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Psychology student earns conference research recognition

Oct 17, 2023
A woman talks in front of a poster
A woman talks in front of a poster

KOKOMO, Ind. — When Alex Smith was looking for a topic for a research project, she was interested to find little previous work regarding the coming out process.

“I was looking through a psychology database, looking for gaps in research,” said Smith, a psychology major from Kokomo. “There is a lot of research about attitudes and beliefs, but not about the coming out process or things that might affect the coming out process. As an LGBTQ+ advocate, I wanted to investigate that.”

She presented her findings at the recent Indiana Academy of Social Sciences research conference hosted by IU Kokomo, where she was awarded the top student presentation honor.

“I had felt like my presentation went well,” said Smith. “People asked a lot more questions than I anticipated and seemed interested in my topic. I presented it not knowing I was being judged.”

Her research mentor Kathryn Holcomb, associate professor of psychology, said Smith –  an active participant in organizations like Spectrum and the Multicultural Center – came into the project with a wealth of knowledge and experience with the topic, so her research is a great example of applying research to everyday experience.

“She has done an excellent job of identifying a topic that needed more research and selecting well-validated methods to test her research question,” Holcomb said. “She worked through several challenges in developing her research and was enthusiastic about presenting her research at a conference, even though she completed all the courses for her research last summer.”

Holcomb said judges were impressed by Smith’s enthusiasm for her topic.

“Despite the fact her hypotheses were not supported, Alex spoke with visitors to her poster to share why the topic is important, why she thought her hypotheses were not supported, and what she would like to do next.”

Smith was surprised to receive recognition because she and Holcomb haven’t found significant results yet.

“We’re going to do more analysis and apply for more funding to look into it further,” said Smith, adding that her hypothesis was that men would have a later age of coming out and higher levels of pushback, while women would feel more accepted.

Holcomb encouraged her to publish her research, and after speaking to Christopher Darr, dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, she’s looking for opportunities.

“He wishes there was a whole journal of studies that had no significant results,” she said. “They’re still important, but they get swept under the rug a lot. Once he said that, it inspired me to pursue publishing it.”

Smith is a senior and plans to attend graduate school after completing her degree in psychology, with plans to earn a master’s degree in higher education and student affairs.

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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