Summer internship: Exploring the origins of comfort eating

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Final year student Maddy Roberts
Maddy Roberts, who recently completed a summer internship at the Department of Psychology

This summer Maddy Roberts, a third year BSc Psychology student, has spent time on a research internship under the supervision of Dr Jenna Cummings, a lecturer in the Department of Psychology. Maddy worked on a research project exploring the origins of comfort eating.

Here, Maddy and Dr Cummings discuss the summer internship, conducting the research project at the Department of Psychology and the benefits of taking part in the internship.

How did you become involved with the summer internship programme?

Maddy: I was interested in gaining more experience in Psychology based areas, as I’m looking to do an integrated Masters after my undergraduate. I then want to do a Clinical Psychology Doctorate course.

I was looking for anywhere I could get some experience and I really wanted it to be second year specifically, as I’ll probably have a lot more on in the third year. I was hoping to find something and I got lucky to be introduced to Jenna and then to go from there.

What is your research project about?

Maddy: As part of this internship, I have been involved in a lot of Jenna’s projects. We’ve done qualitative coding into responses about why people comfort eat – going through about 2000 responses and helping to make the code book and categorise everything. That was one thing.

As well, I was helping Jenna with ethics and grant applications.

Dr Cummings: The collaboration that Maddy has been predominantly working on during her summer internship, I got involved in because I had been thinking about comfort eating – this idea that people eat when they are trying to rid themselves of stress or to feel better.

I’ve been thinking about this topic for over a decade now. It was something I studied in my PhD training and I kept in touch with a peer in the lab, who was also interested in it. She got this large amount of money to study it further, so she reached out to me to collaborate further with her on it. She had this data already collected and wanted help analysing it.

It turned out that Maddy had experience already with qualitative coding, which is amazing and fit in really well with this project’s needs. 

What has it been like working with one another?

Maddy: It’s been a really interesting process and experience working with Jenna. As part of the undergraduate degree you learn about research, but then that’s a completely different experience to meeting Jenna, who is an experienced researcher and getting a better look into what research actually looks like - the processes you go through and the different hurdles you jump over.  

Dr Cummings: I was excited to have a summer student. It’s exciting to have a student come in and bring new ideas and a fresh perspective. It ends up reinvigorating your own work. It’s been an absolute delight to have Maddy join in on the project, to hear her insight on what she thinks might be contributing to comfort eating and to hear her insights on reading all this qualitative data and what she thinks about it.

From my perspective, it has been a really meaningful experience in terms of the excitement for the science and also just broadening ways to think about this topic, which I’ve been thinking about for so long.


Jenna Cummings

Dr Jenna Cummings is a lecturer in the Department of Psychology.


What are the benefits of taking part in a summer internship for your studies and future employability?

Maddy: I think besides being something to put on your CV, it is really invaluable experience that you’re not going to get the opportunity to do at many times in your life. I think doing it now, or at any point in your academic career, gives you an insight into what things might look like, experiences that you can have and it gives you the chance to form a meaningful mentor relationship with someone. 

I think you can learn a lot about yourself by having someone who is experienced and speaking to them and having that feedback.

What advice would you give to students who want to take part in a summer internship?

Maddy: I would say just reach out to anyone in the university. I originally reached out to my Academic Advisor and said I was interested in an internship. Through my reaching out to her, she was able to put me in contact with Jenna. I told her what I was interested in and she said it linked well to Jenna’s interests and research. It was a really good fit.

I would say you don’t have to have one specific person in mind and say it has to be them. You can put out your interests and see what comes back.

Jenna: The advice Maddy is giving is ringing true with what I was going to say. When Maddy and I were connected, I could sense that she had the motivation to do this. She showed the initiative by talking to her advisor, who put her in touch with me and she was willing to come and meet me to talk through interests and ideas. Just showing that initiative is really something that anyone who is interested in doing this, should do.  

Besides all the benefits professionally, it can also just be really fun.