AUGSA Graduate Student Research Symposium

Chatting with AU Student Katy Lowe

The Voice Magazine recently had a chance to chat with AU student and AUSU Councillor Katy Lowe about her recent presentation at the AUGSA Graduate Student Research Symposium, her upcoming presentation at the 2020 Virtual Meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society, as well as her future plans.

Meet Katy

Katy is currently a fourth year Bachelor of Arts in Psychology student from Calgary, Alberta, the traditional Treaty 7 territories of the Blackfoot Confederacy (the Siksika, Piikani, and Kainai First Nations), the Tsuut’ina First Nation, the Îyâxe Nakoda (the Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley First Nations), as well as the Métis Nation of Alberta (Region 3).  She is currently balancing schoolwork and Council duties, as well as homeschooling two of her three children.

AUGSA Graduate Student Research Symposium

This summer, Katy completed a research studentship awarded by Alberta Innovates with Dr. Kharah Ross, a faculty member at AU’s Faculty of Psychology.  Katy explained, “She had a COVID[-19] study that she was trying to get underway with a few other faculty members.  One of those is someone who was a tutor for two of my courses.  She sent an email asking if I would be interested in research assistant work.”

In this position, Katy was able to help “with the parts of the study that might be really time consuming or mundane, but are important and need attention, like data collection, managing sets of data, [and] sending out surveys.”  She continued, “This was a study on COVID-19 and mental health and wellness.”  Katy felt that it was a great opportunity “to see how research works,” something she had learned about in her coursework.  “It was a really great learning experience. … I was also able to learn how to do it myself, in that I was able to use the same data but come up with my own analysis (but with a lot of help from my supervisor).  She really mentored me and guided me through this whole process.  It ended with an opportunity to present to the University of Calgary Summer Student Symposium, where I could talk about my abstract and the work that we were doing.”

During this period, Katy “sent some emails to the AU grad student union (AUGSA),” asking if undergraduate students could participate” in the AUGSA Graduate Student Research Symposium.  She had previously attended, and found it “really exciting,” taking her “down the path to wanting to do research in future years.”

When AUGSA decided to permit AU undergraduate students to apply, with the top two abstracts chosen to present, Katy submitted a similar abstract, which was selected.  She stated, “It was a really great opportunity to share a paper presentation with the AU community, because there is not really an opportunity (in the undergraduate side) to share what you might be independently working on.”  She continued, “There is interest … [so] I’m hoping that, in the future, there might be opportunities.”

Although this year’s conference was virtual due to COVID-19, she felt that it was “a great experience.”  She stated, “I could talk all day about my project, so it’s really exciting when people want to ask me questions about it.”  On October 17, 2020, Katy’s presentation, “Association between Age and Depressive Symptoms during COVID-19: Moderation by Communication Technology Use,” tested “associations between depressive symptoms and communication technology use, age, and age-by-technology use interaction.”

Katy has continued to work on this project as a research assistant on a voluntary basis, and the findings have “been submitted to various abstracts.”  Dr. Ross has allowed Katy to “take first authorship on this communications technology piece, which is a really big honour.”  Katy “came up with the coding that will be used for the statistical analysis for technology specifically,” with the help of Dr. Ross.  She stated, “She has guided me on how to do it, but she has let me decide what I want to look at and how to look at it.”

2020 Virtual Meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society

In October, Dr. Ross encouraged Katy to submit the work to the 2020 Virtual Meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society, which takes place on December 3 and 4, 2020.  She stated, “She sent it in for me, and I got confirmation a couple of days ago that it was accepted as a poster presentation.”

This will be Katy’s first international conference and her third conference thus far, including “the three-minute thesis, the ten minute paper presentation, and this will be … [my] first poster presentation.”  Her presentation is titled, “Communication Technology Use, Age, and Depressive Symptoms during COVID-19.” (Catherine Lowe; Cheuk Fan Ng, PhD; Janine Keown-Gerrard, PhD; Trevor H. Gilbert, PhD; Kharah M. Ross, PhD).

Participants were acquired through Athabasca University and social media, which allowed for a diverse sample.  Katy explained, “Athabasca is so unique, and we have such a diverse population that it makes it really exciting to see all the very different people that really represent this population.”  She continued, “With our sample, we had people from every single province in Canada.  Our mean age was 38, …  our youngest was 18 and our oldest was 74 … That’s such an incredible spread.”

What’s Next?

Katy is currently in the process of applying to graduate school programs, stating “This has been such an incredible experience … I want to continue doing research specifically in health psychology and the psychosocial influences on health.  I hope that one day I can be the person that is mentoring someone else. …  This wasn’t my end goal objective, but being exposed to this, it’s way too exciting!  I do this in my spare time because it’s fun.  I love it!”

She continued, “The next step is to hopefully be accepted into a grad school program to continue doing this and learning how to do it a little more independently.  Hopefully in the future I can continue doing academia and clinical research.”

Research Assistant Positions

Katy mentioned that she has noticed that AUSU has been reposting research assistant positions from the myAU website, stating, “That’s kind of how I fell into this path.”  She continued, “The experience opens your eyes to different possibilities to pursue.”  As for how AU students can get involved, she advised, “I would look at the research assistant opportunities; AU does post them.  Even if you think that you don’t have the experience, you’re not really expected to have the experience.   As much as you want to come in there with some confidence, it is a learning opportunity.  No one expects you to have everything mastered and ready to go.  They’re there to mentor you.  Apply to them … because you never know!”

As a final note, Katy “hope[s] that students will be able to see this and …  [realize they] are not limited by going to Athabasca [University].”  She concluded, “You might have to seek it out a little bit because sometimes these conversations happen around the water cooler, but it’s definitely possible, and there is some very exciting research going on with faculty members.”  Best of luck Katy!