Rachel Sullivan (Class of 2020)

photo of Rachel Sullivan

  • senior major in Psychology, with a Premedical Studies co-major
  • from Detroit, MI
  • plans to attend Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine (Fall 2020)
  • works in research lab analyzing efficacy of medical documents
  • published a paper on medical decision-making
"I wouldn't commit myself too quickly to any particular major. Take classes in the things that interest you before locking into a declared major."

Why Miami?

"I came to Miami because I knew it just felt right. That might be a cheesy answer, but it's true! After my second Miami tour I was sitting in a hotel room with my mom and just had the feeling that this is where I wanted to be. I really liked the student-oriented faculty. All of the professors that I met seemed very engaged with their undergraduate students, which wasn't the case at some other schools I visited.

"I started my first year knowing exactly that I was a pre-med psychology major, but I actually ended up changing my major to computer science and interactive media studies for a few semesters. It wasn't until I worked a summer at a daycare with a little boy who had anxiety that I remembered the reasons I wanted to study psychology and psychiatry in the first place, so I switched back."

Best Miami Experiences

Swoop, Rachel Sullivan, and a friend at a Miami University football bowl game

"I've never taken a class in my major that hasn't been interesting. Psychology has been a huge passion of mine, and everything I have learned has made me incredibly interested in the field. It is so fascinating to study how our brains can do what they do so quickly without us even realizing it.

"It's also led me to work with professor of psychology Christopher Wolfe, who is Co-Director of the Doris Bergen Center for Human Development, Learning and Technology. I worked as a research assistant in his Medical Decision Making Laboratory, helping with data analysis and also doing a bit of editing for a research paper, which has since been published in the journal Medical Decision Making. I'm listed as one of the authors.

"Last fall I took a Psychology of Dogs course taught by associate teaching professor Carrie Elizabeth Hall. It was an amazing class. Having been a dog lover all my life, seeing what a dog's brain is capable of has been a lot of fun. It made me want to go home to Detroit and see my dog!"

Miami and the Liberal Arts

"Miami offers so many different types of classes under the umbrella of liberal arts. With the classes I've taken in the College of Arts and Science, I have acquired a wide range of information for a very wide range of interests. You learn many different ways to approach a certain problem or material rather than just getting sucked into one topic. I feel confident that I can read a research report or dive into a novel and get critical information out of both.

"I'm currently planning to attend veterinary school, and I can say that I have learned a lot of important skills from every class at Miami regardless of whether it applied to my psychology major. I have learned a lot of critical thinking skills and problem-solving skills, especially in the classes in which I struggled the most. Miami has definitely taught me not just a lot of information, but how to learn."

Researching Medical Decision-Making at Miami

Rachel Sullivan holds a sheep's brain during a biopsychology course she took her sophomore year.

"I first got involved with Dr. Wolfe's research by going to the Department of Psychology Open House, which is held at the start of the fall semester. All the research labs come out and tell students what they are working on and if they are looking for new research assistants. I got really interested Dr. Wolfe's lab because at the time I was looking into medicine as a career, so it seemed like a natural fit.

"The primary thing we do in Dr. Wolfe's lab is study how well medical documents relating to cancer are understood by patients. We have been looking at what types of documents are most understandable and how to improve the documents people look at when making these incredibly important medical decisions. As one of the research assistants, my work primarily involves running lab experiments and setting up surveys, letting students go through the survey, and being there to answer questions. I also help to do a lot of data analysis, which involves scoring medical documents on their readability.

"As a doctor you have to be able to understand new research, so my lab experience has definitely taught me how to properly read various kinds of research documents. It has also just been amazing to watch as the science is developed. In class you learn about things that have been around for years, but here I got to see the process happen right in front of me. It has really impressed on me that the work I do can actually matter and have a tangible impact on the way things are done."

Advice to Students

"I wouldn't commit myself too quickly to any particular major. Take classes in the things that interest you before locking into a declared major. Early on at Miami, every time I thought I knew what I wanted to do, I would declare a new major and then have to be hassled with all the paperwork involved. You can always take classes that count for your requirements without doing the paperwork!

"For students interested in psychology, I definitely believe you should take in as much information as possible from your intro-level courses. Psychology majors have to pick an area of focus after all the introductory classes, so pay attention to the areas that interest you the most. Ultimately, that will be the area you will do research in and maybe have a career in!"

[February 2020]