Undergraduate research, career-related experiences helped psychology grad find purpose

Contact: Erin Flynn

Haila Jiddou, who earned a bachelor's degree in psychology, is applying to doctoral programs with a goal of becoming a neuropsychologist.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Haila Jiddou has always been interested in psychology and how the brain works. At Western Michigan University, experience-driven learning opportunities helped her transform that interest into purpose.

The spark to her success happened during a practicum required for her degree. She'd scanned various opportunities available within the Department of Psychology and was drawn to Dr. Lisa Baker's lab, which focuses on behavioral neuroscience.

"It changed the trajectory of everything. I realized this is what I want to do; this is what I really, really love and want to focus on for my career," she says.

Haila Jiddou wears a lab coat while feeding a white rat in a plastic carrier.

Jiddou gained undergraduate research experience in Dr. Lisa Baker's lab, which focuses on behavioral neuroscience.

Jiddou joined the lab spring semester of her sophomore year, testing molecules pharmaceutical companies are considering for potential use in future anxiety medications.

"It opened up a lot of opportunities for me, because for the practicum, we had to do a big research project. And I got to write my first big paper and do an experiment with rats," she remembers. She continued in Baker's lab as a research assistant and was able to present her research at regional and national conferences—an impressive feat for an undergraduate student.

"It was a really great opportunity," she says. "I didn't realize it at the time, but it really set me apart. And now looking back at it and applying to graduate school, I'm really grateful for that. Having experiences to present at conferences and having my own research study will give me a leg up in my applications."

Jiddou also jumped at the opportunity to get experience outside of the lab through the Broncos Lead Internship Program, securing a paid internship with Synergy Health Center in Kalamazoo.

"It's a nonprofit mental health center. I think that was very important for me to get some clinical experience because I am going into clinical psychology," she says. 

Alongside fellow Western psychology student Danielle DeVine, Jiddou developed a summer program related to social and emotional learning for the center's UrbanZone, a youth-driven program for Kalamazoo-area teenagers.

Haila Jiddou stands in the atrium of the chemistry building wearing her graduation regalia.

"Western has given me opportunities to expand on things that I am passionate about as well as find things I didn't even think I was going to be passionate about through opportunities like working for Disability Services, doing classwork, my practicum and research," she says.

"It was really neat to give them so many different experiences and have it focus so much on youth," she says. "Growing up, you sometimes feel like you have no say in what you learn, and it's very much focused on what adults tell you to do. Being in this internship kind of turned that around for me, and we gave the youth a voice."

In addition to hands-on learning experiences, Jiddou, a Lee Honors College Scholar, excelled in her classwork as well. She was honored for her accomplishments as the Department of Psychology's 2023 Presidential Scholar award—the highest academic honor for undergraduates—as well as an Excellence in Arabic Award for her work in her Arabic minor. Her ultimate career goal is to become a neuropsychologist and work with older adults living with conditions like dementia and Alzheimer's disease, something she has gained experience with working at Western's Center for Disability Services. 

"Western has given me opportunities to expand on things that I am passionate about as well as find things I didn't even think I was going to be passionate about through opportunities like working for Disability Services, doing classwork, my practicum and research," she says. "I now know that working with aging adults is something that I love and want to help with because they can be very misunderstood and I don't think they get enough help."

Jiddou is currently applying for clinical psychology doctoral programs to make that dream a reality. 

"I think it would be really cool to keep doing that type of work and apply some of my neuroscience background that I've developed in the practicum to my work at the center and continue it into my graduate studies."

She will receive her bachelor's degree in psychology with a concentration in behavioral science at Western's fall 2023 commencement ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 16.

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