A Postcard From: Jessica Tharaud ’20

Name: Jessica Tharaud
Class Year: 2020
Major: Psychology and Spanish
Hometown: Newton, Mass.

Internship Placement: Harvard Study of Adult Development at Massachusetts General Hospital
Job Title: Research Assistant
Location: Boston

What’s happening at your internship?

This summer, I have been working at the Harvard Study of Adult Development, an incredible longitudinal study that has followed the lives of 268 Harvard undergraduates and another group of 456 men from Boston for the past 75 years. Because of the massive amount of material accumulated over that length of time, my main project this summer has been creating a spreadsheet listing all of the documents for each participant. I also check the files for any missing documents, update the tables of contents to resolve discrepancies, and digitize documents to make sure that all of the data is accessible. Additionally, I enter and verify data on health and aging from questionnaires between 1981 and 2010 and help with other tasks as needed.

Why did you apply for this internship?

During the academic year, I began working with the study through the lab of Professor Marc Schulz, who is also the Associate Director of the Harvard Study. Professor Schulz put me in contact with the researchers in Boston and helped me obtain the position. Since my introduction to the study, I have gained so much appreciation and passion for its unique contributions to psychology. These men entrusted the Harvard Study with the details of their lives, and the opportunity to be a part of that is one of a kind.

What has been your favorite part of this internship?

My favorite part of this internship so far has been shadowing one of the lab visits of the second generation of participants. At Bryn Mawr, I knew of the lab visits and had examined some of the data. But actually being in the room and meeting a participant as they willingly go through tasks is such a qualitatively different experience. Research often seems impersonal when it becomes numbers on a computer screen, and simply having witnessed the process gives me a new perspective on what data represents.

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced at your internship?

The biggest challenge so far for me has been pacing myself and having to re-evaluate my project. I want to be productive and contribute, but allowing myself to slow down and take breaks actually improves my work and prevents me from burning out. When I began cataloguing the files, the intention of the project was to simply provide a resource so that researchers could quickly examine the availability of data across all participants. However, I quickly realized that the table of contents in each folder was not always accurate and a much smaller project grew into delving into the files for missing documents, fixing the table of contents, and digitizing documents. Learning each new step involved requires an adjustment, but taking on this bigger challenge has ultimately been more beneficial and rewarding.