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Hi, there! My name is Abby Boggins and I’m a senior at UNC majoring in Psychology and minoring in Women’s and Gender Studies. I am from Summerfield, North Carolina and I love to read and cook in my spare time! My research interests are broadly in the context of interpersonal relationships, but more specifically, I like to study romantic dyadic relationships. I am still carving out my more narrowed interests within this field because there are so many compelling topics to study within relationship studies! I have worked in Dr. Donald Baucom’s Couples Lab here at UNC for over a year now, and have gained exposure to studies on communication content in couple conversations, the difference in conversation themes between long-distance couples and geographically-close couples, relationships in which one or more partners is diagnosed with psychopathology of some kind, and many more fascinating subjects.

With the ability to narrow down my interest to couples studies through my work in Dr. Baucom’s lab, I came into the Gil Internship with the desire to contribute to a research lab or clinic setting with a similar focus. Fortunately, I was connected with the amazing Dr. Laura Porter at Duke University, who specializes in the study of the intersection between health and dyadic relationships.

Currently, I have had the opportunity to work on several projects. Firstly, I am helping gather relevant literature for a grant proposal on a project about communication in couples where one partner has cancer. This project has been on pause recently, but I was able to use some of what I collected to synthesize research for a graduate student in the lab.

Next, I have been searching for articles on two different theoretical models on communication and adjustment to life with cancer in couples. There are two frameworks, the Social Cognitive Processing (SCP) model and the Relationship Intimacy (RI) model, that explain how communication about cancer related concerns aid in couples’ adjustment to life with cancer. The SCP model posits that when patients feel comfortable to communicate about cancer related concerns with their partner, they are able to cognitively process their disease and the stressors that come with it, which results in better adjustment to life with cancer. The RI models posits that when patients and partners feel comfortable communicating about cancer related concerns with one another, intimacy in the relationship is enhanced, and this intimacy aids in adjusting to life with cancer. The difference in the models is the two mechanisms theorized to help adjustment (cognitive processing and intimacy) and whether it is important to look at how the partner and patient affect one another versus just looking at the patient. I have been gathering articles on these two models published within the last five years and creating summaries for all the literature.

I also have had the chance to work with Dr. Katherine Ramos, an associate professor at Duke University and a member of Dr. Porter’s lab. I have been completing various tasks for Dr. Ramos. Firstly, I worked to create and organize tables and figures needed for a paper on knowledge of palliative care among patients with cancer versus patients with other chronic illnesses. Additionally, I have been conducting a literature review for Dr. Ramos on attachment in couples with cancer as well as emotional arousal during couple conversations. She is working on a project that wants to bridge the gap between this literature by looking at attachment as a predictor of emotional arousal (measured by fundamental frequency) in conversations between couples in which one person has cancer.

I intend to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology with a focus in couples-based research and intervention methods. My experience so far in this internship has exposed me to new topics in the field of couples research and the various factors that affect the efficacy of couples interventions. I wholeheartedly believe that the work I have been able to do in Dr. Porter’s lab thus far, and will be able to continue, has allowed me to further develop my research interests as well as increase my confidence going into the work force post-graduation.

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