Nearly all university students will do research as part of their assigned coursework. But university also gives students the opportunity to do independent studies—to design an original research project separate from regular classes, which can be done over a whole semester and counts for credit. CMU students have done studies in English, behavioural economics, biology, and more! I spoke with fourth year student Olivia Neufeldt about her recent independent study in psychology.

Olivia Neufeldt, 4th year psychology major at CMU

Hi Olivia! Tell me about your project.

I developed a survey that looked into stress, anxiety, and academics in relation to student motivation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost 200 students responded, and I presented the results to the CMU community last year.

How did you choose this topic?

I had taken a Psychology of Motivation class the semester before COVID-19, so that was fresh in my brain. I also thought about an idea that would work well during the pandemic, and this would be directly applicable to current students. I wanted to research something every student would have feelings about. And at the time, there were hardly any studies about COVID-19 and psychology, so it was a really new topic.

What did you learn from the survey? I imagine there was probably an increase in stress.

Students are worried! About 60% of students worried more now than in previous years. Generally, those who were more concerned about Covid were also more concerned about managing schoolwork. Interestingly, despite the correlation between COVID-19 worries and academic struggles, most students said that the pandemic didn’t distract them directly.

Did the results match your predictions?

The results are close to what I expected, but it’s nice to be able to show what we might know intuitively with actual data, and for professors to know that students are feeling more stressed than normal. This was near the beginning of the pandemic, so current anxieties may have changed or reduced as well.

Would you recommend students do an independent study?

I would! Especially because you get the opportunity to work really closely with your profs. A lot of other profs were offering to help me, and CMU students were really enthusiastic about participating. It’s a good way to get research experience and to explore a topic you might not be able to cover in class. An independent study looks great on a grad school application—and of course, you get to be in charge of everything!

Malcolm Reimer is a 3rd year science student.