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Alumna Begins Ph.D after Publishing Scientific Papers


Sara PeckWith two publications in a scientific journal under her belt, and a third under consideration for being published, Sara Peck ’17 is off to a great start at Utah State University, where she has begun a five-year Ph.D program in behavior analysis.

Peck’s most recent publication, “A comparison of resetting and nonresetting contingencies in

progressive-duration schedules,” was accepted by Behavioural Processes, a peer-reviewed journal. It was co-authored with Morgan Valois ’17.

According to psychology professor Dr. Thomas Byrne, who served as a mentor for the paper, “Each of them has a repertoire that would give most second-year doctoral students a run for their money.”

Byrne said it is “highly unusual” for an undergraduate to be published once, let alone twice, and possibly three times.

“Sara started working the lab early in her undergraduate career,” he said. “By the end of her junior year, she was putting in hours pretty much daily, including weekends, holidays and breaks. She has a passion for research and is willing to put forth the effort required to be a published scientist.”

Peck, who received admission offers for several competitive doctoral programs, already has started to work with faculty who are among the most highly published and cited in her chosen field, Byrne said.

“The research experience I gained at MCLA is definitely the main reason I was accepted into grad school,” Peck said. “The psychology department at MCLA truly nurtures and motivates its students. … Grad school was a long-term goal of mine since freshman year. I spoke to many psychology professors about this goal, and all were extremely supportive and offered valuable advice.”

As she worked in the lab, Peck earned many research and independent study credits, which allowed her to spend more time in the lab. The study she undertook for this second publication was related to research she conducted in Byrne’s lab.

“Specifically, this paper outlines two ways of ‘counting’ responses in progressive schedules. This comparison has not been examined before,” she explained. “One somewhat unexpected finding was that efficiency of responding was relatively consistent under both schedules.”

At MCLA, Byrne added, “Our students have the benefit of working closely with faculty whose mission is to teach undergraduates.  Our majors are not competing with graduate students for their instructors’ time.

“I train them the same way I would train graduate students; we are just starting earlier in their learning history. Furthermore, MCLA is not a’ publish or perish’ environment. Therefore, faculty members have the freedom to conceptualize and implement research projects which include undergraduate participation as a key component.”

Ideally, Peck would like to work as a faculty member at a college or university. She attributes her achievements to the opportunities which were presented to her: “I enjoyed working in the lab and I am very fortunate that I was able to gain such quality research experience at MCLA.

"Anyone who hopes to work in academia will benefit from having their work published. This is something grad programs and universities look for when accepting students and hiring faculty members.”