Honors Profile: Lauren Smith

Smith looks at social implications of illness

February 1, 2012

Part of a series on Student Research

The Knox Student (TKS): What is your Honors project about?

Lauren Smith (LS): I am researching the social lives of people with terminal illnesses [and] trying to see if their goals for their relationships change when they find out that they have a terminal illness, and then look to see if having those different goals leads to changes in what their social network looks like.

TKS: Why did you decide to do this project?

LS: It was pretty closely related to my McNair. My McNair project was about how other people viewed terminally ill people. And it all came about because I was a hospice volunteer at the end of high school and at the beginning of Knox. As a hospice volunteer, I became used to it.

TKS: Have you found anything exciting or unexpected so far?

LS: Well, I don’t have any results so far. I am actually just getting ready to collect data. So I will be interviewing people starting in the next week or two. But I have done a lot of theoretical work so far. I am using a couple of theories that were first made to be used with populations of people getting older but not necessarily having an illness.

TKS: What do you hope that this Honors project will do to benefit you with graduate school or future employment?

LS: I am applying to grad school right now. It’s definitely been helpful so far in trying to explain to them how my interests relate to theirs. It’s nice because it gives you something concrete to say: “My interests relate to yours because this is what I’m doing.” And most of them have found it interesting.

TKS: Have you encountered any struggles so far?

LS: Yeah, it’s been really tricky trying to get my sample. We are going to try to get somewhere between 30 to 50 terminally ill people and then another 30 to 50 for a control group. We are trying to recruit the terminally ill people through hospices, and the hospices have been relatively supportive, but it’s a little tricky because they are protective of their clients.

TKS: When you are interviewing your subjects, is there a certain way you are going to go about it?

LS: It’s very structured. At Knox, you hear most people do their psych research and they’re doing surveys and questionnaires. And I’m doing the same thing really, but we are administrating it as an interview because a lot of the hospice patients might be incapable of filling out a pen and paper survey. Some of it is open-ended, but most of it is asking a question and they use a rating scale, so it’s still very quantitative. Also, some of the procedures are a little complicated, like trying to have them diagram their whole social network, and we are asking them specific questions about every person that they list, so it gets a little bit complex. It will be easier to administer it in person.

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