A Career Change to Psychology Sparks an Unexpected Love for Research

Luis Cebas, researcher in Dr. Tangney's lab
Luis Cebas, researcher in Dr. Tangney's lab

Luis Cebas is a junior and Fairfax area native studying for a bachelor of science in psychology with a minor in data analysis. As an undergraduate working in June Tangney’s lab, he has discovered a passion for hands-on research and currently focuses his work on clinical psychology interviews, hoping to obtain a graduate degree in the future. However, his decision to study psychology came to him later than for most, as at age 27 he is older than most of his classmates and has already experienced college life prior to joining the Mason psychology community. Before entering the psychology program, he had earned degrees in culinary arts and food service management.

“I already had two degrees, but I wasn’t happy with what I was doing,” Luis said of his life before attending Mason. “I had been terminated from a job and realized I wasn’t even in the path I wanted to be in. I tried to imagine doing what I was doing when I’m 60 and I couldn’t imagine it, so I decided to come do psychology. Psychology was always in the back of my head [as a degree choice], but I never did it, so when I got into Mason I figured it was fate.”

Currently, Luis spends much of his time in Dr. Tangney’s lab conducting phone interviews with former inmates, the participants of a ten-year longitudinal study that tracks their moral emotions and behaviors after their release from incarceration. Every three to five years, the study enters a new phase, and Luis and his fellow researchers track down these subjects to keep their contact information up-to-date and collect data on how their responses to the study’s questions change over time.

“Before I joined June’s lab, I had never had any research experience, like most [research assistants],” Luis recalled. “I was nervous, but June’s lab has a very home-and-family feel to it, very hands-on and approachable, and we support each other within the lab group.

“A lot of it starts with June and works its way down,” he added. “I like to call her ‘Mom.’ She’s very open with her personality.”

Luis claimed that he “dreaded” the idea of conducting research, but experienced a change of heart after taking Research Methods with Erin Murdoch, which he considers his most “influential” class at Mason. He presented at last year’s Undergraduate Research Symposium, and enjoys the sense of completion he gains from applying what he learns in his research studies to the literature he produces on them.

“For those people who are considering the idea of research, I highly recommend it,” he said. “In research, you get a full understanding of what you learn in classes because you use it every day, and you learn so much that you can’t get from the classroom sometimes.

“Don’t be afraid of the unexpected, don’t be scared of what you don’t know, and be open to change.”