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Student finds immersive research experience in Australia co-op

11/09/15 - BOSTON, MA. - Ana Tarbetsky poses for a portrait on Oct. 9, 2015. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Ana Tarbetsky worked on graduate-level research in educational psychology earlier this year while on co-op in Australia. But the experience did more than advance her exploration of that field. It also continued her global learning that began a year earlier on study abroad at the University of Sydney.

“My experience there felt unfinished,” Tarbetsky said. “That was the first time I was abroad by myself. It took me awhile to get established there, and then once I did, the experience was coming to an end. I feel like my co-op picked up where I left off.”

Tarbetsky, SSH’16, a senior sociology major who is expected to graduate in three-and-a-half years, started searching for a co-op in Sydney as soon as she returned to campus in fall 2013 following her study abroad. She eventually connected with a professor at the University of New South Wales whose research interests aligned with her own.

As a research assistant, Tarbetsky performed extensive literature reviews, data collection and analysis, and report writing. For her first task, she helped draft a book chapter on a theoretical model for predicting students’ motivation, engagement, and achievement by examining variables such as adaptability, or how you respond in the face of new situations; academic buoyancy, or how you respond to everyday setbacks; and the role of three factors: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

Next, Tarbetsky worked with the professor and a postdoctoral research fellow to co-author a forthcoming journal article on how Australian Indigenous students’ implicit beliefs impact their achievement. The paper is based on data obtained through a quantitative survey administered before Tarbetsky arrived.

Tarbetsky, for her part, drafted the journal article section by section, from explaining the methodology to outlining the research findings. She gives enormous credit to her supervisors who she says helped her work her way through the entirety of a research article, which she little experience with prior to her co-op.

“This was an immersive experience into educational psychology and the current state of the research,” she said of her co-op. “I was thrown right into it, but into an environment in which learning and growth was encouraged. I didn’t feel overwhelmed. It was challenging, but supportive.”

Tarbetsky plans to pursue her doctorate at the University of New South Wales after she graduates from Northeastern.

This was an immersive experience into educational psychology and the current state of the research.
— Ana Tarbetsky, SSH’16, said of her co-op

A snail’s shell shows the way
The field of educational psychology wasn’t on Tarbetsky’s radar when she enrolled at Northeastern. She was interested in sociology and felt the university’s co-op program could help her define her career path. Ultimately, she said, her co-op in Sydney “turned out to be the perfect match.”

Tarbetsky, who is pursuing minors in both linguistics and psychology, said her interest in educational psychology also developed through taking courses in social psychology, behavioral analysis, and learning and motivation—the latter of which focused on behavioral and educational psychology. Her interest developed organically from her academic experiences, and she fittingly turned to nature to provide a suitable analogy. “It was kind of like a snail’s shell, circling from the outside in,” she said.

Serving up some stress relief
There’s no denying that Tarbetsky’s academic interests have blossomed over the past few years. But so, too, has her passion for volleyball, one of her favorite sports. Tarbetsky played all four years in high school, played on the women’s club volleyball team during her freshman year at Northeastern, and then participated in a co-ed volleyball league in Sydney while studying abroad.

She found some familiar faces when she returned on co-op and was invited to be part of an all-female team. “Volleyball has been a way to exercise, socialize, and de-stress,” she said. “It’s something I’ve always sought out.”