Name: Kendra Carnrite

Area of Study: Health/Developmental

In what program are you currently enrolled? MA

What year of the program are you currently in? Second

Citation in APA format

Howard, A. L., Carnrite, K. D., & Barker, E. T. (2021). First-year university students’ mental health trajectories were disrupted at the onset of COVID-19, but disruptions were not linked to residential and financial vulnerabilities: A Registered Report. Emerging Adulthood, 10(1), 264-281.

Plain language abstract:

This study examined the associations between disruptions in first-year undergraduate students’ mental health trajectories and the COVID-19 pandemic, while testing whether disruptions were worse for students who moved residences, reported low family income, or were food insecure. We examined 510 first-year students who reported their depression, anxiety, and stress levels in September, November, January, and March. In March 2020, coincident with campus closures due to COVID-19, students also reported for each mental health measure whether their responses were influenced by personal experiences surrounding the pandemic. Consistent with our hypothesis, greater perceived COVID-19 impact predicted poorer mental health in March. However, mental health disruptions were not greater for students who moved, had low income, or were food insecure. Survey administration at an early stage of COVID-19 combined with the support of moving in with parents and near-universal government income assistance may have diminished the incremental distress we hypothesized for vulnerable students.

How did the idea for this research come about?

This study idea initially came about when my supervisor, Dr. Andrea Howard acknowledged a gap in past literature on student mental health. Specifically, she found many inconsistent results on the trajectories of student mental health across the first-year of university. However, this idea was slightly changed with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. At this time, we recognized that first-year students who recently adjusted to their new university lives began to face many abrupt changes in both their academic (e.g., online learning) and personal lives (e.g., social isolation) due to COVID-19. These extreme changes caused us to become interested in how COVID-19 may have impacted the typical trajectory of student mental health near the end of the academic year. This interest stimulated a literature review of the stressors and major adjustments students typically experience when transitioning to university. As a result of this literature review, my co-authors and I decided to focus on residential mobility and financial stressors, which were two major changes that became highly prevalent during the beginning stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

How did you collect the data for this project?
The longitudinal data for this project was collected by my supervisor, Dr. Andrea Howard, as part of the Carleton Transitions Study. Data collection began in September 2019 with 510 first-year students completing intake surveys, and continued through follow-up surveys in November 2019, and in January and March 2020. To capture the impact of COVID-19 on students’ lives during the March 2020 follow-up survey, Dr. Howard and the READY lab team quickly created new COVID-19 questions two weeks prior to the survey release date. These questions were approved by the Institutional Review Board and added to this follow-up survey.

Was the journal you published in the first journal you submitted this paper to?


Why did you choose this journal?

We chose the Emerging Adulthood journal as it was brought to our attention that this journal was seeking articles to fill a special issue on the impact of COVID-19 on young adults. As this journal provided an overall good fit with our research interests and aligned with Open Science principles, we thought submitting our paper to Emerging Adulthood would provide us with a good opportunity to conduct our first ever Registered Report.

How many other journals did you submit this paper to before it landed in the journal that eventually published your work?

What was your revision experience?

I thought my revision experience was overall very positive and insightful. In the revision process for our Registered Report, we had the chance to receive feedback on the first half of our paper including our literature review, methods, and our statistical plans before analyzing any of the data. In the first review stage, both reviewers posed many thoughtful questions and shared their concerns on our hypotheses and statistical plans. These concerns were fixed by strengthening the language in our hypotheses and further specifying details of the models we planned to run in our statistical analyses. In the second review stage after writing the results and discussion, only minor edits were required including small language and graphical changes. I think the registered report format truly improved our final study as we were able to focus on strengthening our plans before running the analyses. Although the revision process took a while, I think the feedback from the reviewers at each stage helped us create a stronger and easier reading Registered Report. I truly enjoyed being a part of this process.

How many rounds of revision did you experience?


Did you need to collect new data to satisfy a reviewer?

How long did it take from first submission to acceptance?

11 months

Was this paper conducted as part of your MA thesis?

Was this paper conducted as part of your PhD dissertation?

How did this project come about?

This project started when we saw an advertisement for a special issue in the Emerging Adulthood journal for papers examining the impact of COVID-19 on young adults. As our lab already had pre-collected data on the impact of COVID-19 on student mental health that had not yet been examined, we began discussions to further develop this project.

Was this research conducted with your supervisor?
Yes, with Dr. Andrea Howard

Was this research conducted with fellow graduate students in our program?

Was this research conducted with researchers external to Carleton?
Yes, with Dr. Erin Barker, who is an Associate Professor at Concordia University.

You can access the article here.