Mitchell Spector of the ’26 cohort held an internship with Character Lab, a research program that helps educators create healthy school environments.
He answered some questions about his experience:
How did you become involved in Character Lab? What made you want to participate?
I became involved with Character Lab for a variety of reasons. My school was doing some recruiting on Character Lab’s behalf to students who had passions for psychology, and above all, research. The main aim of Character Lab is to do research and devise programs around high school student overall well-being. They advance scientific insights to help students thrive. They connect researchers and educators to help better the social, emotional, academic, and even physical state of the one place that young people spend arguably most of their time: school. My involvement started as an intern. Several years after Character Lab was founded in 2013, higher-ups of the company realized that it’s quite difficult to research and help student well-being without involving students. Hence, the Character Lab Internship Program (CLIP) was founded. Character Lab is in several states and numerous counties across the country, and the outreach to students in those states was large. Because Orange County in central Florida, where I reside, is one of the Character Lab counties, the outreach really stuck out to me because of my passion for psychology, research, and mental health, which drove me to apply and heavily participate.
Through serious introspection with my own mental health and society today, there were many reasons that I wanted to participate. Throughout my tenure in high school, I have experienced many highs and lows. Often those lows would be combined with self-doubt, anxiety, and feelings of just being extremely overwhelmed. My mental well-being was often put to the test. I was drawn to a program that was attempting to bring light to this complicated, and often overlooked, issue. Adults always say that youth are the light of tomorrow. I think to myself - how can young people be the light if we are not happy and healthy when we learn? The mental health of adolescents is paramount. Until I joined this program, I thought this issue was a deep void. Unsolvable. As I started to become immersed into the program throughout the year, I realized that the mental health crisis, while extremely difficult to solve, is not impossible. My main motivation to keep going in my internship was to be a part of filling the deep void.
What were your duties?
My duties in the internship program spanned over a whole year. It started a few weeks before the school year commenced during a weeklong training. During this training, we learned Character Lab’s mission, and more importantly, our role and how to execute it smoothly. Before the researchers work with educators, they reach out to the 120 CLIPsters (slang for a participant in CLIP) in the program. Character Lab is very heavy on surveys. They send out thousands of surveys to schools and students countrywide to get a sense of what needs to be done and what help they can provide to schools. So, as a CLIPster, we participate in the research activity for a particular study just as if we were a student at that school filling it out. We take intense notes about everything in the activity. It can be something as small as a certain question is missing an option to be picked (technical error) or something big to being the wording of a question is off that it changes the context of the question. Learning how to detect these little, but significant errors was a key aim of the week in summer. Wording effects are huge when it comes to interpretation of a question or a response, and this was the main aspect we looked for. After collecting the notes on the research activity, we then filled out our own survey where they asked us guiding questions to determine our feedback on the survey. Those responses were then sent to the researchers who created the research activity, and they then considered that feedback. Sometimes, I was even reached out to discuss face-to-face a piece of feedback I left because of how important it was. The epiphany that Character Lab had about incorporating high school students into the program was so crucial as it can be very difficult for an older individual to get on the same level as a high school student, especially when it comes to their well-being and mental health.
What have you learned from your experience?
I learned a lot about feedback. The difference between good and not so good feedback made the difference between an effective and an ineffective research activity. Feedback needs to be specific and actionable, meaning it can’t be general. Say what’s wrong, why it’s wrong, and exactly how to fix it. This was imperative when it came to this kind of work as we are the eyes and ears of high school students countrywide. This a great segue into how I learned to be an ambassador. That’s literally what our “official” title was beyond CLIPster. Ambassador. I primarily, with one other individual, represented the whole student body at my high school. Thoughts and feelings about school and what could be better for school all came from me and my peer. However, because the 120 CLIPster population does not even begin to compare to the student population throughout the rest of the country, I felt a responsibility to all students. I learned how to communicate the issues and the problems felt by high school students to professional researchers so they can help work the magic they have with educators and schools within the research network that Character Lab has. The founder of Character Lab, Dr. Angela Duckworth, is an exceptional woman. She taught me the importance of Grit. This was during an extension of CLIP. She is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and I took her class GRIT LAB 101. I leaned how to foster all of my passion and perseverance for the loves in my live. From this, I learned how to transform them into goals. It was through GRIT LAB that I learned all about how to calm my nerves as an incoming freshman into college. It reinforced the idea that there is nothing but good coming up for me. All of this powerful content I learned all stemmed from my time as a Character Lab Intern.