Daniel Leong ’21 Processes Research Data at the Center on Human Development and Disability at UW in Seattle, WA

“Every Step”

My day begins at 11:53 am. I walk approximately 1 mile to my bus stop, then take the #45 to the Center on Human Development and Disability (CHDD) at the University of Washington, located behind the UW Medical Center. After taking a winding path past the urgent care entrance, I walk up a ramp and make my way to the third floor.

As of now, I have a number of jobs as a research intern: sanitizing kits, writing annotated bibliographies, and sorting/entering data.

On my first day, I remember spending a solid two hours alone in a room, sanitizing ADOS kits, or “Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule” kits. Each kit, housed in a large plastic container, holds a number of Ziploc bags. Each bag is labeled with an inventory of the exact number of each of its contents. Unlike any medical kit I had ever used, ADOS kits are filled with toys, books, snacks, and textured pieces of cloth. ADOS are considered one of the standard diagnostic evaluations for autism, with each piece serving an important role in gauging the participant’s levels of communication and social interaction.

Another task I am assigned is writing annotated bibliographies. Dr. Caitlin Hudac, a developmental cognitive neuroscientist and the director of the lab’s EEG and eye-tracking team, helped train me in compiling them. For those unfamiliar with the task, annotated bibliographies involve reading a scientific article, then extracting the essential bits into a more subjective form of a summary. Each day, I take the time to read up to 3 articles, around 12 pages each, of research and record my findings on a shared document.

Several weeks into my internship, I started entering data for several studies being conducted by the lab. The data for these research studies, designated with clever acronyms like TIGER (The Investigation of Genetic Exome Research) or ZEBRA (Zeroing in on the Examination of Brain and Behavior Research in Autism), is housed in an online data processing site called REDCap. If I’m not entering initial data, I’m double checking the pre-entered results to make sure that no errors were made.

The Bernier Lab has been my first real exposure to psychology/psychiatry research. As someone who has been interested in the mind since middle school, this has been an excellent way to participate in the very thing I’m passionate about. As a volunteer, I’m not really trained or allowed to do any of the hands-on research, such as administering the ADOSs or EEG scans. I can observe research sessions and help on the back-end, but that is the extent to which I can participate. That being said, everything I do here serves an important role in furthering the lab’s research. Without cleaning the kits, researchers cannot run their diagnostic tests, which pushes back the timeline of the study. The annotated bibliographies will eventually be used by the rest of the team to write scientific articles or books on the topic of ASD. And, no results can be drawn without a data double-checking system.

You see, the very basic thing about research that I’m beginning to understand is that nothing can be done without all of the smaller parts coming together to help, just as a clock won’t work without a certain cog, and how I won’t arrive on time if I don’t stick to my strict daily commuting schedule. I am glad to be helping out in this lab, even if it means I’m just wiping toys with Clorox wipes, because I know that in my own way, I am making a difference, and hopefully that difference will contribute to furthering the world’s understanding of autism.

Experiences like Daniel’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Victoria Wolff

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