Memphis Long is a third-year student in the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition majoring in Nutrition. Her research project, guided by Dr. Jessica Lieffers, is a meta-analysis of YouTube content about nutrition and dental caries, to determine the quality and characteristics of the content available to the general public. Memphis was the recent 1st place winner of the SURE Research Symposium in August 2021.
The Value of Freedom and Autonomy
When Memphis embarked on her research journey, it was to get a feel for what dietetics research would look like, exploring different avenues before graduation.
“Research is something I have always been interested in. I wanted to learn more about the process of writing a paper and going through the publishing process. This project was different than coursework because there was a lot of freedom and autonomy.”
Although extremely rewarding, Memphis stated that the research process was daunting at times. This is where her supervisor Dr. Jessica Lieffers played an important role.
“Dr. Lieffers gave me a lot of guidance throughout the process while still allowing me to have freedom. Dr. Lieffers was a great supervisor for this project. She had high expectations but she allowed me to have a lot of freedom. She took the time to make sure I was learning and getting as much out of the experience as possible.”
Discipline from a Distance
When asked about challenges in research, Memphis said: “self-motivation and time management are both very important. My project this summer was remote, so I was working alone from home. Being able to keep myself motivated and disciplined ended up being critical for finishing the project by the end of the summer. “
Memphis also noted the potential twists and turns of conducting research and the importance of being adaptable. “We were lucky, because our project went smoothly for the most part. One thing that gave us a lot of trouble was categorizing the videos into different publishing groups. We initially had three groups, but something always felt a bit off. We were quite far into the paper when we decided to recategorize and add another group in, which led to redoing all of the calculations and re-writing a lot of the paper. This was not necessarily a problem, but it was interesting to learn that this is a very common occurrence in research and I appreciated getting the chance to experience it now.”
SURE of Herself
Dr. Lieffers encouraged Memphis to take part in SURE (Student Undergraduate Research Experience) to learn from fellow students and to put her hard work on display. Memphis says, “SURE was a very beneficial experience as I got to attend many seminars and eventually present my work at the symposium at the end of the summer. I liked presenting, but I especially enjoyed watching everyone else’s presentations as well.”
Dr. Lieffers also fostered a sense of community amongst her lab students. Hosting weekly meetings with the entire lab for students to socialize and get to know each other was even more valuable in a remote work-setting.
What’s Next (For Her Area of Study)
“I think that social media and the internet are fascinating, and I would love to do future work on YouTube content about different areas of nutrition. There is a lot of content about fad diets, supplements, and weight loss. I would be interested in repeating this process to see if the quality of the content made about these topics is consistent with what we found for nutrition and dental caries.”
One of her most profound discoveries, Memphis noted, was “how little quality information was often conveyed in the YouTube videos. Even the content posted by dentists made very few relevant points to nutrition and dental caries. I expected the professional videos to be higher quality, but they were not.” Memphis hopes that continued research and publishing in this area to showcase the problem will rectify this disparity.
A Rewarding Experience
“My favourite part of this research process was actually when I finished my SURE poster and was able to condense all of our findings into a few main points. It was rewarding for me to be able to take a long paper that had a lot of information and pull out the most important things to share with fellow academics.”
An important takeaway Memphis mentioned in our interview was that information literacy is really important, and that we “do not blindly believe everything we see online and even content posted by professionals should be looked at critically.”
To fellow undergraduate students, Memphis suggests you “reach out to your professors and tell them you are interested in hearing about any research opportunities they might have. I loved spending the summer learning about new topics and it allowed for networking with other students and professors that would otherwise not be as accessible.”
As Memphis looks to the future, her summer experience further ignited her interest in research and independent work. As a final piece of advice to fellow students, Memphis highlighted the importance of letting go of imposter syndrome and trusting your ability to do good work. At the beginning of her research journey, she worried about her abilities, but pushed through and is proud of how it turned out.