Monday, December 7, 2015

URSP Student Justine Burke Researches The Impact of School Suspensions on Academic Performance, School Attendance, and Retention

During the last spring semester, I began the Psychology Honors Program and met many potential mentors. At first, I was not sure which field of psychology I would want to work in. Even after numerous presentations by potential mentors, I felt stuck and unsure if I would ever find the right mentor or research topic. I finally found my calling when Dr. Adam Winsler presented his work regarding the Miami School Readiness Project (MSRP). He handed out a list of potential research ideas where I noticed the question about students at risk for suspensions. I had an interest in how negative consequences of early experiences may predict later emotional or behavioral problems, though it was mostly centered on the field of criminology (such as how people become serial killers). However, I found this to be a great opportunity to start developing my interest and decided to join Dr. Winsler’s Applied Developmental Psychology lab to work on my project about the impact of school suspensions on academic performance, school attendance, grade retention, and school leaving.

Most of my time is spent on writing drafts of my thesis proposal. I have already written over 13 drafts of my proposal, and while it sounds like it could be frustrating, writing numerous drafts helps me see what I could add or change. Though, it definitely does not stop me from wearing comfortable sweatpants and making a cup of tea before spending the next three or more hours writing. I even discovered that changing the color of the Word document page can help me write much longer without the glaring white page hurting my eyes. When I’m not writing, I often assist the graduate students in the lab with data entry or other tasks that they need help with. I’ve gotten a sneak peak at data from the Miami School Readiness Project that I’ll be using for my own project, which makes me excited for when I retrieve my own data.

While my original thought was to look at the adverse effects of suspension, my research led me to discover new facts about the common disciplinary system. Thus, I realized just how quickly the subject matter can become complex. Therefore, I may be able to see if the suspension system is in
need of revision as it adds to previous research. While I might not be exactly sure what I want to do in the future, working in the Applied Developmental Psychology lab shows me talents that I did not even know I had and interests that lead me closer to my future goals.