Elaine Coggins '07 Spends Summer at Harvard's Lab for Developmental Studies
Psych Major Worked as a Lab Assistant Through Funded Internship
By Lisbeth Redfield
August 28, 2006
What do you do with a psychology degree? This was the question that sent Elaine Coggins '07 (Auburn, Mass.) to an internship in the Laboratory for Developmental Studies at Harvard University for the summer, where she worked as a lab assistant.
Coggins was not only employed in a highly competitive internship, she was also one of 13 Hamiltonians who received college funding to conduct her internship. While summer internships are an increasingly popular move for students, the realities pose certain problems. Most of the available positions are unpaid, requiring students to fund their own housing and living expenses as well as working for free, all in pursuit of the elusive resume-booster "work experience."
Thanks to generous grants from alumni and parents, Hamilton students can apply for funding to support them while they work in a field of interest with an organization that cannot pay them. Though Coggins worked in what is known as an "unpaid internship," she received money from Hamilton's Joseph F. Anderson Internship Fund, given in honor of a 1944 Hamilton graduate who served the college for 18 years as vice president for communications and development. The fund in his name provides individual stipends to support full-time internships for students wishing to expand their educational horizons in preparation for potential careers after graduation.
Coggins worked with Harvard professor Erin Hannon on a study about how children react to music. Hannon's previous research suggests that North-American infants are aware of meter changes in music of both western and non-western cultures while adults are "limited by the culture-specific factors in music."
Coggins' main task at the lab was to run a study based around this claim. "Infants listened to a repeated melody of a specific meter, and once they became bored of that melody, we inserted small changes to the meter of the melody to see if they noticed the difference."
She was involved in finding families to participate in the study, running the study and analyzing the data. Coggins also participated in intern activities offered by the Lab (a weekly article presentation and a poster session at the end of the summer). Of her summer's work, Coggins explained, "we hope the results [of the study] will have implications about the auditory mechanisms humans are born with."
Coggins felt that she had learned a great deal about lab psychology, and praised the support she had received from the people she worked with. "There was a community-like feel in the lab…very early into the internship I felt part of that community."
It was with a good deal of experience behind her (Hamilton psychology research work and a previous internship teaching autistic children at the New England Center for Children) that Coggins applied for her position. "I wanted to get experience outside of the Hamilton campus," she said. By the end of the study, Coggins felt that she had indeed gained valuable knowledge about what it is like to work in a research lab. "This knowledge has helped me make decisions," she said.
As with many students, Coggins found the opening with the help of Hamilton's Maurice Horowitch Career Center. She urged students to apply for internships, "even if you aren't confident that you are qualified – sometimes you may be surprised."
Coggins works as an usher at Wellin Hall, and sings with the Hamilton College Choir and the a cappella group Tumbling After. She hopes to obtain a doctorate in clinical psychology and eventually work with children who have undergone traumatic experiences.
-- Lisbeth Redfield