RA Q&A with Rachel Hamilton from the Social Health Lab

Have you ever wondered what it is like to work as a research assistant (RA) in a psychology lab at UBC? Our new Q&A series highlights the experiences, contributions, and perspectives of student researchers at UBC Psychology.

By Madeline Renner

Rachel Hamilton joins us for our first RA Q&A. Rachel is a a senior research assistant and study coordinator at our Social Health Lab. The Social Health Lab, led by Dr. Frances Chen, explores how people establish, negotiate, and sustain social relationships. Rachel graduated from UBC’s Faculty of Arts in 2022 with a degree in Psychology. Rachel describes herself as a “huge nerd”, and loves to play Dungeons & Dragons. At the Social Health Lab, Rachel has been involved in a number of research projects, including the Community Wellness Project.

In this RA Q&A series, we hope to raise awareness about the incredible contributions that students make at our various labs, and to dismantle ideas about who a ‘perfect’ RA is.

What motivated you to apply to work as an RA at the Social Health Lab in particular?

There were a few things that motivated me to want to apply to work as an RA. I really wanted to experience what working on research projects is really like. During undergrad, we are asked to read and analyze so many psychology studies in class. After taking PSYC 217 (Research Methods), I wanted to see what it was like working with a research team on a more significant project. I wanted to see how this excellent research at UBC was being done.
I was eager to join the Social Health Lab because I was very interested in the type of work being done in the lab. At the time, I heard that there was work being done on topics like how prosocial behaviour can benefit us and our society, how loneliness can affect our physical health, and how to combat empathic disengagement.
I also wanted to get a better idea of things I would like to continue to study in my future graduate schooling. I planned to immerse myself in topics I thought were interesting, and hoped that it would spark more interest in me for the future.

What excites you about research at the Social Health Lab?

What interests me about the research being done in the Social Health Lab is the ties from mental health to physical health. In past projects I have worked on, we have worked on finding ways to help with social connection — since it has strong ties to decreased immune function, heart disease and decreased cognitive function. This kind of research means a lot to me because it is not simply studying something in isolation: it is trying to actively find viable solutions to a prominent condition within our society.

What advice would you give to a student hoping to get involved in research?

Honestly, just apply to labs! It might be intimidating to scroll online and see all of the different labs at UBC, and the fantastic research being done, and feel that you might not be good enough to join. But many labs do not expect previous research experience and are very happy to train you as you go! I think it is a good idea to have PSYC 217, or another relevant research methods course under your belt to at least understand how studies are usually run and how data is collected, but other than that, almost everything you do in a lab can be taught on the job.

What is your favourite part of working as an RA?

My favourite part of working as an RA and as a study coordinator is helping the rest of the team. I enjoy putting protocols in place for how things in the study should be handled so that it is less work for the other RAs, and they don’t have to worry about making sure all the participants are being spoken to or treated uniformly. Putting together documents outlining the text messages that are to be sent to participants, outlining the procedures of each portion of the study, and how to use all the websites we use are something I take pride in. I honestly just enjoy being a part of a team and making sure the rest of the RAs know how much their work is appreciated.

How do you see the field of social health research changing in the next few months or years? How do you see student involvement changing?

In the next few years, I see the field of social health research expanding as more awareness comes to the benefits of researching cost-effective and research-supported interventions and coping strategies for widespread social conditions such as loneliness and compassion, or empathy fatigue. As the stigma of mental health-related concerns lessens, I believe it will be something that the government and our society at large will want to have more research on.