Make sure that you’re doing some volunteer work, research, and taking classes that you really enjoy. ...This is the time in life to learn about and do things that we really enjoy. If you don’t enjoy it, find something else.
Getting to the root of human behavior has been central to Sean Mitchell’s academic journey. After completing his undergraduate education at Texas Tech, Mitchell stayed at the university to matriculate into the clinical psychology doctoral program. Mitchell says involvement in research is essential to undergraduates, no matter their major, because it offers valuable learning experiences. Mitchell himself became involved in research during his sophomore year and has worked with psychology Professors Robert Morgan and Kelly Cukrowicz. Now a doctoral candidate, Mitchell still collaborates with Cukrowicz, who is his faculty mentor, and is leading a research project that allows him to work with psychology professors at two other universities. Outside the academic laboratory-clinic environs, Mitchell has been active in service projects associated with mental health and suicide prevention, including the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness community walk. Once he completes his PhD, Mitchell plans to stay on the path of integrated scholarship as an academician.
Learn more about Student of Integrated Scholarship Sean Mitchell in this question-and-answer session.
What got you interested in your major?
My interest in psychology began during my senior year of high school when I took an Advanced Placement course in general psychology. My interest continued at Texas Tech University (TTU), and my career interests solidified after completing an undergraduate research methods course. I graduated from TTU with a BA in psychology and Spanish. I am currently a first-year clinical psychology doctoral student. I have chosen to remain at Texas Tech University to pursue my PhD in clinical psychology, because I am dedicated to the university and believe I can receive excellent training in my field at TTU.
What courses are you taking this semester?
This semester I am taking the following courses: Introduction to Clinical Psychology, Biological Bases of Psychological Function, Research Seminar in Clinical and Counseling Psychology, and Advanced Correlational Methods and Factor Analysis. In the fall of 2013, I will begin to see clients in the Psychology Clinic. I will be enrolled in a practicum course and be supervised by a faculty psychologist while providing mental health services.
What is the most challenging course you've taken? How has it affected you?
The most challenging class was the cognition course that I took in the Department of Psychology as an undergraduate student. I took it in the spring of my freshman year, and it was a senior-level course. About halfway through the semester I realized that the courses were given a classification level for a reason. It was the most difficult class that I have taken, even after a semester of graduate-level courses. However, there were definitely positive experiences that came from taking this course. I learned that I was capable of surviving and doing well in a challenging course. I discovered that I could push my limits, work hard, and succeed. I made a B+ in cognition, but I was more proud of that B+ than any A+ that I have received. It is because I had to work hard and push myself, and I was forced to actually understand and learn the material. Now to conquer cognition at the graduate level!
Have you participated in research?
I think research is the most important thing that an undergraduate student can get involved in, no matter what career they want to go into! The sooner the better! Being involved in research labs can open a wealth of opportunities and learning experiences! As an undergraduate, I worked in Dr. Robert Morgan's forensic and correctional psychology research lab as a research assistant at TTU. I started in his lab as a sophomore (the earlier the better!). My responsibilities included scoring assessments and measures as well as data entry using SPSS for grant-funded research. I assisted with data collection using a semi-structured interview of offenders at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice parole office in Lubbock. I also collected data at an in-patient psychiatric unit where I gave assessments to participants with severe mental illnesses. Furthermore, I have collected data at several correctional facilities in Kansas and Virginia. Additionally, as an undergraduate I was the primary author or co-author on five research posters that have been presented at national conferences. I also worked with Dr. Kelly Cukrowicz, who is now my faculty mentor in the clinical psychology doctoral program, in her suicide and depression research lab at the beginning of my junior year. Dr. Cukrowicz extended me the opportunity to conduct an independent research project in her laboratory as an undergraduate, which I have recently submitted for publication.
I am currently heading a research project, in which I am collaborating with psychology professors at two other universities in the United States. This is an excellent opportunity to collaborate with other professionals and bring awareness to TTU’s dedication to research. In addition, I am working on my master’s-level thesis project and a couple of manuscripts with the goal of publication. I really love research. I believe that research is the foundation for informed practice in psychology, as well as the foundation for good teaching. This is why it is so important to me that I conduct, publish, and present my research findings.
Have you completed internships or had other work experience applicable to your field of study?
I applied for and was accepted into the American Psychological Association (APA) Summer Science Fellowship, a competitive research program hosted at George Mason University. In the spring of 2011, I was selected as one of twelve students from across the United Sates out of an applicant pool of more than 300 students. During my fellowship I was employed in Dr. June Tangney's Human Emotions Research Laboratory. While there, I worked on two grant-funded studies. These studies examined offenders' reentry into the community and evaluated a new restorative justice intervention, and I assisted the project by collecting data at the Fairfax Adult Detention Center. Additionally, I developed an independent study (from an existing dataset of Dr. Tangney’s) examining suicide ideation across offenders' periods of incarceration, and the relationship between proneness to shame and suicide ideation in a sample of jail inmates. This fellowship also provided training on the policy implications of research and the influence of APA on public policy. In addition to this, I was involved in two research labs in the Department of Psychology for several years. It was my undergraduate research experience that made me competitive for the fellowship.
What service projects (volunteering, community service, etc.) have you been involved in?
As an undergraduate student I was an adult mental health activities volunteer at The Community Living Center, which is a recreation facility within StarCare (formerly Lubbock MHMR). In this role I interact regularly with persons who are developmentally delayed or suffering from a mental illness, and I had the opportunity to communicate and engage with them in games and activities.
As a first-year doctoral student, I am still becoming acclimated to life as a busy graduate student. I have not yet been able to reintegrate service regularly into my schedule. I did participate in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness community walk here in Lubbock. The purpose of the walk was to raise awareness of suicide and research funds to help better understand suicide risk and prevention. In the future, I am planning to stay involved with organizations that bring awareness to suicide risk and investigate methods of suicide prevention.
What advice would you give to other students who would like to be a Student of Integrated Scholarship? Students of Integrated Scholarship balance academics with additional activities, such as research, internships, service learning, and study abroad.
Get a planner, calendar, or something. Stay organized! You’ll find out that you have time that you did not know that you had. Also, make sure that you’re doing some volunteer work, research, and taking classes that you really enjoy. This will make it easier to find time to fit everything in. This is the time in life to learn about and do things that we really enjoy. If you don’t enjoy it, find something else. Don’t only do something so you can put it on your curriculum vitae or résumé.
What are your plans after graduation?
My career goals lie in academia. Upon earning my PhD, I would like to pursue a research career to explore specific risk factors in offender suicide in hopes that my research would influence correctional assessment, therapy, and correctional policy. In addition, I would like to conduct forensic and treatment-related assessments within the criminal justice system. My interests are still growing, and there will be plenty of new experiences and opportunities in my graduate program in the years to come, so at the same time, I am trying to be open minded.
What experiences do you value most as a student at Texas Tech?
I most value the experiences that I was afforded in Dr. Morgan’s and Dr. Cukrowicz’s research labs as an undergraduate. I was given the opportunity to conduct research, present at national conferences, get a taste of life as a graduate student, get an idea of what it is like to be a professor in psychology, and get experience to make me competitive for other opportunities (e.g., fellowships and graduate school). The graduate students in the labs were also very supportive and a great resource. They helped mentor me through the graduate application process, on how to think about research, and statistics. It was a fun and amazingly useful experience. I think being involved in these labs was definitely one of the best parts of my time as an undergraduate student, and I am excited to continue my involvement in research as a graduate student.