Undergraduate Academic Affairs
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Psychology Student Goes Above and Beyond

by Rashad Mulla

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Sabrina Speights is in the midst of her second research project. She, along with two coauthors, presented the first at an April conference in Chicago. She already knows that she wants to study industrial and organizational psychology in graduate school and complete both master’s and PhD programs.

Still an undergraduate psychology major with honors at Mason, Speights participates in the university-wide Undergraduate Apprenticeship Program for advanced research with faculty.

She first took over a project centering on discrimination after its conceptual stage and designed an experimental survey to find out when and how often people discriminate. In April, she traveled to the 26th annual Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology conference in Chicago. She presented a poster of the project, “Is Beautiful Good for Everyone? A Comparison of Attractiveness Bias across Race and Gender in Selection Decisions,” with her two co-authors, both graduate students.

Speights then created her own topic for a follow-up research venture with a focus on discrimination victims’ perceptions.

“Many psychology majors get involved in research, but few take the opportunity to complete a thesis in their junior year,” says Eden King, assistant professor of psychology and Speights’s research mentor. “It is remarkable that Sabrina has already had the experience of conducting an entire study from the idea phase to data collection to presenting her findings.”

Speights’s new project, “Attribution to and Claims of Discrimination: Do Targets Blame Race, Gender, or Attractiveness?” aims to document the experiences of marginalized individuals and their own takes on the causes of mistreatment. Speights interviewed 94 participants for the study. While she is still analyzing the data, she has made a few early observations.

“There is some sort of specificity. Certain things do seem to carry more weight,” Speights says. “They generally go in the order of race, gender, and then attractiveness.”

Despite the academic ground she has already covered, Speights made quick decisions to unearth the original research. During her freshman year at the behest of psychology advisor Mike Hurley, she gathered her materials and applied to the Psychology Honors Program about a week-and-a-half before the deadline. Amazingly, she says, she was accepted into the program. She met King at the program’s welcome ceremony and then again in her introductory honors class.

“It just so happened that she came to do her honors class presentation,” Speights says. “By complete happenchance, I talked to her and told her I wanted to work for her. She does a lot of work with diversity and women’s studies, and while those weren’t fields I was familiar with, I was interested in them.”

The rest is history.

Now, Speights is looking to increase the sample size of her research study from 94 to 200 participants. She then hopes to publish her research findings in a scholarly journal. In summer 2011, she will attend a prestigious summer program at the University of North Carolina.

King believes Speights is well on her way to a successful career.

“Sabrina is a research superstar because she has worked conscientiously and enthusiastically to complete not just one, but two separate studies on a meaningful question that has both theoretical and practical implications,” King says. “I can’t wait to see everything she will accomplish in her career.”

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