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Hooked on Research

  • News Image
    Carissa Winland has written three research papers with Psychology Professor Fay Guarraci.
  • News Image
    She also helps take care of the animals in the Neuroscience Research Laboratory.

Psychology student selected to represent Southwestern at statewide event showcasing undergraduate research

Carissa Winland came to Southwestern knowing she wanted to study psychology, but she wasn’t sure what area of psychology.

“I hadn’t even considered research because I had never been exposed to it,” she said.

An Animal Behavior class with Professor Jesse Purdy and a Research Methods class with Professor Fay Guarraci changed all that. She’s now hooked on research and wants to attend graduate school to study neuroscience.

For the past two years, Winland has worked in Guarraci’s Neuroscience Research Laboratory. She has helped write three research papers and has presented two times at an international conference, which is quite an accomplishment for an undergraduate student.

These accomplishments led Winland to be selected to represent Southwestern at the first Texas Undergraduate Research Day, which will be held Feb. 14, 2011 at the State Capitol building in Austin. 

The event is designed to showcase the experiences of undergraduate students engaged in research for Texas legislators and the public. The program will highlight how research conducted by undergraduate students positively impacts Texas and Texans, with the theme “Transforming Texas Through Undergraduate Research.” Students will present posters about their work and meet with state legislators and their staffs.

The event is hosted by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, chair of the Senate High Education Committee; Rep.  Dan Branch, chair of the House Higher Education Committee; The Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas; and The Council of Public University Presidents and Chancellors.

Winland will present a paper she worked on with Guarraci titled “‘Nice Guys Finish Last’: Mate Choice, Reproductive Success, and Testosterone in Long-Evans Rats.” In November 2010, she presented the same paper at the Society for Neuroscience Conference in San Diego.

The study was designed to determine which qualities – both behavioral and physiological – led female rats to pick one male rat over another to mate with when given the opportunity to mate with two males simultaneously. The paper was titled “Nice Guys Finish Last” because they found that for some reason, the rats that were considered “unattractive” ended up being the ones more likely to sire offspring with the females. (Males that the majority of the females spent the most time with during the mating encounters were classified as “attractive,” whereas males that the females spent less time with were classified as “non-attractive.” Maha Zewail-Foote, associate professor of chemistry, helped the psychology researchers determine the paternity of each pup conceived during the mating encounters by doing DNA analysis on the pups and the adults.

Winland said she was “super excited” to be picked to represent Southwestern at the event. “It’s such an amazing opportunity,” she said. “I am very proud of the work I have done and I want to share my research with others.”

Winland said she is particularly excited about getting the opportunity to talk to state legislators about the value of education. She also is looking forward to the opportunity to gain experience talking about research to people who are not scientists.

Winland attended Austin Community College before transferring to Southwestern to complete her bachelor’s degree in psychology. She is applying to Ph.D. programs in the Washington, D.C., area, with her top choice being Georgetown University. She hopes to focus her Ph.D. research on how the brains of people with autism are different.

“I feel very prepared for graduate school after my experience at Southwestern,” she said.