September 26, 2006

Julie Phelan ’05 Receives Jacob K. Javits Fellowship from U.S. Department of Education

Psychology and art graduate will use award to continue research at Rutgers

Julie Phelan ’05 is no stranger to academic research. While at Lafayette, she completed two separate honors theses and collaborated with professors on numerous projects.

After graduating with an A.B. with majors in psychology and art, she began a Ph.D. program in social psychology at Rutgers University, where her research has primarily been examining inter-group relations, with a focus on implicit social cognition.

The U.S. Department of Education has rewarded Phelan’s dedication to research by granting her a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship.

“The fellowship allows me to concentrate on my research,” Phelan says. “Rather than having to obtain funding through teaching and graduate assistantships, I can focus more effectively on research. In addition, I can now afford to travel to conferences to present research without a significant financial burden.”

According to the Department of Education, recipients of Javits Fellowships demonstrate superior ability and achievement, exceptional promise, and financial need. The fellowship program helps students undertake graduate study in selected fields of the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Lafayette’s last Javits recipient was Amanda Roth ’04, who graduated with an A.B. with majors in philosophy and women’s studies.

Phelan’s application process for the Javits Fellowship involved a personal statement (previous research experience/proposed research plans), transcripts, GRE scores, list of previous honors and awards, and three letters of recommendation. The fellowship is renewable for up to four years and consists of a payment to Rutgers, which the school accepts as full compensation for tuition and fees, and a stipend of up to $30,000.

Phelan says her studies at Lafayette—including her honors thesis in psychology and her participation in the EXCEL Scholars program—provided her with excellent research experience, which was a catalyst for her obtaining a Javits Fellowship.

She credits John Shaw, associate professor and assistant head of psychology, with first sparking her interest in social psychology in one of his classes. Jeannine Pinto, assistant professor of psychology, and Gabrielle Britton, assistant professor of psychology, also gave Phelan a solid foundation in research methods and statistics.

Phelan says her greatest influence was Susan Basow, Dana Professor of Psychology, who encouraged Phelan to apply to graduate school. Phelan and Basow collaborated on research focusing on gender differences and aggression among college students, which was just presented in August at the American Psychological Association’s 2006 convention in New Orleans. They also co-authored “Gender Patterns in College Students’ Choices of their Best and Worst Professors” with Laura Capotosto ’05, who graduated with an A.B. with majors in psychology and government & law. The article appeared in Psychology of Women Quarterly.

Phelan also conducted honors research in both her majors. The first focused on social intolerance of mental illness with Basow as her adviser, and the other explored the similarities between written and spoken language and artistic expression, which was guided by Ed Kerns, Eugene H. Clapp II ’36 Professor of Art.

“Basow was my adviser for both EXCEL and my psychology thesis, and together we collaborated on several studies,” Phelan notes. “Through my work with her, I was able to gain experience writing portions of articles for scholarly journals, as well as presenting research at national conferences. The research experience I gained and the publications I contributed to while working with her were, without a doubt, a huge factor in both my getting in to graduate school and my obtaining the Javits fellowship.”

Last year, Phelan collaborated with Laurie Rudman, her adviser and associate professor of psychology at Rutgers, on several studies examining gender roles, and the putative conflict between heterosexual romance and feminism. In addition, they began the first of a series of studies examining gender stereotypes of emotion.

This fall, Phelan is working on her master’s thesis, which examines the role of backlash in cultural stereotype maintenance. She will present results of her research at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference in Memphis in January.

“Essentially, I’m looking at how fear of negative sanctions for defying stereotypic expectations decreases an individual’s willingness to pursue atypical domains and develop counter stereotypical talents,” Phelan explains. “In addition, I am collaborating on several studies with Rudman that follow up on our work from last year, as well as conducting research on the relationship between implicit beliefs about power and psychological vigilance with Diana Sanchez, [assistant professor of psychology at Rutgers].”

While at Lafayette, Phelan was a teacher’s assistant and a psychology lab assistant for Basow and was on the executive board of the Arts Society. She also participated in club field hockey.

Honors theses are among several major programs that have made Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. The College sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year; 40 students were accepted to present their research at this year’s conference.

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