Shirley Wang ’17 was out for a walk with a woman being treated for an eating disorder when the latter shared that she was addressing her deep-seated anger with her therapist.
“To her, it was frustrating that eating disorders are so often tied to depression,” says Wang. “Her struggle was really different than that. She felt angry a lot, towards herself and others, and didn’t know how to cope with that.”
That conversation sent Wang straight to the PsychINFO database. A literature search for eating disorders and angry rumination—the mental rehashing of problems that keeps anger alive—returned nothing. The research vacuum prompted Wang to put the relationship between angry rumination and eating disorders at the center of her honors thesis.
“She’s really filling a gap,” says Ashley Borders, associate psychology professor and thesis adviser for Wang, a psychology major and statistics minor. “No one has published on that.”
Talking to Wang, it’s easy to take her for a graduate student—or least a student with one foot in graduate school. The first tip-off is that the Phi Beta Kappa inductee is doing her senior thesis a year early. “I had no reason to say no,” says Borders, referring to Wang’s request to do it early. “She was ready.”
Wang is also principal investigator on an in-patient research study mirroring her TCNJ thesis question at the Center for Eating Disorders Care, part of the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro. A review board has given Wang, who is on staff part-time, the green light to proceed.
Add in Wang’s upcoming summer research at Yale’s Program for Obesity, Weight, and Eating Research and presentations at professional conferences in Chicago (last November) and Denver (this August), and it becomes clear that she has an intense affinity for her work. To explain her drive, Wang quotes Associate Professor of Psychology Shaun Wiley: “He says, ‘The most amazing thing [about research] is that you’re learning things that no one else knows.’”
—Renée Olson, director of strategic communications