs to aid with food insecurity, employment, childcare, etc. I have also gathered information regarding childbirth options, postpartum health, and safety for newborn infants to include in the packets. Assembling these resource packets has required communication with multiple organizations in the surrounding area. This process has also opened up many pathways for the lab’s recruitment pipeline. In addition to receiving resource materials from a variety of organizations, we are able to provide them with flyers about our research study in order to increase avenues for recruitment.
I am also working on a literature review of articles that pertain to infant MRI safety. The Baby Brain Development study includes four fMRI scans of the baby’s brain, and mothers often have questions about the safety and logistics of the MRI process. Through my research, I am accumulating information that is relevant to curious moms so that they may be informed and reassured about our research methods. The project has also given me insight into how fMRIs function and the mechanisms involved in the process. I am excited to be able to shadow the MRI portion of the study visits in the upcoming month.
My experience working with UNC Mother Infant Research Studies through the Karen M. Gil internship has solidified my interest in working with this population to improve health outcomes. I have gained rich and diverse experiences ranging from interaction with study participants to communication with local organizations to familiarization with study protocols often used in this field of research. I am continually learning about gender-specific substance abuse disorder, the effects it has on infants, and effective treatment options for mothers. In addition to the hands-on research experience I have gained from UNC Mother Infant Research Studies, I have learned about the importance of administrative tasks, such as recruitment and scheduling, in order to keep the lab running smoothly. I am excited to see what the final month of my internship has in store as I continue to gain valuable knowledge and experience.