CLINICAL PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY IN PSYCHIATRY
Columbia University Medical Center
Upon obtaining my undergraduate degree in psychology, I knew that I wanted to spend time gaining experience before applying to graduate school. This is what initially motivated me to seek out opportunities for research, and to eventually become connected with Dr. Beatrice Beebe at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. I was drawn to Dr. Beebe’s work because although I already had a strong desire to work with children, I hadn’t considered working more closely with the mother-infant dyadic system. I wanted to be able to learn more about the importance of both the mother and the infant in facilitating verbal and non-verbal communication, and how that communication could inform future treatment. I did not foresee, however, that this research environment would provide me with such an in-depth understanding of the complex mechanisms underlying interpersonal communication between mothers and infants, and that I would be able to develop the skills and confidence needed to navigate the graduate school application process.
As a research assistant within Dr. Beebe’s lab, I observed mother-infant face-to-face interactions, and within three months, became statistically reliable as a video microanalysis coder of 4-month infant vocal affect. I worked simultaneously on other projects, including an Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) transcription, and coding 12-month infant vocal affect for a data set of 85 videos. I was given the opportunity to enhance my leadership skills through teaching visiting doctoral students to code and serving as a teaching assistant for Dr. Beebe’s course at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, EPIC Summer Institute, entitled “Learning the Infant’s Nonverbal Language.”
Through being a part of the lab, I have been able to truly understand the amount of significant interactions that occur at the second-by-second level; interactions that would be completely missed in real time. On a personal level, I have been able to recognize how much I have to offer to the field of psychology, and how important it is for me to pursue levels that match my full potential. I was surprised by how professional and educationally minded everyone within the lab was, and how personable Dr. Beebe was with all of her research assistants. I was expecting to feel intimidated, but was instead met with a genuinely inclusive lab environment, and an overwhelming amount of support. I did not expect that during my time at the lab, I would have been able to gain such a passion for observing mother-infant interaction, and such an ear for coding infant vocal affect. Additionally, Dr. Beebe’s monthly lectures have allowed me to think critically, process complex data, and consider the clinical implications of data results.
Ultimately, being a part of this lab has not only inspired me to work with children in the future, but to also reflect on the importance of dyadic communication in the clinical treatment of both children and adults. Every time I code, the infant teaches me something new, reminding me of the just how much can be discovered through careful observation. Learning to code infant vocal affect has allowed me to understand the many different ways in which infants communicate through sound, and has ultimately influenced how I now listen to the sounds of others. I know that this lab experience has helped to fully prepare me, as I now enter into graduate study at Yeshiva University. For any student that is looking to enter a graduate program and would like to gain research experience in a supportive environment, Dr. Beebe’s lab is the place for you.
The past two years at Dr. Beebe’s infant communication lab has been a transformative
experience. At Dr. Beebe’s lab I was able to learn so much about the complex dynamics of
mother infant face-to-face communication, a subject I knew little about when I first joined the
lab. I gained so much experience and exposure to psychological research while being in a
remarkably warm and welcoming community of lab assistants. I initially joined the lab as a part
of the statistics team but eventually acquired many administrative responsibilities. Being a part
of the stats and admin team gave me great insight in to some of the most fundamental parts of
psychological research such as submitting to IRB and psychological journals, running reliability
testing, data entry and management as well as making and editing graphs and tables. While
sitting with Dr. Beebe and analyzing the rich statistical findings of her research in mother-infant
and stranger-infant interactions I found myself fascinated by the way infants alter aspects of
their communication such as gaze when faced with the novelty of a stranger. By working on
tables to present statistical findings, I was proud to have gained a deeper understanding of time-series analysis, including complex three way variable analyses. In the fall I will begin a Clinical Psychology PhD program and being a part of Dr. Beebe’s lab not only provided me with support while applying to grad school but has also prepared me with the skills necessary to thrive in grad school. I strongly recommend joining Dr. Beebe’s infant communication lab for anyone who is trying to gain strong skills in psychological research and prepare themselves personally and professionally for graduate school or the next step in their career.
As I sit here, on the morning of my last day at the lab, I think back over the past 2 years
and wonder what I learned from the very unique experience. Now of course the first
things that come to mind are traveling 50 minutes to volunteer over 2 years, which is
everyone’s first thought and seems like a long time. But this entire experience was about
SO much more than that, which is why I felt the need to write down my thoughts to share
it with incoming labbies.
Two years ago I walked into the lab as a naïve psychology undergrad who was eager to
learn about research, mother-infant communication and how to run a lab. Not only did I
learn about all of these things, but my experiences from being in this lab have prepared
me to tackle my next chapter as a Social Worker at Columbia in the fall. Working under
Dr. Beebe has been an extremely rewarding experience. To watch someone who is so
unbelievably dedicated to their work has influenced me to find something I’m as
passionate about. Secondly, to watch an extremely successful woman who once had to
break through a field that was solely run by men has shaped me to strive to be half of the
researcher she is.
It took me around 6 months to fully grasp the numerous projects going on in the lab and
especially the history that led the lab and Dr. Beebe to where they are today. It is
important to not rush this experience and to take in all of the opportunities presented. It’s
important to understand where the lab has come from and especially the role it played in
mother infant communication and psychoanalysis. I will now walk away from this
experience with an understanding, and in my opinion, essential awareness of mother
infant nonverbal communication in early life and the influence this relationship can have.
I encourage anyone who joins the lab to take advantage of all of the opportunities
presented and use them to shape the type of therapist, researcher, advocator, and educator
they want to be.
Since graduating college, I had a basic understanding of psychological research.
However, as my ultimate goal is to attend graduate school and one day be a
psychologist, I knew I needed to have a strong research background. Dr. Beebe’s lab
on mother-infant dyadic communication was the perfect place to gain that experience.
Assisting Dr. Beebe in her research has been a wonderful opportunity where I was able
to get hands on experience as a vocal rhythm coder. Prior to working with Dr. Beebe, I
dismissed infant vocalization as mindless babbling. But I learned that the subtleties of
infant vocalizations are valid and infants can effectively communicate with others even
with their obvious limitations. Working in this lab has taught me to look at interpersonal
communication more closely through microanalysis. I often find myself applying the
skills I obtained as a coder in my daily interactions and observations. Learning the
nuances of subtle verbal communication is critical to being a great clinician and
researcher, and it’s something my undergraduate education has only touched the
surface on. I feel that I would have never been able to acquire these skills if I had not
been exposed to Dr. Beebe’s work and it’s been an immensely rewarding experience
thus far. As I am applying to graduate programs, I am confident that the knowledge and
skills I gained while volunteering in this lab sets me apart from most applicants in the
I started lab without having taken Experimental Psych in college but having just finished
Developmental Psych. So I feel that I had enough of a foundation to understand what the lab was doing so that I can build upon my psych knowledge rather than not understand it.
Having that foundation accelerated my understanding of psychology as a field since I was being exposed to so many ideas that I wasn't being exposed to in class. I feel that being in the lab gave me an advantage over my peers as they struggled with concepts that I was regularly contending with as a result of the lab.
While there were some strict theories and ideas that just needed to be understood as a given, there was still massive room for applying those concepts and understanding them in a new light. An example of that was understanding what self and interactive contingencies are but being able to understand them in the context of seeing which variables may be significant for different papers and then trying to understand the implications of such findings.
In short, I feel that the lab has enhanced my experience as a psych major and given me an understanding of the field that I would not have learned otherwise from just college classes alone.