Student-Faculty Collaboration

Getting Started in Research in Psychological Sciences:
A Roadmap for Undergraduates

 

Background:

            Psychology is a Social Science along with Anthropology, Economics, Political Science, Sociology, and others. In some cases students come to William and Mary for a broad Liberal Arts education and major in one of these Social Sciences. However, for students seeking careers in Psychology, especially in Research Psychology, it is helpful to get started in research as an undergraduate. There is no structured program or pathway to getting involved in research but this paper is written to provide undergrads at any stage – freshman to senior – some options for learning how to get involved in research.

 

Getting Started:

            Getting started in Psychology Research requires a solid foundation. Complete both Intro courses – Psych 201 and 201. From there take Statistics, Psych 301, and following that Research Methods, Psych 302. When enrolled in 302 be sure to understand experimental design and also APA Style. In some cases students in 302 are provided an opportunity to research an area of their own choice. Take that opportunity and use it as a starting point for your own research.

 

Moving Ahead:

            By the time you have completed those four courses you will be ready for higher level courses. These will include Psych courses in the Natural Sciences (311, 313, 315, and 317) or the Social Sciences (310, 312, 314, 318). As part of the requirements for you major you will also need to select additional advanced courses – Psych 350 to 480. For a full listing see the Psychological Sciences section of the Course Catalog at http://catalog.wm.edu/preview_program.php?catoid=15&poid=2989.

Select courses that might support your areas of interest. Early in the semester ask your professor if they are conducting any research and if you might be able to participate and assist them.

           

Junior Year +/-:

            Now is the time to start getting serious about your own research interests.  In addition to the approach suggested above of collaboration with the professor who teaches your course, this can also be done for credit under the supervision of a member of the Department of Psychological Science. Psych 490, Directed Readings in Psychology, can be taken with permission of the instructor and will focus on your area of interest. Psych 491, Research in Psychology, is similar to 490 in that it is by permission only and will be you working directly with or under the supervision of a professor, but 490 also requires you to conduct your own research and that includes library research, conceptualization of the construct, experimental design, submission of an Ethics Proposal, collecting data, analyzing data with the appropriate statistical test, and writing your results using proper APA style.

            Psych 490 and 491 may be taken for 1 to 3 credits each. It is important to work with a professor who is knowledgeable about your area of interest. To see a list of the Psych faculty and their own areas of interest and competence see the research website at http://www.wm.edu/as/psych-sciences/research/faculty_interests/index.php.

 

Advanced Research Courses:

            Advanced Research Courses (Psych 410 to 422) are typically taken during the senior year. These courses all require research, so choose one that covers your area of interest.

 

Internships:

            Psych 498 provides an opportunity for a student to earn academic credit for patriating in an appropriate internship. These internships are usually outside William and Mary and are identified by the student. Internships may be any time of the year but are most commonly done during the summer. Psych 498 also requires the permission and approval of a member of the Psych faculty and can be 1 to 3 credits.

 

Honors:

            Psych 495 and 496 are taken during the senior year. This is a serious undertaking that involves working closely with a professor on research for two semesters. Near the end of the second semester you will be expected to present your honors thesis to a committee of three faculty members (one from outside psychology) and defend your thesis. Permission is required in advance. For additional details see http:// fsweb.wm.edu/Charles and http://catalog.wm.edu/preview_course_nopop.php?catoid=12&coid=31766.

 

Presenting Your Research:

            There are several ways the results of your research can be presented. The highest form for the presentation of your research is to have the results published in a scholarly journal. Often an undergraduate will be listed as a co-author of an article published by a faculty researcher when the student has been involved as a member of the research team. But if the research is the original work of the student, the students name will be listed first. Yes, this can happen! But it takes a lot of work and careful timing.

            Students can also be named as co-authors on books published by faculty. Yes, this does happen too!

            A more achievable goal is to present your research in poster form. William and Mary makes this accessible with the Undergraduate Science Research Symposium, held each February. For more on a recent Undergraduate Science Research Symposium see http://www.wm.edu/as/charlescenter/annual-events/science_symposium/index.php.

