Undergrads Research Risk Behaviors in Teens

Undergrads Research Risk Behaviors in Teens

Wanting to see what UC Merced had to offer, curiosity brought Zi Wang to Bobcat Day a few years ago. Topping his list of priorities was a school with undergraduate researchopportunities, and this university fit the bill.

Wang is now in his second year at UC Merced, on the fast track to graduatenext year, and has been a research assistant in health psychologist Anna Song's labsince September. Professor Song is conducting research centered on behaviors in adolescents regarding choices to do with tobacco useand early sexual initiation.

Wang works in Dr. Song's lab with fellow psychologymajors and research assistants Christina Nguyen, Nabanita Rashidee and Therese Anderson.

"I chose to do research on sexual initiation in teens because my goal is to go to medical school, and this topic is borderline pediatric medicine; there's a lot of crossover," Wang said.

Working from the hypothesis that abstinence only works well with a comprehensive education, Wang is curious about the factors that go into the decision-making process of adolescents who are sexually active, or are considering sexual activity. Hoping to discover what kind of education influences teen choices, he is researching the correlation between the "why" and "how" of protection and the actual decision to use it.

Nguyen is another student on the fast track at UC Merced. Two years into her college career, she is hoping to graduate a year early and work on a doctoratein psychology.

"UC Merced is a brand new university with the latest technologies and I wanted to be a part of that," said Nguyen. "I have learned so much from doing research with Dr. Song."

Her focus is on attitudes about the risk of pregnancy among young adults, and how that factors into their behaviors. "What made the research interesting to me," she said, "was that it was something I have always been curious about. If people didn't want to risk pregnancy and knew the importance of protection and contraception, why don't they use it?"

"Dr. Song's specialty is health psychology, and she has done several studies in the field," said Rashidee, who is focusing on adolescent views on diet, exercise and body image. "I thought her studies about adolescents' health behaviors, smoking and sexuality were really interesting and thought the experience would be great practice for graduate school."

"I plan to study public health and public policy. I want to be an advocate for comprehensive sexual education and would love to be a health educator at the community level," Rashidee said.

Anderson, who graduated last semester, is spending her summer at the Kenneth Maddy Institute on a policy internship, and will be applying to graduate schools within the UC system to pursue a master's degree in public health.

"My focus in research is to discover effective prevention efforts that will be effective for underserved communities," she said. "I am studying health attitudes and perceptions in adolescents and trying to understand what "being healthy' means to them at that age.

"Being in Dr. Song's lab has allowed me to exercise my critical thinking and researching skills. It has also given me insight into thoroughly researching a problem and challenged me to ask "why?' Knowing the origin of a problem can sometimes help find the right solution."

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