Student Profile: Christina Larkins

ECU undergraduate researcher Christina Larkins is creating healthy lifestyle interventions for at-risk populations.

Major: Exercise Physiology

Mentor: Dr. Bhibha Das

Department: Department of Kinesiology

Project Title: “Clean Up Your Health Intervention”

Christina’s research focuses on ECU housekeepers and how their job affects their lifestyle, mental health and physical activity. She is creating an intervention with educational sessions centered around disease prevention, mental health and physical activity. Her goal is to have ECU housekeepers become less stressed, participate in more physical activity and increase their knowledge about diet and physical activity by the end of the intervention.

How did you get involved in undergraduate research?

I am a member of the ECU Honors College and I got an email from our Listserv email system saying that a faculty member in the Department of Kinesiology was looking for a research assistant. I applied, got the position, and loved the research that I was doing with my mentor Dr. Bhibha M. Das.

Why did you choose your research topic?

I have a passion for underprivileged and misunderstood populations and the ECU housekeepers fall into those categories. They work so hard, often without thanks, all around campus. I was previously a Resident Advisor (RA) so I was able to see first-hand just how they are treated in the residence halls, as well as around campus. This project fit perfectly with my passion for physical activity, mental health awareness and helping misunderstood populations.

What’s been your favorite part of conducting undergraduate research?

My favorite part of the research has been hearing from the housekeepers around campus and how much they appreciate and value my project. For many of them, this is completely new territory and gives them the opportunity to break out of the repetition of their jobs and better themselves in ways they have wanted to. This research has inspired some of the housekeepers to achieve their personal goals when it comes to weight management and mental health.

What challenges have you faced while conducting undergraduate research?

Definitely the challenge of time management, which is pretty typical for a college student. Having to schedule focus groups, body measurement sessions, as well as all of the preparation work for a research project is extremely lengthy, so making sure that I am taking care of myself, along with conducting the research to my highest abilities can be a pretty tough job. Other than that, having to create an intervention, complete an IRB, and jump through what seems like a million hoops, those are some other challenges, but I believe I’m doing a pretty good job at it!

Why is your research important for the general public?

My research can be used to help in any university system or workplace that has housekeepers, which if you think about it is hundreds of thousands of people across the county. It can also be applied to virtually any occupation, since it’s focus is on how specific jobs affect one’s mental health, physical activity levels and diet. It can help people make the most of their job and learn ways to be a healthier person.

What’s your ultimate goal or accomplishment that you hope your research will help you achieve?

My career goal is to become a physical therapist, so I am hoping that my research will help me stand out compared to other applicants for PT school and prepare me for programs that require research projects to be conducted. But along with that, I hope that my research will help me become more knowledgeable in the areas of physical activity and diet. I’ve found that research has made me a more confident, well-rounded and caring individual, and I hope that it will help me continue to do that.

Do you have any advice for other students interested in conducting undergraduate research?

Start early! It’s something that creates so many great connections and opportunities and you want to be able to make it a priority early rather than later. You can look at most professors’ CVs and research interests and see if you can find any that you think you would be interested in, then email them or go to their office hours and talk to them about it. Make sure that you’re passionate about what you are researching otherwise it can feel tedious.