            The Southeastern Psychological Association (SEPA) holds an annual convention and there are almost always opportunities for undergrads to present their research in poster form. This involves a review and approval process, so be sure to check the dates far in advance at http://www.sepaonline.com/.

            The Eastern Psychological Association (EPA) also holds an annual convention where undergraduates can often present their research. As with SEPA, check the approval far in advance. Their website is https://www.easternpsychological.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=1.

 

Why This Is Important:

            William and Mary offers a broad Liberal Arts education and of course Psychology and the other Social Sciences are important components of that education. But for an undergrad who knows early on that they want to pursue a career in Psychological Science or Psychological Research, there are opportunities to do this. A student submitting an application to graduate school, med school, law school, etc.  with an established track record of success in research will have an advantage. There is no structured or organized program in how to achieve this, but the opportunities discussed here should provide a good roadmap for the undergrad wishing to get involved in the rewarding work of discovering explanations for behavior through Psychological Research.

 

The Psychological Sciences Department provides a number of ways for students – both graduate and undergraduate – to become involved in our faculty’s research. The following examples give some idea of how this collaborative approach to research extends vertically throughout the department.

  • A master’s student working with Professor Burk demonstrated that testosterone administration impairs attention, resulting in a published article. Two undergraduate students helped with the data collection and analysis for this research; collectively, the undergraduates served as coauthors on presentations of this work at the Society for Neuroscience conference and the Undergraduate Neuroscience Symposium.
  • For many years students have worked as members of Professor Galano’s Healthy Families Virginia research team. Virtually all of the undergraduates were paid, and a Master's student was funded through a stipend. To date, a doctoral dissertation, master's thesis, honors project, and several senior research projects have resulted from these student-faculty collaborations.
  • Professor Hunt regularly assigns undergraduate students to help her graduate students collect data. The graduate student trains and supervises the undergraduates, and many times the undergraduate is listed as a coauthor with the graduate student on a publication. In addition to explaining research-relevant material, the graduate students are offer practical advice to the undergraduate students and, in general, teach them about graduate school.
  • Professors Langholtz’s and Ball's book Resource-Allocation Behavior brought together several years of research they had conducted that included six journal articles and professional presentations by two undergraduate and three graduate coresearchers and coauthors. An undergraduate Computer Science major developed the software, and an undergraduate student and Professor Ball analyzed subject responses. One graduate student compared behavior to mathematical models; another examined resource-allocation to achieve fixed goals; and another examined broader social issues of resource-allocation.
  • In Professor Pilkington’s lab, undergraduate, M.A,, and Psy.D. students work together to study applied and theoretical aspects of close relationships. For example, a Psy.D. student conducted her dissertation on aggression in romantic relationships. Her experiment was based on the Honors thesis of a previous undergraduate student and was conducted with the help of two undergraduate research assistants. An M.A. student conducted his thesis research (the impact of safer sex messages in the media on trust in romantic relationships) based in part on three previous Honors theses. A first-year M.A. student analyzed data from a larger project that involved a Psy.D. student and three independent study undergraduate students.
  • Professor Stevens involves both master’s and undergraduate Honors students in work at her Cognitive Neuroscience Lab. These are unique studies that relate to action representation. The result is an integrated and energetic lab that provides a rich and compelling learning environment for the independent study researchers.
  • Professor Thrash is currently conducting research on implicit-explicit motive congruence, inspiration and the writing process, and humor production. Approximately 10 undergraduate Psychology majors per semester assist with data collection and data coding. As part of his research on inspiration and writing, Professor Thrash hired several panels of English majors and graduate students from the American Studies program to evaluate technical aspects of participants’ writing quality and style. Two manuscripts with graduate students as coauthors are in preparation.
  • Professor Zeman has graduate and undergraduate students working in her lab, examining children's and adolescents' emotional expressivity and psychosocial functioning. Two graduate students (M.A. and Psy.D.) contribute to the research, along with three undergraduate students. All students attend weekly meetings and are involved in data collection in the public school system, data coding and entry, and data analysis. Results from this study will be presented at international conferences in which the students will be coauthors.