My family members are all educators. My mom was a high school math teacher, while my grandma was a tutor and substitute teacher. They started teaching me to read as early as they thought I could learn. I think this is a big part of how I got my head start educationally.
I started kindergarten when I was four. After being there for a week, my teacher said, “She’s finishing all her work in 30 minutes, so let’s move her up.” So I moved to first grade, and after skipping third grade, I started being homeschooled. I later skipped fifth and seventh grades, which led to me starting high school when I was 9 and college when I was 13.
My brain just absorbs things easily. In high school, everything was easy. I was one of those kids who didn’t really have to study.
But that changed when I started college at Charleston Southern University in South Carolina. I actually failed my first biology test. But once I figured out how to study and what my professors were looking for, I knew I could do it.
Other than that, I don’t think my college experience is that different from other people’s. As a freshman, when we did icebreakers in class like, “Tell us your name, major, and a fun fact,” my fun fact was always that I was 13. I was anxious that some people would treat me differently, but they never really did.
Some things were annoying, though, like not being able to drive myself anywhere. Sometimes when there was a school event, I’d have to ask a family member to take me, and they’d sit and wait for me in the parking lot.
Many of my professors in undergrad had a major influence on me, especially a few psychology professors who made research fun and exciting. In my research methods class, I designed a study to see which demographic groups might have more positive or negative opinions of vegetarians, and I became really interested in research because of that experience.
I got my bachelor’s degree in psychology with minors in biology and French when I was 17, and then I took a year off before starting grad school.
For grad school, I applied to universities in the Carolinas and Ohio as well as to UNLV. My best friend, whom I met in an online community when we were younger, lived in Las Vegas, which made my mom feel better about the move.
I ultimately chose UNLV’s experimental psychology program because of the professors here. I really liked the research being done by the faculty in my department, especially psychology professor David Copeland in the Reasoning and Memory Lab. Even during my first phone interview with him, I thought his research was fascinating and he had some great ideas. He brought me on as his grad student after that.
I’ve really enjoyed being at UNLV so far. I like the program I’m in, the professors, and the classes I’ve been taking. I’ve also enjoyed teaching undergraduate psychology classes here and working as a lab manager in Copeland’s lab. I’m getting my master’s degree in experimental psychology this semester at the age of 21, and now I’m continuing to study at UNLV, working toward getting my doctorate through UNLV’s embedded program. I hope to have my degree by the time I’m 23.
As a researcher, I’ve been studying whether people remember stereotypical information about fictional LGBT characters better than non-stereotypical information—an effect called stereotype-consistency bias. This is what my master’s thesis is about. While there is plenty of research about this effect as it relates to other minority groups, there is little research about stereotype-consistency bias as it relates to the LGBT group. In fact, I’ve only found four scholarly journal publications that explore the effect with LGBT characters.
It’s important to understand why prejudice exists and how people use stereotypes in their everyday lives, especially because it affects our decision-making process. It can have a huge impact on our legal system. Research shows, for example, that if people are reading a court case about a Latino man and it mentions he was aggressive, people are more likely to remember the aggression than neutral information and more likely to decide he should go to jail. So they end up using that stereotype to make a critical, life-altering decision.
I hope my work can encourage people to pay attention to information that isn’t stereotypical so they can make unbiased decisions about other people. I think even just having the awareness that your brain is capable of automatically doing something like that is important, especially since all of us defy stereotypes in some way. This is one reason why research is so essential. As an example, I’ve been doing taekwondo for more than three years. I’m currently an orange belt working toward becoming a green belt. Meanwhile, I’m short, young, and in a doctoral program. I’m not what people normally imagine when they think of grad students or martial artists.
I’m not sure what I want to do for a career after I graduate. Maybe I’ll be a professor, or maybe I’ll work for a private company doing research. We’ll see. But I know that wherever I end up, I want it to involve research in some capacity.