With both of her parents being alumni of the University of Georgia, Katherine E. Reuben might have been expected to follow suit. But Katherine chose to attend Georgia Tech, for a serious reason: “Because I plan to go into academic research, Tech’s psychology program was a much better fit for me than other programs, which focused more on clinical work,” she says.
Katherine experienced Tech’s research emphasis while still attending the magnet program of Wheeler High School, in Marietta, Georgia. During her senior year, she interned in the lab of School of Psychology Associate Professor Eric Schumacher. The experience, she says, “confirmed to me that Tech was a good fit for me.” It also eased her transition to Tech.
“Outside of a few friendly jokes during football season, they’ve been very supportive about my experiences at Tech,” says Katherine of her UGA alumni parents. “They’ve always stressed getting a good education and taking advantage of available opportunities.”
Katherine says she came to Tech “with already-established loves for psychology and research and a strong internal motivation to make something out of these interests.” During her senior year of high school, for example, Katherine created the website did-research.org, devoted to dissociative identity disorder. Her goal was to make research on trauma and dissociation readily accessible to the general public.
“I still maintain the website, which has grown to almost 100 unique pages and gets hundreds of hits a day,” Katherine says. “I feel like a lot of my time at Tech has been spent gaining the knowledge and skills that I need to continue and improve my engagement with psychological research and community outreach.”
What is the most important thing you learned at Georgia Tech?
My most important lessons have come from outside the classroom – Tech has taught me how to engage in research, use resources available to me, reach out to others when I need help, have confidence in my own abilities, and better communicate with others.
What are your proudest achievements at Georgia Tech?
I’m very proud of my senior thesis study on dissociation in autism spectrum disorders.
Dissociation is a mental health symptom that involves feeling disconnected from some aspect of yourself or your environment. The topic is often discussed by autistic people, yet almost no research exists on the prevalence or experience of dissociation among autistic people. Through my senior thesis, I took the first steps to close this gap in the scientific literature.
I am excited for the opportunity to consider publications based on this work. I hope to spark a conversation among clinicians that can lead to better recognition of the symptoms that autistic people want support with.
Many participants I recruited for my study expressed gratitude that this research was being done because so much of autism research doesn’t take into account autistic people’s actual concerns or perspectives. That’s slowly changing, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a part of that.
They supported my ambitious senior thesis idea and helped me to make it a reality. They helped me improve my technical writing and ability to present information. They were fantastic models for engaging in community-based research.
I feel confident in my ability to transfer what I’ve learned from them to enhance my future academic work, in large part because they were so consistently confident in me.
I also got a lot out of taking neuroethics, a psychology special topics course, under Dr. Scott Moffat. Discussing some of the more philosophical issues in psychology and neuroscience, such as human consciousness and free will, was fascinating. It felt like an introduction to how class can be a space to share ideas instead of trying to memorize or synthesize information from a textbook and lecture notes.
What is your most vivid memory of Georgia Tech?
The stand-out memories involve overcoming hurdles in my research, having the opportunity to present and discuss my research with others, and spending time with friends.
Every semester, the students in Dr. Schumacher’s lab get together for dinner. It is the small things like that made me feel at home at Tech.
In what ways did your time at Georgia Tech transform your life?
Georgia Tech helped me grow as a person and as a researcher. I’ve gotten access to amazing opportunities here and had wonderful support.
What unique learning activities (study abroad, research experience, internship, etc.) did you undertake?
My senior thesis study was a fantastic opportunity. I was supported at every step; I was also allowed a level of independence that I hadn’t experienced before.
I was responsible for everything – from choosing the topic, to planning, to creating the study, to analyzing the data (with help from a graduate student, Matt Barrett), to writing the results. Not only does this experience prepare me for future research as a graduate student, but it also was a real confidence booster to see what I’m capable of!
I had to learn a lot to make sure that my study could reach the potential that I saw for it, and it was very encouraging to successfully meet my goals.
What advice would you give to incoming undergraduate students at Georgia Tech?Reach out to your professors and graduate students! Not only can they provide advice and support, but they can help you to access opportunities that you might not have otherwise. Many of them are extremely caring, passionate about their work, and willing to help however they can.
Where are you headed after graduation?
I’m applying to graduate programs in psychology. I plan to get a Ph.D. and have a career in academic research focusing on trauma and dissociation. Georgia Tech helped me prepare for a research career by providing many fantastic opportunities to get involved.