Our undergraduate student research internship program consists of a 400 hour commitment over the course of twelve months during which time students are trained to work directly with our families and assist our psychologists throughout the assessment process. Their role includes guiding the family through room changes, directing the family as to what activity will come next, implementing experimental assessments and delivering instructions for those experiments, data entry, and participation in weekly seminar lectures regarding the theories and methods behind the studies that they help us collect data for. The seminar series reinforces the material typically learned in undergraduate research methods courses, and provides students with the opportunity to apply that knowledge and think critically about factors involved in running a research study. It allows for the opportunity to hear what questions are driving the current theories, and solidifies the reasoning behind the need for the data we are attempting to gather. Topics often include MRI in autism, using fMRI to understand language development, using Eye Tracking in infants, standardized assessments used in evaluating young children, considerations in bi-lingual assessment, the grieving process of parents who have with children special needs, gene expression, and brain development in autism.
These lectures combined with the direct observation of a wide range of developmental abilities experienced in the clinic formulate an exceptional learning experience for our students interested in child development, neuroscience, cognitive science, human development, psychology, speech and other relevant disciplines. The program consists of three increasing levels of responsibility. In the initial phase, new students are paired with experienced students during a period of directly supervised training. During the second phase, students are encouraged to become more independent and to begin thinking more critically and scientifically about their own observations and curiosities. In the final phase, the now experienced student “teaches” all that he or she has learned to new incoming students as a trainer, and then the cycle repeats. This model follows the “Learn, Do, Teach” approach to learning that is a popular model for learning. Many program graduates have gone on to distinguished Master’s, PhD, and MD programs, or have begun careers as ABA therapists.