PSY Student Research Spotlight: Sam Barans

January 18, 2024 - Shelly DeJong

Sam Barans poses with his research poster at UURAF. Sam Barans, a senior majoring in psychology and mathematics, has worked hard over the years to acknowledge what he’s interested in and pursue what he’s most curious about. He received the Dean’s Assistantship Award which is allowing him to explore his research interests of better understanding barriers that individuals involved in the American justice system or are experiencing serious mental illness face in getting help. Sam shared recently about his research experiences, how his path led him to this point, and where he hopes to go in the future. 


How did you settle on psychology and mathematics? 

I was recruited by the advanced track math department and was encouraged by friends and mentors to take higher level more challenging math classes. But over the years, I realized that I wanted to pursue psychology. I realized that I had this fountain of energy when it came to psychological research and jobs that involve working with people. I'm such a people-oriented person who really values relationships with human beings. There's a sense of meaning and understanding that came with psychology that really energizes me. 


How have you been involved with the Psychology Department?  

I started doing measurement research with Dr. Richard Lucas and Dr. Brent Donnellan, who now is the college dean, in my first week at MSU. They are awesome. I think it really says something that when I first started working with them, I had no idea how big they were. During lab meetings, they always made it clear that it was ok for me to give input even as an undergraduate.  

They're always tackling these big topics that are important questions. Right now, we’re qualitatively coding this massive dataset that's modeling how different variables relate to a human being. I’ve learned a lot from them on how to be a good researcher. Dr. Lucas and Dean Donnellan are so thorough in all of their methodology—they don’t care how long something will take. They have shown me that it's important to leave as little up to chance and to collect as much data as we possibly can. Now that I’ve done other research projects, I’ve come to realize just how unique this thinking is.  


What are your research interests and how are you able to explore them thanks to the Dean’s Assistantship Award?  

My personal research interest is understanding different barriers to engaging in behavioral health services experienced by individuals involved in the American justice system or experiencing serious mental illness so that we can overcome those barriers and develop interventions that like meet their needs. Through various experiences in my life with the Adolescent Diversion Program, involvement with the Mental Health Research Connect project, and shadowing clinical rotations with patients being treated for psychosis, I’ve come to really see the importance of having my research impact people’s lives for the better.  

For my Dean’s Assistantship Award, my mentor, Dr. John Waller is supervising me on writing a few papers that I'm collaborating with a bunch of people from the University of New Mexico. I had a summer internship there and I’ve been able to continue researching with some of the clinicians there. This award allows me to continue doing that work.  


You’re interested in studying Clinical Psychology. How have your research experiences led you to that kind of idea of the future? 

One thing that I really appreciate about psychology is that you might have a huge dataset from a study, but you’re always focused on the individual to some extent. I care a lot about people's stories, and I wanted to hear more directly from some of the individuals who my research was directly relevant to. Through a summer internship, I was able to do some clinical shadowing with patients being treated for psychosis. Through that experience, I gained a deeper understanding of the research that I was doing. I love research and I have always had a passion for asking and answering these bigger questions, and I like to challenge myself academically. Clinical Psychology feels like the perfect intersection. 


What’s advice would you give yourself as a first-year student? 

Just that there is no right answer. If you're deciding between two professional commitments, explore what you’re more curious about rather than what you think your parents would want you to do. Life is unpredictable, so you might as well explore what excites you more.