Graduates Leave Devoted to Research

When Tahlia Bragg transferred to The University of Arizona, she jumped almost immediately into research.

An undergraduate conducting research would have been unusual in years past. But Bragg, who graduates Saturday with a bachelor's degree in psychology, is one of many UA seniors who devoted much of their time to research while working toward their degrees.

Their time in UA laboratories fueled an interest that is leading Bragg and others, like Aubrey Rodriguez and Jomes Moxness, to continue along the research path while pursuing advanced degrees.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the demand for numerous research-based jobs � such as those that belong to statisticians, research psychologists, biological scientists, medical scientists, social scientists and those in both scientific research and development services � are expected to increase between about 10 percent and 20 percent at least through 2016.

Bragg, a first-generation college student who came to the UA from Central Arizona College, always wanted to attend the University, believing it would offer her good preparation for graduate school.

"It�s a very good school," said Bragg, an Honors College student.

During her time at the UA, she chose to study a topic that had been the focus of few researchers.

She looked at some of the most popularly used scales to test adult intelligence and examined the ways in which neuropsychologists used the measures to assess African Americans, American Indians and Hispanics. She found clinicians sometimes took inaccurate measures because of cultural and linguistic differences between them and their patients.

This led her to believe that there is a "socioeconomic quality issue in health care."

For instance, patients may have struggled with certain words and descriptions and instead of the neuropsychologists recognizing a linguistically based challenge, patients were more often marked down on the intelligence scale.

"African Americans and Hispanics are most at risk of being overmedicated or being assessed for a problem that isn�t even there," said Bragg, who intends to pursue a doctorate in clinical neuropsychology. "So it�s important to fix the essential tools."

Bragg also worked in another lab as a UA/NASA Space Grant undergraduate researcher. In her work with Guy McPherson, a professor in the UA�s School of Natural Resources, she evaluated whether fires and livestock could aid in the growth of grasslands that were being overrun by nonnative species of grass.

Before attending graduate school, Bragg will work in a research position at the University of Puerto Rico.

The Social Scientist

Aubrey J. Rodriguez devoted her research to one of the most widely recognized social networking sites:

Working with UA assistant professor of psychology Matthias R. Mehl, she studied music preferences and music listening behaviors of the site�s users.

What Rodriguez and her colleagues found was that people had a tendency to exaggerate their interest in "unique, intense- rebellious music--generally not the typical Top 40 radio hits " but didn�t necessarily listen to that music day to day.

"There is also some image they�re trying to portray in the online community to perhaps try to appear unique, which is valued in the online community," said Rodriguez, an Honors College student who majored in psychology, family studies and human development.

With online networking sites, the use of computer media and computer-based communication growing in popularity, it is becoming even more necessary to study such topics, she said.

"We�re relying on these things more in the business world and in our social lives as well," she said.

As an extension of her Myspace study, Rodriguez conducted another study, also in Mehl�s lab.

She already knew that a person�s personality traits could be pretty well defined based on the appearance of a person�s bedroom or office and how a person interacted with others.

But what of personal narratives?

Rodriguez and her colleagues wanted to know whether the "average person" could pick up on levels of depression by reading someone else's writings and said the research was "more about the accuracy of other average peoples' judgments."

To complete the project, research subjects typed in personal diaries, journals or blogs and had others read them. The researchers learned that people could pick up on the depression of others.

"Though people make accurate judgments from both private diary and public blog writings, they use different linguistic cues to achieve accuracy," she said.

The research indicated that those who were depressed would more often write in the past tense, used pronouns and swear words more commonly and talked more often about sleeping. What was more difficult to measure was the level of depression, she added, saying that this calls for more research. Having had the experience in a laboratory, Rodriguez said she is interested in doing more.

"There were a lot of reasons why I was looking for a research internship," she said. "It was through my coursework that I realized research might be something I would pursue. Mainly, I wanted to explore the option"

The interest stuck.

She was recently accepted into the University of Southern California�s doctoral degree program in clinical psychology.

The Archaeologist

While in high school, James Moxness met UA associate professor of chemical and enviornmental engineering Paul Blowers, who � like other UA faculty � was looking for students to contribute to University research.

Moxness, then a student at Sabino High School, took the chance, researching life cycles in chemical processes, while led him to study chemical engineering.

Attending the UA also piqued his interest in ancient history, and he declared classics as his second major.

"I didn�t see the connection between the two," the graduating senior and Honors College student said. "But, as I went through my classes, I found that there are ways to combine my interests in ancient history with my knowledge of chemical engineering."

Eventually, Moxness added a third major: art history.

Having earned three UA degrees, James Moxness will leave the UA for the University of Oxford, where he will pursue a master�s degree in classical archeology focusing on ancient Roman technology.

"Engineering does such a great job of teaching you technical topics, which extends to preservation of artifacts and ways ancient people did certain things or built certain buildings," he said. "That�s the idea behind the master�s program. I will be able to use my technical background to understand the chemistry and engineering and use what I understand about classical history to bring everything together."

Moxness, who is also president of the local chapter of Tau Beta Pi, an honor society of engineering students, worked on several research projects while at the UA.

As a high school senior and UA freshman, he analyzed life cycles in chemical engineering. He then spent the summer of 2007 in Orvieto, Italy, helping to excavate a trench that contained two altars. While there, he studied objects that dated back to the Etruscan period and leading up to the Roman imperial period.

Most recently, Moxness worked in a chemical engineering laboratory with UA chemical engineering professor A. Eduardo S�ez. His job was trying to improve ways to safely store arsenic that had been removed from water, and to dispose of the arsenic in an environmentally conscious way.

His research and other activities have garnered numerous awards and scholarships, including the Richard Kissling "Spirit of Inquiry" scholarship, which is awarded by the Honors College.

His research experience, he said, has been truly valuable.

"I wanted the ability to apply and practice and get a real tangible feel about items that are 2,000 years old, or more," said Moxness, who intends to advocate for the protection of archeological sites in order to protect them from theft. "It�s hard to grasp the significance of something that old until you experience it first hand."