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Researcher of the Month

Qurat-ul-ain GMarch 2015

Qurat-ul-ain Gulamhussein 

Psychology major, University Scholars Program, Class of 2015

Research Mentors: Dr. Nicholas Eaton, Department of Psychology, Dr. Roman Kotov, Department of Psychiatry, Stony Brook University; Former: Dr. Arthur Aron, Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University; Dr. Richard Gauvain, American University in Dubai (AUD), Dubai, UAE


“I never knew that I would be doing research or that I would be studying abroad. Those concepts were completely foreign to me,” muses Qurat-ul-ain Gulamhussein – for whom these very experiences have intrinsically shaped and transformed her undergraduate life.

A senior in the University Scholars program majoring in Psychology, with minors in English and Middle Eastern Studies, Qurat-ul-ain has several times ventured across the globe in her quest for experiential education opportunities! She was awarded the Benjamin A. Gilman International scholarship in Fall 2013 to support her studies at the American University in Dubai where she conducted research, plus earned a certificate in Middle Eastern Studies (having prior to that, never lived away from home as a commuter student at SB). This past summer, she was awarded the Turkish Studies Association Adivar and Turkish Coalition of America scholarships to support her study abroad in Turkey. [View Qurat-ul-ain's travel blog here >>] Very recently, Qurat-ul-ain was selected as a recipient of the Critical Language Scholarship to study Arabic abroad in summer 2015. She plans to apply to Ph.D. programs in Clinical Psychology in the near future.

Qurat-ul-ain began doing research early in her undergraduate career, starting in May 2012 to work in Dr. Arthur Aron’s Romantic Relationship lab and do interview transcription and coding. She currently participates in research in two groups – working with Dr. Roman Kotov’s ADEPT Lab to interview adolescent females and their parents; as well as with Dr. Nicholas Eaton with whom she is conducting her research for the Psychology Honors Thesis program on “Explicit Religiosity and Mental Health in Muslim Women.” Her project, funded by a URECA Summer award in 2013, involves interviewing 50 Muslim women to quantitatively explore the relationship between hijab and mental health of Muslim women in the US, and she is currently working on submitting a manuscript for the Journal of Muslim Mental Health. Qurat-ul-ain also had interviewed participants for a complementary project on Muslim women while studying in Dubai, working under the supervision of Dr. Richard Gauvain. Qurat-ul-ain will be presenting a research poster on her research at SUNY Brockport’s first annual research Conference in April, at the 27th Association for Psychological Science (APS) Annual Convention in May; and at URECA’s campus research symposium on April 29th!

At SB, Qurat-ul-ain has been very engaged in campus life – and is one of 14 students from SB selected to receive the 2015 Chancellor’s award for Student Excellence. She has served as a Peer Health educator for Student Health Services, as a Teaching Assistant for Health Psychology where she was awarded “best teaching assistant”; as a Senior Academic Peer Advisor, and as a University Scholars & Global Studies Undergraduate Fellow. Qurat-ul-ain was invited to participate in the Counseling and Treating People of Color Conference; and the Children’s Defense Fund Conference. She writes for The Torch (University Scholars’ newsletter) and The Minaret (Muslim Student Association’s magazine) and has published poetry through the America Library of Poetry, and the Long Island Poetry Archival & Arts Center; she is also a Health writer and editorial board member of Insight (a UK magazine).

Qurat-ul-ain moved from Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania to the US at age 14 and attended Division Avenue HS. Below are excerpts from her interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.


The Interview:

Karen. Tell me about your current research.
Qurat-ul-ain. For my psychology honors thesis project, I’ve been giving interviews and questionnaires to Muslim women on campus. We’re trying to study and explore the relationship between explicit religiosity (wearing a head scarf & loose fitted clothing- the definition of hijab for the purposes of our study) and mental well-being. We have 50 subjects (25 who wear hijab and 25 who don’t), and we investigate how they feel about themselves: for example, if they feel anxious; what is the measure of their self-esteem, or their depressive symptoms. In the past, the literature has shown conflicting findings. Some say that by wearing the scarf, these women might feel more confident because they’re showing their identity and they’re representing their religion and they’re proud of it--while others say they that there is a stigma attached to it and they feel discriminated against, because they feel like they are more in the minority. In our study, we found that although there weren’t group differences between hijabis and non-hijabis, more frequent wearing of loose fitted clothing was associated with higher mental well-being. Interestingly, how often women practiced hijab was uncorrelated with mental well-being, but it was self-reported religiosity that had strong negative correlations with depression and anxiety. It would be cool to see how religiosity acts as a buffer against psychological distress. We also looked at immigration–and found that those who moved to the US at an older age reported higher mental well-being.

