Erica Qin ’22

Harvard University, Laboratory for Developmental Studies, Cambridge, MA

This summer, I worked as a research assistant at the Harvard Lab for Developmental Studies, which consists of three independent labs each led by one faculty researcher at Harvard. I worked in Jesse Snedeker’s lab, which focuses primarily on children’s language development. For this summer program, each intern was paired with one graduate-level researcher based on their overlapping research interests to assist in their ongoing project(s).

Testing out the games for our experiment.

The project that I worked on examines siblings’ influence in children’s language development. While the contribution of parent speech to children’s language development is well-established in previous literature, siblings’ role remains unclear. Therefore, our project aims to fill this gap by investigating whether children spontaneously learn novel language from their older siblings. Because this project uses a new paradigm and explores a topic that hasn’t been widely studied, our work this summer mainly involved finalizing the study procedure and piloting it with several families to test whether the design would work.

Throughout this process, I really felt that I was part of this burgeoning project. Because this study was so new and because I was individually assigned to this project, I was involved with various aspects of its development. I helped my mentor draft a study preregistration, prepare consent forms and the study survey, test out study materials, fine-tune the study procedure, contact and schedule participants for the pilot study, as well as conduct an initial data analysis. My mentor always explained the reasoning behind each step and often asked for my input, and incorporated my suggestion where deemed appropriate. At the end of the internship, in a fashion similar to the poster presentations researchers give at professional conferences, I presented on the work I had done and discussed our preliminary findings with the pilot.

Academically, both through my work on this project and through weekly journal reading groups with other interns, I gained in-depth knowledge on a variety of topics in developmental psychology. More importantly, the hands-on research experience I gained over this summer will be extremely helpful for my senior thesis work. Professionally, having worked so closely with my mentor and having interacted with other researchers at the lab, I’ve really come to understand what the life of a graduate student is like and what a career in academia entails. Their insights have guided my thinking about my future career path, and will help me make a more informed decision about my post-graduation plan.

I am deeply grateful for the ’68 Center for Career Exploration and the Kraft Family for providing me with the opportunity to participate in this internship. Working at one of the field’s leading labs and being closely involved in the development of a project has been extremely enriching both intellectually and professionally.