Project eyes perceptions of women in power

Oct 21st, 2010 | By | Category: Campus News, Oct. 21

There’s more to a college education than attending lectures and writing papers. Having a chance to complete research as an undergraduate lets students explore and develop their interests.

Mitchell Laski has experienced the entire research process while working with assistant professor of psychology Sarah Gervais in the second of a two-year UCARE project.

“I like that UCARE gives you a chance to get involved in something you want to do,” he said. “It’s given me a chance to work and get more experience.”

The Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experiences program has undergraduates working directly with faculty members to participate in research and other creative activities on campus. The two-year projects give students the opportunity to add valuable experiences to their education.

Laski, a senior psychology major with minors in math and political science from Bellevue, is working with Gervais on a UCARE project studying civilians’ perceptions of women in the military: women who are more feminine and women who are less feminine. Gervais and Laski are trying to find previous research on the topic.

After only a few weeks of research, the pair has already run into some roadblocks. Laski has found few articles relating to their topic. But he remains optimistic.

“This project could be the first piece of research in this area,” he said. “It could be a positive thing we’re not finding articles.”

Next, Gervais and Laski will develop questionnaires, and later, survey students.

“My thoughts would be that most male participants would say that they are not in favor of women being in the military and they view women as weaker,” Laski said.
Gervais and Laski previously studied women in high-power positions in politics. The first year of Laski’s UCARE project, they studied perceptions of politicians like Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. In their research they found that Clinton was seen as more masculine than Palin, while Palin was viewed as more family-oriented than politically-oriented.

Gervais said although their current project no longer focuses on politics, they are still focusing on a “stereotypically masculine domain.”

“During the second year, because (Mitch) is interested in this more medical focus… because he wants to go to medical school… we tried to cater the project so it would be more relevant to a domain he was most interested in,” Gervais said.

The procedure has remained the same throughout both years of Laski’s UCARE experience. Laski participates in all stages of the research process: examining previous literature, forming a hypothesis, designing the study and collecting, analyzing and presenting the data, according to Gervais. Gervais is a mentor to Laski, but both share the leadership role in the project.

Gervais enjoys working with Laski and other “gifted and talented undergraduates” in the UCARE program, she said.

And, Laski enjoys working with Gervais. “It’s been really good. She’s really energetic and upbeat. She’s friendly, helpful, and down to earth.”

Laski said his chief interests are cognitive psychology and psychology that studies memory and dreams. He hopes to use his UCARE experience to help him go to medical school to study psychiatry.

For Laski, psychology is something he understands. “It’s useful in every situation,” he said. “[Psychology] applies to everyday life.” Ultimately, psychology gives Laski the means to make a difference.

“It’s a field I can help people with.”

- By Christine Scalora, Undergraduate Studies

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