What motivated you to explore this topic?
I am really passionate about this project: how wearing the hijab influences you in your daily life. Being able to pursue this topic for my senior thesis and actually make a study out of it scientifically was really cool. . . . When I moved to the US at 14, I came from a very different country. In Tanzania, I went to a school that was a private school:  It was an all-girls, Islamic based school where everyone looked the same that you did; everyone wore uniforms just like you did, and the head scarf just like you did. All of a sudden I was in NY where it was a public high school: it was co-ed and I was the only one with a scarf on. It made me think about how being different and being a minority influences you… It can make you feel more proud of who you are because you’re unique but at the same time you’re so different. … That’s how I got started. Now, studying Muslim mental health is more crucial than ever before as recent tragedies, such as the Chapel Hill shooting, may lead to feelings of discrimination in Muslim student populations.

Was it difficult to find a mentor for your thesis?
When I heard about URECA at SB, and thought more and more about developing an honors project out of my interest in this topic (and I was so excited, to you could actually do that!), I then had to figure out how to go about doing this project. At the time, no one I knew of was studying anything like this. And I didn’t know who should I approach as a mentor, or who would be willing to take me on.  I ended up contacting Professor Nick Eaton because I had taken Psych 230 with him. He knew me, and he had once told me he had minored in Middle Eastern studies. So I thought, let’s try that!

And it worked?
Yes, and my mentor is awesome. Whenever I email him, he’ll respond in a few minutes … Whenever I need help, he‘s there. He’s very supportive! He helps me with the ABCs of statistics, with SPSS, all of that. I’ll be presenting the project at the URECA conference as part of the honors program, and I’m also presenting a poster on this for the APS conference in May.  We’re also working on submitting a paper to the Journal of Muslim Mental Health.

What is the main challenge of the research you are doing?
I think there is still a large stigma attached to talking about mental well-being in traditional communities – some don’t like to talk about depression and anxiety and all of that stuff.

What was one of the best memories associated with the project?  
My experiences abroad have been amazing –doing research for the Gilman Scholarship in Dubai where I did a correlative project about Muslim women in the UAE under the supervision of Dr. Richard Gauvain in fall 2013. I really enjoy the interviewing part of the research. It was super interesting when I was in Dubai because some of the Muslim women I interviewed came from such extremely diverse backgrounds, even more diverse than at SB. Talking about hijab and all of that stuff-- it was more like a conversation, where I could connect to them regardless of whether they wear it or not. I remember one woman from Saudi Arabia who talked about how being forced to wear the scarf is what made her stop wearing the scarf when she came to Dubai (which is more liberal). Where you’re forced, where there is compulsion, she explained, what’s the point of wearing hijab? Because then, it’s more for the government than for religion that you’re doing that.…

You must be learning so much too from the process of writing a senior thesis. Is this a huge challenge?
I thought it was going to be a daunting process. I thought I would be scared. I like to write (I do creative writing and poetry) but scientific writing is not my forte. But I took Psych 310 which really helped because we had to write a sample paper. And then also because I had to do a literature search before starting my project, and to go through the process of filling out the IRB application-- I got used to the style of writing and it became easier than I anticipated to start writing my own thesis. I just finished my draft over the winter break. I’ve learned so much by going through the process.
The English and Writing classes I’ve taken have also really helped me, from writing proposals to reading complex articles for my thesis. I had taken the Personal Essay class (Writing 303) with Professor Kristina Lucenko who is very helpful- and was also helpful with some of the applications I’ve done.  She helps me revise and re-edit, revise and re-edit. It’s a process -but it is helpful when there are faculty out there to help you and guide you.

And how did you get your start in research at SB?  
The first research experience I had was working with Dr. Arthur Aron’s Romantic Relationship lab, beginning in May 2012. I took Statistics in Psychology with one of the most fabulous psych professors, Dr. Anne Moyer–she was phenomenal, just great. And her grad TA, Marie Chelberg, happened to be looking for research assistants to help with her project. When she explained what the job would entail, I applied right away and got started.

Connections are really important. I always tell that to my students when I work as an Instructor or TA. I tell them about my experiences at SB.  I met Dr. Moyer- at a University Scholars research panel during my freshman semester. At the time, I didn’t even have a declared major but when she invited anyone interested in talking about psychology to come speak to her, I went to her office hours and she was very helpful in guiding me. Next semester I took that stats class with her.  And then got involved in research. And other connections followed - my TA, Raniah, for 101 motivated me to apply to be a Fellow. That led me to other experiences – to the Academic Peer Advising internship, and to participating in the Children’s Defense Fund Conference. And later with finding research in the ADEPT Lab.  So connections are definitely important.

Any other advice to other students?
If you’re interested  in researching a topic that isn’t already being studied on campus, reach out to Professors and someone might help you get started. I’ve now had a few different research experiences – and I’ve realized that it’s a lot of fun. I like the part of the research that you can be interested in anything you want and scientifically be able to study it.