Internship Spotlight: Grad Student Erin Neaton with the Detroit Lions

September 20, 2023 - Shelly DeJong

Erin Neaton wearing blue plaid pants, a dark shirt, and a lanyard stands on the sidelines of the Detroit Lions football field before a game..

Erin Neaton, from Farmington Hills, Michigan, is a fourth-year Psychology graduate student specializing in Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience. Over the summer, Erin had the opportunity to intern with the Detroit Lions as an analyst in their information department. She shared recently about her experience. 


What are your research interests? 

I am in Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience with a broad research interest in skill acquisition and expertise. I currently have a couple lines of research. The first is analyzing how athletes may perform differently in pressure situations. For this research, I have primarily been working on projects using archival data from professional athletes that I have scraped or pulled from the internet. In the future, I hope to incorporate measures of cognition, motivation, and traits that lead some people to attain greater success than others in sports. 

For the second line of research, I have been investigating what happens when people complete the same cognitive tasks multiple times and whether we can still use the tasks on subsequent administrations to predict outcome measures. I have also developed online tools of placekeeping to collect data on people’s ability to return to the correct step in a series of steps after being interrupted. 

Can you tell us about your internship with the Detroit Lions? 

This summer I worked with the Lions as an analyst in their Football Information department. The department works with decision makers to provide reports and analyses on player performance data. I utilized data analysis, data visualization, statistical modeling, and other techniques to assist the club's player personnel department in identifying key insights and predictions for decision makers in the organization. 

I have always been interested in the sports industry, as I grew up playing sports and rooting for Detroit teams. My research interests include understanding skill acquisition and expertise. I also have a strong coding and data science background, so this role aligned well with my experiences and interests. The internship gave me the opportunity to analyze data from elite athletes, which is a hard group to gather data on when it comes to research in the lab. 

Erin Neaton wears a pink blazer and smiles directly at the camera. How did your education specializing in Cognition & Cognitive Neuroscience inform or help you in this role? 

My research focus and courses, both in undergrad and graduate school, prepared me well for this internship. My research focuses on expertise and my classes in sports psychology directly relate to understanding expert athletic performance. This background gave me strong domain knowledge that was relevant to the job. I have also taken multiple statistics and computer science courses which prepared me for the coding and analyses I was conducting this summer. 

What did you like most about your internship? 

The top aspect I liked about the internship was that I was able to use my coding skills for data exploration and predictive modeling in a domain I am very passionate about. In the past, my coding experiences were sometimes separate from my performance experiences, so it was awesome getting to incorporate both for one job. 

My second favorite part of the job was feeling like I made an impact to help the Lions improve their decision-making process. I was able to see how the results of the work I presented to leadership were being used before I even left. 

My third favorite part of the internship was getting to watch practice regularly. It was cool just as a fan of football, but it was even cooler to see whether the data I was working with and the research theories from psychology matched up with what I saw on the practice field. 

Did anything surprise you about your internship? 

 I was surprised by how closely our department worked with decision makers within the Lions organization. The request for my projects came from senior leadership, and at the end of the internship I presented the results and my recommendations directly to them. It felt very meaningful to provide suggestions on how to best utilize the data from both a descriptive approach and a predictive modeling approach. The team was very invested and interested in my project and its outcomes. 

Is this similar work to what you’d like to do in the future? 

 I am definitely interested in working with college or professional sports teams in the future. The internship allowed me to utilize both my coding expertise and my domain knowledge in expert performance to complete a meaningful project. It gave me the opportunity to talk with people who work directly with the players regularly about trends they notice in successful players. The internship also sparked some ideas for research projects I plan to pursue soon!