They started out as four UMass Boston gerontology students taking a standard graduate course, Families in Later Life. Before long, the classmates developed into a research team.
Assistant professor Jeff Stokes was teaching the course in the spring semester of 2019 and he quickly realized the unusually small class – consisting entirely of those four students – presented a rare opportunity.
Rather than assigning students to prepare individual final papers, Stokes suggested they could collaborate on a single research project. He put it to a vote and the decision was unanimous.
Stokes talked with students Celeste Beaulieu, Cindy Bui, Elizabeth Gallagher and Remona Kanyat about a topic that would interest them all and reached a quick agreement.
They prepared a draft article by the end of the semester and a final version of “For better or for worse: Marital status transitions and sexual life in middle and later life” was recently published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
“It was a unique opportunity with a class small enough for meaningful collaboration,” said Stokes. “You can divide up aspects of a paper more reasonably and you don’t have too many cooks in the kitchen.”
The group analyzed three waves of longitudinal data from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the U.S., collected between 1995 and 2014.
“It turned the literature and concepts we were covering in class into a practical hands-on project and got us to really engage and respond to it,” said Bui.
.The class found divorce or widowhood had a wide range of consequences for the sex lives of older adults in marital transition. Whether they were viewed positively or negatively was highly influenced by the quality of previous sex lives of those older adults. Generally, men appeared to have more opportunities to pursue their sex lives after a marital transition than women did.
“The topic we examined has thus far been largely understudied,” said Gallagher. “I’m excited that we got to be part of this new and growing field.”
Among the benefits of the class research approach, students appreciated the practical experience of working together on a project with several co-authors.
“It was a great real-world learning experience in a step-by-step process,” said Beaulieu. “I’ve done previous research with a professor, but working in a group was different.”
Of course, a published article was another plus for students.
“I was really glad to contribute toward something that got published,” said Kanyat. “This allows students to kick-start their career and use it to their advantage in the future.”