Loyola University Maryland


Finding My Next Steps: Why I Chose to Become a Researcher

by Amanda Woodward, '14, Psychology / Biology Major

Amanda Woodward HeadshotWhen I started at Loyola, I was sure of one thing, I wanted to be a doctor. I chose to be a biology/psychology major so I could learn the biology I needed for medical school, and the psychology to connect with my patients. During my first two years, I checked every box I needed to be a competitive medical school applicant. Then one day, I realized I missed something. I did not like blood or needles, and this seemed problematic for a physician.

If I wasn’t going to be a medical doctor, I needed to figure out my next steps. Once the anxiety of being uncertain lessened, I met with my advisor, Dr. Sherman. We talked about potential career paths and the possibility of graduate school. He encouraged me to talk to professors in fields I may be interested in, and if I was seriously considering a Ph.D. program, to learn R programming (the intro book he suggested still lives on my desk). 

Over the next semester, I met with several professors to learn about their research interests and how they became interested in them. These conversations helped me gain insight into areas I may want to pursue, like health psychology or cognitive psychology. I learned more about the steps required to apply to graduate school and started thinking through what I wanted my own path to look like. I even became a research assistant working with Dr. Kirkhart and Dr. Prenoveau, and explored opportunities at Johns Hopkins. More importantly, I saw how excited everyone became when talking about their own research, and I knew I wanted to be as excited with my future career.

During summer orientation, I worked as an Evergreen and was assigned to assist Dr. DiDonato during student registration. We discussed my plans to apply to graduate school and Dr. D suggested ways I could gain more research experience, and that I should consider conducting an independent study. I had enjoyed designing an experiment in research methods, and welcomed the chance to dive deeper into research. Since I was on campus that summer, I met with Dr. D regularly to discuss steps for the independent study.

This project was one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of my undergraduate career. I chose to study how self-compassion related to undergraduate dating strategies. With Dr. D’s guidance, I designed the experiment, chose and trained research assistants to collect data with me, and analyzed the results. I had the opportunity to present the work as a talk at the Undergraduate Research and Scholarship Colloquium and as a poster at the Eastern Psychological Association meeting. With each new step, I fell more in love with my project, and became more excited about it. I wanted to understand the process, the results, and plausible alternatives.

It has been four years since I graduated from Loyola, and I am almost a doctor (of Philosophy; anticipated Ph.D. from the University of Maryland, College Park in Cognitive Psychology). Some things have changed. I work with children, and investigate how they think about the social world. I teach undergraduate researchers how to conduct research, and help guide them through their own projects. I challenge them to dive deeper into the research, and be curious. 

Other things have not changed. I am still enthusiastic about my own research, and excited to hear about the work of others. I still rely on the fundamental research skills I cultivated at Loyola. My love of research, fostered by Loyola’s faculty, motivates me to keep asking questions. 

My first year at Loyola, I never thought I would be interested in research. I am grateful for the professors who went out of their way (and still do) to help me discover my interests and plan my career.

Tori Kovelman

Tori Kovelman

Tori credits Loyola for developing her as a leader, advocate, and change agent for her students, school, and the system