Class of 2022: Psych major researches cognitive and neuro-behavior with dog by her side

Class of 2022: Psych major researches cognitive and neuro-behavior with dog by her side

M ackenzie Van Boxel

From: McDonough, Georgia

Why Georgia College: My lovely sister inspired me to take a chance and come to Georgia College. I was really swayed by the small class sizes and the intimate relationships students were able to craft with their professors.

Major/Minor: Psychology with a minor in creative arts therapy.

Van Boxel and Artemis
Van Boxel and Artemis
Medical Alert Dog: Artemis, a 9-year-old golden retriever, though we call him rose-golden because he has a little red in his coat. He’s a medical alert dog for narcolepsy and panic attacks. He assists me due to my various sleep disorders. When I fall asleep, he either tries to wake me up, get someone else to wake me up or lays on me for security. I often fall asleep in reaction to high emotions, stress, and exhaustion. This came to a head when I was a freshman and fell asleep in an alleyway at night. My mom decided I needed someone who could look after me 24/7 and Artemis was chosen!

Research: I was active in research in my department, signing up for two labs—cognitive psychology and neuro-behavioral psychology—as well as doing my own thesis on rest. I’ve been a part of more than five research projects, between my two labs and thesis. In my neuro-behavioral lab, we focused on manipulating cricket and tardigrade behavior. Through this, I learned how to design and execute procedures on a small scale with subjects that cannot understand reasoning. Though frustrating at times, I thoroughly enjoyed it. In my cognitive lab, we focused on decision-making in humans. I learned how to design a study from scratch and work in a group research setting. The research I’m most proud of is my senior thesis on rest and wayfinding. I’ve always been passionate about sleep research, and this was my chance to dip my toes into the field. The feeling of creating and running a study on my own was exhilarating and exhausting. I learned resilience, patience and the joy of seeing my research come to fruition. Unfortunately, most of the results from my various projects were insignificant. But just because the results aren't significant doesn't mean we can't learn something from them!  

Biggest achievement: Proving to myself that I’m worthy of success. I’ve dealt with a lot of imposter syndrome in my life. When I was honored with the Euri Belle Bolton Award for outstanding research, it solidified that I am a competent and professional researcher.

Favorite professor: I would say the professor I got the closest too was Dr. Young from the psychology department. She pushed me to do my thesis and has been an amazing advisor over the past year. She encouraged me to be the best version of myself and treats her students with compassion. Her talent and wisdom cannot be spoken of highly enough.

Most impactful moment: For me, it would have to be the SEPA (Southeastern Psychological Association) conference. Being able to nerd out about research and interact with fellow researchers and professors in a casual way was, for sure, a highlight. It was also the one time I let Artemis off harness and everyone got to pet and play with him. It was a great experience for both of us.

What she’ll miss most: The community and relationships I have built within the program. I’ve always been sort of a loner. So, having this built-in community of like-minded people was amazing for me. I think I’ll miss my professors the most, though. I’ve worked hard to develop strong relationships with most of the professors in my department.

Advice for incoming freshmen: Get in a lab ASAP! Not only will you experience hands-on research in creative ways, but you’ll also strengthen your relationship with peers and professors. My lab mates like to say we were ‘trauma bonded’ from all the work we did. It really is a wonderful experience, both socially and academically.

It can often feel like you don't have time to do everything, and that's okay. Make sure to take time for yourself and check in with how you’re feeling throughout your time here. If you are too focused on the grind, there may be nothing left of you by the time it's all over. Make friends, make memories and make mistakes. That's what college is for.
– MacKenzie Van Boxel
Key to success in college: Time and emotional management. Too often, have I allowed my ambitions in school to take over my social life and mental health. It can often feel like you don't have time to do everything, and that's okay. Make sure to take time for yourself and check in with how you’re feeling throughout your time here. If you are too focused on the grind, there may be nothing left of you by the time it's all over. Make friends, make memories and make mistakes. That's what college is for.

How she’s changed in four years: I've become more emotionally intelligent and more resilient. I’ve also learned to be kinder to myself. I used to cry and panic over every little mistake I made. Now I’m confident in my abilities and can navigate through tough situations in a mindful way. One bad test grade isn’t the end of the world, and it doesn't represent who you are as a person.

Future plans: I plan on following my passions and going into the sleep research field. My long-term goal is to become a somnologist, a doctor who diagnoses and treats sleep disorders. I want to help people who have the same experiences and worries as I do. While there’s no specific sleep program at Georgia College—the psychology program taught me how to be an effective researcher and how to pursue a professional career. They don't just teach you psychology but also how to apply it to your life moving forward, whether that be getting your doctorate or going straight into the workforce.