Undergraduate Superstar: Heather McGrane, St. John Fisher College

Katie O’Neill
Iona College

APSSC: Where do you attend school and what year are you?

Heather: I attend St. John Fisher College (SJFC) in Rochester, New York and I am a senior.

APSSC: How did you become interested in psychology?

Heather: I originally thought that I would like to be an early childhood/special education teacher but my first class at SJFC was a child developmental psychology class that also counted as an education credit. Within the first 2 weeks I knew I wanted to switch my major to psychology. We were studying Jean Piaget’s stage theory and it really caught my interest. Since then psychology has become my passion and I cannot imagine how differently my life would have been if I had not found that passion.

APSSC: What are your research interests?

Heather: I am extremely interested in attachment, specifically adult attachment in close and romantic relationships. I am interested in how the role of adult attachment determines other factors, such as self-esteem, body image, and eating disorders. Another line of research that I am interested in is classical conditioning.

APSSC: Have you done research in the past, if so, can you elaborate on what type of research you were involved in?

Heather: I have had the opportunity to work with Dr. Laura Phelan at SJFC on her work with classical conditioning, specifically evaluative conditioning. I conducted a literature search and review to determine what factors we would like to investigate. I assisted in elaborating a basic design she had already used and we ran the experiment for two semesters. Once the data was collected and analyzed, we were able to submit the study for the APS Convention Poster Session this past May, 2008. I was the second author on the poster and it was a great experience for me.

I have also been working as a voluntary research assistant with Dr. Wendi Cross at the University of Rochester Medical Center. She is studying suicide prevention in an adolescent population. I have been able to observe work in the field as well as assist in entering data into SPSS and editing video of training sessions.

Last year I was able to design, conduct, and analyze my own research under a faculty member, Dr. Melissa Ghera. I studied the role of adult attachment and self-esteem and their impact on body image. It was the first time that I was able to study exactly what I wanted and it was a great experience for me.

I am currently beginning my honors senior research project. I am investigating adult attachment and eating disorders in undergraduate students, and attempting to determine any mediating variables. While I am excited to do this, it is a big undertaking and a little intimidating!

APSSC: What are your career aspirations?

Heather: I hope to earn my PhD in Clinical Child Psychology, hopefully with a concentration in Developmental Psychology. I would love to enter into a dual program so that I can work in different settings, such as schools, hospitals, and in private practice. I am also very interested in teaching undergraduate psychology at a 4-year college, similar to the campus environment at SJFC.

APSSC: In your opinion, what is the most important thing about psychology?

Heather: Understanding why humans behave in the ways that they do is the most important thing in the field of psychology. I believe that if researchers can determine why humans engage in certain behaviors, whether safe or risky, this will only further enhance our ability to adapt to changing environments. I also believe that the role of relationships is often underestimated in determining how humans react to life stressors.

APSSC: What do you like to do in your spare time?

Heather: I thoroughly enjoy reading for pleasure. During semester breaks, I always make it a point to read at least one novel from a genre not related to psychology. I also enjoy spending time with my (soon- to-be) stepdaughters, whether it is helping them with their homework, reading, playing a game, or running around.

APSSC: How do you balance a full time job, school and having a family?

Heather: I learned very early on in my academic career that if I were going to succeed I would absolutely need to make a schedule for each week and stick to it. I currently work full-time during the week and bartend on the weekends at a local party house. I schedule every minute of my day to make sure I have enough time to finish homework, study for a test, or prepare for my GREs. The majority of housework and cooking is done on the weekend, and when I stick to this, it makes the next workweek a lot easier. My fiancé and his children are extremely supportive and understanding of my time constraints and typically pitch in for whatever assistance I need. I think the way that I am able to balance everything successfully is through my desire and drive to do well in school and go on to a graduate program to obtain my goals. This semester has been especially difficult as my wedding is at the end of November and I am also in the midst of taking my GREs (general and psychology). However, I keep thinking about where all of this hard work will eventually take me and it makes all of it worth it.

Author Note

Katie O’Neill of Iona College was the 2007-2008 Undergraduate Advocate.