Cydney Dupree '11 Shares Her Amazing UTRA Experience
A girl performs an intentional act, like bouncing a ball. Is it possible to "rotate" your perspective so that you see the action from her point of view?
Cydney Dupree '11 is aiming to find out. As a junior, Cydney was eager to try her hand at research, but wasn't sure where to start. However, this being Brown, she didn't contact a teaching assistant or senior lecturer for help. Instead, she reached out to Professor Bertram Malle and, together, they devised a proposal for an Undergraduate Teaching and Research Award (UTRA). Their social psychology experiment tested whether people actually rotate their visual perspective into another person's perspective if that person is, say, sitting across from them.
"Being able to take another's perspective is so important," says Cydney. "It's fundamental for everyday interactions with friends, family, professors, and bosses. It even goes into important issues like diplomacy and the law."
Deciding on the experiment was one thing: carrying it out quite another. "When I thought about the various tasks needing to be done, the materials I had to procure, the people I had to contact, and the corresponding skills necessary to do them, I was sometimes overwhelmed. But I really did learn how resourceful I am and how much fun it is to learn new skills—even if it is kind of daunting in the first place."
It's about learning, about becoming a researcher, which allows the student and the mentor to take intellectual risks. — Professor Bertram Malle
"This is the wonderful thing about an UTRA project," says Professor Malle. "It's about learning, about becoming a researcher, which allows the student and the mentor to take intellectual risks. Cydney is motivated, conscientious, intellectually curious, and pays a lot of attention to detail because she wants to understand every part of the project. This is the sign of a budding scientist's mind."
"My UTRA was the best way to jump into research," insists Cydney. "You really can't experience it unless you're hands-on and interactive."
Cydney presented her preliminary results at the 2010 Summer Research Symposium, then proceeded to build on her UTRA experience to develop her senior honors thesis. "Cydney is now preparing the second experiment, a true step of innovation—high risk but with potentially great payoffs," says Professor Malle. "Science is so often about the safe next step, but learning science must also include bold, innovative steps."
"I realize that there can be a lot of setbacks," says Cydney. "But even if the data don't come out the way we expect or I don't end up being able to get published, it will still have been an incredibly rewarding experience. Research is so much more than just the data."
The Karen T. Romer Undergraduate Teaching and Research Awards (UTRAs) fund collaborative projects between undergraduates and Brown professors.
This story originally appeared on the Boldly Brown: Campaign for Academic Enrichment website in January 2011.