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Persistence, patience help psychology student land dream internship

| Erin Finneman

For many people, rejection can be the end of the line. After chasing a dream and being turned down, it is hard to go after that dream again. However, junior psychology major Meredith Watson has proven that rejection can also spur an individual on to success.

Last year, Meredith applied for a prestigious addiction research internship at the University of Missouri’s Summer Alcohol Research School. When she heard back from the program, the news wasn’t what she had been hoping for. She did not get the position. Undeterred, Meredith decided to go after that same internship this spring.

“I have learned that right when you think you’re so overwhelmed and overworked and want to give up, you often stumble upon something that you love,” Meredith said.

After a year of hard work and dedication to working in Dr. Doug Matthews’ lab, Meredith realized her passion for addiction research. She applied for the same internship again with a new sense of energy and optimism, and this time she got the call back she was hoping for.

“This is a pretty sweet gig,” Meredith said. “Each student that is accepted into this program is individually paired with a researcher. There are seven students and seven researchers total. I have the honor of working with Dr. Dennis McCarthy and studying impulsivity and drunk driving. Not only will I be learning from him a lot and working in a lab, but I will also be presenting our findings.”

Meredith’s passion for addiction research may seem natural when talking to her now, but a few years ago no one would have predicted she would be on this path.

“Coming into college I was an art major and I was dedicated to becoming an art teacher,” Meredith said. “But then I started working in Dr. Matthews’ lab and I became so intrigued by researching alcohol addiction.”

Meredith credits her persistence in research to growing up in a small town. She came to Eau Claire from Goodhue, Minnesota, a town about 80 miles southwest of Eau Claire, with a population just over 1,000.

“Coming from a small town, I was taught and consistently exposed to the great work ethic of friends and family. I didn't have much of an idea of what addiction was from a scientific standpoint or the great impact addiction can have on one’s life," Meredith said. "The party scene of college along with the learning content in the lab really opened my eyes to how many people are affected by addiction. After this realization I became incredibly passionate about researching them. I think alcohol addiction is often overlooked and minimized which drives my interest in it even more.”

One of Meredith’s primary motivators since discovering her love for psychology has been Dr. Doug Matthews, professor and chair of the psychology department. He was one of the first people to realize Meredith's potential in the world of psychology and was eager to promote her to work in his lab.

“My first encounter with Meredith was actually when she was still an art student,” Dr. Matthews said. “She took an online introductory psychology class with me over the summer and really stood out from the rest of the crowd. She was a good student throughout the term, but a final reflection paper she wrote showed a lot of intellectual bravery and made it clear to me that she would excel in the field of psychology.”

Since that summer, Meredith officially changed her major to psychology and also picked up a minor in neuroscience. Such a drastic change in career path might seem scary to some, but Meredith is extremely confident in her decision.

“When I started doing addiction research with Dr. Matthews, it caught my interest because it was so relevant,” Meredith said. “Getting accepted to this internship program proves to me that pursuing this interest was the right move. I am so happy to be affirmed that I am in the major that suits me best.”

Throughout this process, Dr. Matthews has been amazed by Meredith’s work ethic and talent as a student and researcher.

“The one main thing I would say about Meredith is that she is an incredibly hard worker,” Dr. Matthews said. “After being rejected the first time she applied, she didn’t shut down like a lot of people would do. She took rejection as a learning opportunity and did something different the next time she applied.”

By pushing forward and pursing her interests, Meredith proved dedication is key to achieving dreams. The research program at the University of Missouri is incredibly prestigious, with only seven students being selected each year. The program offers students free housing and food along with a paycheck. For her countless hours spent in the lab and unbreakable spirit, Meredith is incredibly deserving of this opportunity.

As she looks forward to her summer in Missouri, Meredith also visualizes her future in research beyond college.

“Even though I am no longer pursing teaching art, I am still passionate about teaching and it is my ultimate goal,” Meredith said. “Following graduation, I plan to go on to graduate school in hopes of one day becoming a psych or neuro professor. This career path allows me to continually combine my passion for both teaching and research. Every small experience of mine has lead me to this opportunity and I am so excited to see what is in store for me.”

Photo caption: A strong interest in addiction research drove UW-Eau Claire junior Meredith Watson to land a prestigious paid internship at the University of Missouri’s Summer Alcohol Research School.