Aisling O’Dell: Class of 2023

About Me:

I am a senior in my third year in the Princeton High School Research Program. Over the course of the program I have mainly worked with Sam Winn on a sociology based survey project with Professor Dalton Conley and Graduate Student Alejandro Garcia Fernandez from Princeton University. I have also built greenhouses, trained beta fish, and cared for gerbils. In the near future I hope to attend college and pursue a degree in Biology, focusing on genetics. Some of my other interests and activities are playing field and ice hockey, teaching swim lessons, and reading.

Project I: The Effect of Geographical Region on Race Inequality for Hiring Situations

Abstract: Our proposed stratifying inequality project will attempt to highlight, identify and understand existing biases and discrimination in the context of employee evaluations. We will attempt to identify gaps in ratings across four races (White, Black, Latinx, Asian) through a survey using MTurk (crowdsourcing marketplace)​. A total of 1,600 responses were collected, yielding ratings for 8,000 fictitious applicants. It was hypothesized that survey takers located in the Midwest and South would rate Black and Latinx applicants lower than survey takers located in the Northeast and West, due to the impact of predominant political parties in the regions (Quillian et. al, 2020). It was also hypothesized that survey takers located in the Midwest and South would rate women relatively lower than men in quantitative, male-dominated fields due to pre-established gender bias in the political parties of the region (Heilman, 2001). In our preliminary data analysis, the Midwest region rated Black candidates an average of 6% lower than the national average, and the Midwest rated Latinx candidates an average of 10% lower than the national average. Meanwhile, the Northeast rated Black and White applicants of equivalent credentials exactly the same. The Midwest rated White applicants the highest out of the four racial groups. Negative employee evaluations can significantly impact one’s ability to receive promotions and bonuses, preventing employee’s ascension on the socio-economic ladder. A deeper understanding of the biases that are laced in employee evaluations, along with the driving motives behind them, can help organizations reduce (and eventually eliminate) workplace discrimination.

Project II: Investigating Cognitive Mechanisms Behind Betta Fish Memory Capabilities, Dependent on Temperature

Abstract: Our project aims to determine the training and cognitive capabilities of two related fish species: Betta imbellis and Betta splendens. We will also attempt to identify the driving mechanisms behind risk/reward decision making in bettas by introducing both a food-based training regimen and the negative consequence of capture in a net. Over the course of several weeks, fish will be trained using food motivation techniques to follow a stick, culminating in the task of jumping through a hoop. 

The 6 phases of the experiment are the Looking Phase, the Following Stage, the Surface Stage, the Hoop Phase, the Hoop Jumping Phase, and finally the Potential Capture Phase. Fish will be trained with 10 reps per training session, and will advance to the next training phase after achieving a perfect rating for 3 consecutive sessions. The Potential Capture Phase seeks to test if the food motivation and previous training will be interrupted by the negative association of trauma/stress. In quantitative terms, the fish should achieve success on 9/10 reps after one week in each phase of training, and complete a minimum of 7/10 reps to demonstrate recall after a week-long gap in training. However, after being captured, the betta fish will only perform the hoop-leaping task on 2/10 reps, as the memory of stress will deter the fish from continued leaps. 

At this point, daily averages of the 9 fish scores have been taken, with a significantly increasing trend in the performance over a 10-day period. Furthermore, during all of the first trials, temperatures of the aquaria were recorded and a positive correlation between training performance and temperature were noted. The trends suggest that a decrease in temperature leads to an immediate decrease in the score that the fish achieved, and can conclude that warmer temperatures enhance the training performance of both Betta imbellis and Betta splendens.

Graphical Abstract: