A Pathways Fellowship Paves the Way for a Lab Internship: Sandrina Mislitchi (SF22)

May 28, 2021 | By Eve Tolpa

Sandrina Mislitchi (SF22)

A General Pathways Fellowship in summer 2020 gave Sandrina Mislitchi (SF22) the chance to delve into a topic that piqued her interest during the previous academic year.

As a sophomore, she recalls, she had started “looking for opportunities to engage with research in the cognitive sciences,” and an encounter with Leslie Kay (SF83), a visiting tutor and psychology professor on sabbatical from the University of Chicago, pointed her in a fruitful direction.

Kay had been co-leading a preceptorial at the Santa Fe campus with tutor Phil Bartok on neuroscience. It was from her, Mislitchi says, that she first heard of University of Chicago’s Summer Institute in Social Research Methods.

“I was aware of my lack of technical preparation for pursuing the research I was interested in, but I was eager and willing to engage in research and work on gaining those skills on my own,” says Mislitchi.

Kay also introduced her to Daniel Casasanto, an associate professor of psychology at Cornell University. After reading some of his publications, Mislitchi applied for an internship at his lab and was accepted. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, she had to postpone it.

“On the bright side, I suddenly had a lot of time to work on some of the skills I needed in order to engage in research in psychology and cognitive science,” Mislitchi says. From her point of view, a three-week University of Chicago course, titled Introductory Statistical Methods and Applications, “seemed like the perfect place to start.”

The class’s goal, she explains, “was to assist the students in learning to perform descriptive and inferential analyses of data from single and multi-factor experiments. We learned how to understand normal distributions, sampling distribution, hypothesis testing, and the relationship among the various techniques covered. We had a couple of lab classes in which we learned how to integrate the use of SPSS as a software tool for these techniques.”

Mislitchi attended the class online, a now-normal interface with advantages and disadvantages. The remote aspect was convenient and cost-effective, and Mislitchi always felt engaged by the instructor and material, but she couldn’t help regretting the missed opportunity to make new friends in person.

Also notable was the class’s more traditional lecture format and frequent testing protocol, which represented a departure from the highly interactive, discussion-based approach of the St. John’s Program. As someone accustomed to encountering original texts unmediated, Mislitchi says that she “felt frustrated at times, because we had to apply formulas that we never proved, formulas that we had to take for granted.” Rather than simply accept them at face value, though, Mislitchi—in true Johnnie fashion—was motivated to fill in the blanks herself; in fact, she says, “I believe that junior math might help me with understanding the proofs behind some of those formulas—it could be a little side project!”

She found the classwork intense and the pace fast-moving—but felt well prepared to face it. “St. John’s taught me how to deal with a big workload and to creatively approach challenging tasks without feeling overwhelmed,” she says.

Now, with a new skill set in her academic tool box, Mislitchi plans to pursue her own research. “This course will allow me to further deepen my understanding of statistics through independent study,” she says. “It will also help me better understand the statistics when reading research papers and publications.”

The best part? Mislitchi will have ample opportunity to do both in an internship with Kay at the University of Chicago’s Institute for Mind and Biology lab, lined up for summer 2021.