My name is Ziqian (Clara) Xu, and I am a junior majoring in Psychology and Computer Science as well as minoring in Statistics. When I first got into UNC, I had no idea what I would want to do in the future. I stumbled across other majors and courses before I finally decided that Psychology is what I want to study. I believe that Psychology as a field has the potential to grow and evolve along with the current developments in other scientific areas. My interest mainly falls into computational methods in psychology, especially within the field of cognitive science. I aim to pursue research about computational models for cognitive processes such as decision making and memory, and I am particularly interested in how computational methods such as machine learning and neural networks are both influenced by and influencing the field of psychology.
Because of my interests in computational methods in psychology, I worked for a year as a research assistant in UNC’s CIRCLE lab, focusing on neuroimaging data cleaning using research computing nodes and data management systems. Currently, I am working with Dr. Kelly Ryoo in UNC’s School of Education outside of my Gil internship to investigate the cognitive impacts of online computer models and automatic feedback systems on children’s science learning processes. These experiences make me even more excited about what I want to do in the future.
This semester, the Gil Internship program has given me the opportunity to work at the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders (CEED). My goal for this internship is to explore how computational and statistical approaches can be used to better capture human behaviors. CEED is a place where research and clinical practices are combined to provide enhanced treatment for people suffering from eating disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder. I am primarily interested in the research component of the worksite, and I am fortunate enough to meet my mentors, Dr. Jessica Baker and Dr. Laura Thornton. Dr. Baker studies the physiological and genetic underpinnings behind eating disorders, and Dr. Thornton has expertise in data analysis and large-scale research designs. Working with these two wonderful mentors, I am currently learning about different psychometric scales used to collect information both about eating disorders and about other covariates of eating disorders. In fact, I had the chance to compile data dictionaries describing both psychometric data and biological data collected from a longitudinal study. The data as well as the dictionaries will be added into a data repository accessible to more researchers in the near future.
Additionally, I am able to start my own independent research project about the interaction effect of childhood traumatic experience and reward sensitivity on eating disorder symptoms. I am challenged to use SAS, a statistical analysis software, to recode data, score data, detect outliers using different methods such as the studentized residuals, and construct general linear models to fit the data. From the internship, I have gained a lot of insights on psychological research. I learned about nuances in writing research papers, the principles to follow when cleaning data, and the importance to plan ahead and to be detail oriented when working with large-scale datasets. What I am doing might not be the most sophisticated quantitative work, but I am familiarizing myself with countless unexpected statistical subtleties which researchers could encounter every day.
One of my most memorable experiences during the internship is to join the CEED lab meetings in which top eating disorder clinicians and researchers all over the world would gather (through Zoom) and give presentations on their recent projects. I remember learning about the potential of astrocyte pathways leading to different eating disorders, and also learning about the effect of cafeteria salad bars on student nutrition intakes. These are very different project, but they coexist in the worksite. The diversity and compatibility of people in CEED have strengthened my belief that Psychology is a colorful field and it wants people with different talents.