Spotlight on Research
Alice Schermerhorn, Ph.D.
During my undergraduate years at Goshen College, a small liberal arts college in Indiana, I was 100% certain I wanted to be a therapist, and certain that I did not want to do research. I had come to the conclusion that research was just a pain—too much red tape and no fun at all. It was a pretty strongly held opinion, for someone who had virtually no experience doing research! When I finished undergrad, my career goal was to be a therapist, so I applied to Master’s programs in psychology.
Graduate and Post-DoctoralSstudies
Graduate students Hannah and Kelsey applying an EEG net
I was accepted into the Master’s program in clinical psychology at Illinois State University, where I had the good fortune of working with Dr. Salvatore Catanzaro, a fantastic mentor. There I studied mood, anxiety, and depression. During my time at Illinois State, I found that, to my great surprise, I really didn’t enjoy being a therapist, and I loved doing research. So from there, I went to the University of Notre Dame, where I worked with Dr. Mark Cummings, another fantastic mentor. There I studied family relationships, including the influence of marital conflict on child adjustment. For my dissertation, I examined the reverse direction of influence, that is, the influence of children’s behavior on marital conflict. I’ve always loved unexpected research questions and findings – what Mark Cummings called “Man Bites Dog” findings. In this case, it was discovering that not only does marital conflict predict child outcomes, but children’s behavior also predicts marital conflict.
After Notre Dame, I did a post-doc at Indiana University. There I focused on child temperament in connection with family relationships. A recurring theme across my career has been getting to work with outstanding mentors, and my post-doc was no exception! I got to learn about temperament from Dr. John Bates, and I got to learn about genetic and environmental factors that influence families and children from Dr. Brian D’Onofrio.
Research team members Valerie and Kelsey in the laboratory
In my lab, we are focusing on questions like, Are some children at greater risk of adjustment problems because of their temperament traits? What processes can explain this?
We are using electroencephalography (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), cutting-edge methodologies, to examine the neurophysiology associated with children’s processing of interparental conflict. We’re also using a variety of other research methods to learn about family relationships and children. We teach undergrads working with us all about these methods, which is great experience for people who are interested in applying to graduate school. Our lab offers students a great range of experiences spanning from the very beginning of the study process all the way through to the later tasks, such as data entry and even data analysis and manuscript preparation. If someone wants to see the full range of experiences involved in research, our lab gives them that! Our lab also offers opportunities for students who’ve been working with us for awhile to gain leadership experience. Plus, working with kids is really fun! Our lab application is available here.
Application for Undergraduate Research in Dr. Schermerhorn’s Lab
Researcher's son wearing an EEG net