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Meet Luke Nguyen, a Junior majoring in Psychology with minors in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science. During the past summer, he worked on a research project with faculty mentors Dr. Keely Muscatell and Dr. Monica Gaudier-Diaz. In addition, he works in the Peer Relations Lab under the guidance of Dr. Mitch Prinstein and the Behavioral Lab, mentored by Dr. Ayana Younge.

Tell us about your summer research project. The project researched the effect of cultural, familial, and socioeconomic factors on Asian American help seeking attitudes compared to White Americans. We examined the differences between White and Asian American college students regarding how they feel towards getting help when faced with mental/emotional issues. We examined whether or not socioeconomic status, acculturation, and parental conflict influenced these differences in any way.

What encouraged you to get involved in research? Ever since I was in high school, I always noticed differences between my parents and the parenting styles of my non-Asian peers. I had also noticed the similarities between the parenting styles of other Asian peers. This led me to wonder if there is genuinely an effect that this racial difference in parenting styles had on how students developed throughout their lives. These similarities greatly centered around the focus of education achievement despite a deterioration in mental health and well-being. Essentially, I wanted empirical evidence that “Asian parenting” mentally influences Asian students differently than their non-Asian counterparts. When I got a chance to conduct research with the Summer Excel Research program, I knew it was my chance to test this idea I’ve had for a long time. The force that drove me was a desire to educate my parents’ generation that sometimes a focus on academic achievement can be detrimental if one doesn’t focus on mental health and well-being as well. While the findings of this research didn’t fit my initial hypothesis, we found that Asian Americans had a significantly lower attitude towards seeking help for mental health than White Americans. This provides further basis for more research on Asian American mental health and ways to help improve it.

What are your career plans? I aspire to become a clinician. My goal in life is to contribute to the mental health and well-being of an individual through being a therapist. I believe that everyone has a chance at a better life and mental health clouds that reality. I hope to have a career clearing up that cloud and help others have a better life. This research experience has taught me that therapy requires the consideration of the intersectionality of various cultures. We learned that we don’t only have to account for the racial differences (White vs. Asian), but the ethnic differences as well (South, East, Southeast Asian, etc.) As a clinician, I must do my research for each patient I come across to ensure I accommodate their mental health needs and to produce the best result from therapy.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned? Research is never conducted alone. Despite being the lead investigator, I would have been lost without the guidance of my faculty mentors, Dr. Muscatell and Dr. Gaudier-Diaz, who filled in the gaps in my knowledge of APA research outside of class. Also, my co-investigator, Iniya Muthukumaren, contributed just as much to the data collection, paper writing, literature review, and every other step of the process. She truly made the entire research process go so much quicker and more efficiently for me. Without my research team, our project would not have succeeded.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic has affected your research? Going into this summer, I was fully expecting the research process to be completely online. Communication was key in order for this project to succeed. My team, which consisted of myself, another undergraduate named Iniya Muthukumaren, Dr. Keely Muscatell, and Dr. Monica Gaudier-Diaz, set up a bi-weekly meeting schedule to meet and discuss how to conduct the research, analyze data, write the research paper, and work out any issues we encountered along the way. Email correspondence was also heavily used to communicate details about the project, findings, and methods of data analysis. Wifi shortages made it difficult sometimes during our meetings, but the team always kept up with each other throughout the project.

Data collection was conducted all virtually as was the advertisement for the data collection. Since we couldn’t advertise for the study on campus with posters, we took to social groups online to advertise our study and collected data. Surprisingly, online advertisement and data collection resulted in us having over 500 responses to our survey, which was 200 more than our intended goal. Perhaps people who are in their homes and online constantly have more of a reason to spend time taking our survey.

The UNC OneDrive system made it very convenient for us to store, access, and clean data from anywhere off campus. Google Docs was also a great resource used to work on our research paper and for our faculty mentors to provide easy feedback at a quick pace. Since the data collection, data analysis, and communication could be done all online, our research project was able to be completed with much issue due to the current pandemic.

However, it should be taken into consideration that our research included self-report questionnaires and regards mental health help seeking as well as family characteristics. The current pandemic could have affected participant responses because it has drastically changed people’s living conditions by forcing people into quarantine for months and quality of mental health has gone down. Therefore, this unprecedented time period could have put our participants into a different state of mind and their responses could have been influenced by this environmental factor that we are all facing.

Despite the current pandemic occurring and everything shifting to virtual, our project was able to be completed on time with every component nearly unchanged. The fact that our research relied on online surveys for data collection, the fact that we had a software that shared data across every team member in a safe place with OneDrive, and the fact that we had constant communication via emails and zooms ensured that this project wasn’t delayed or shifted in a major way. My research experience was certainly different, but still rewarding and enriching despite the online shift.

Our Undergraduate Research Series features spotlights on our Psychology and Neuroscience majors and minors who are conducting undergraduate research with our faculty! We believe strongly that undergraduate experiences are greatly enriched by inquiry and discovery through undergraduate research. Research experiences allow students to better understand literature, determine areas of interest, discover their passion for research, continue on to graduate studies, and to jump start their careers as researchers. If you are an undergraduate who is interested in pursuing research experiences, we offer PSYC and NSCI 395 as an opportunity to work side-by-side with graduate students and faculty members on cutting-edge psychological and neuroscience research. We also recommend you visit the Office for Undergraduate Research to find research opportunities, apply for research funding, and for helpful tools and advice. Research opportunities abound at UNC – find one that works for you!

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