Category Archives: Advice

Research can be fun, I promise: A guide to getting undergraduates involved in research

We all remember how overwhelming our first few years of our undergraduate studies were. Psychology may have been our major, but there was so much information being presented in introductory courses, it was hard to know exactly what that word really meant. What did psychologists actually do all day? I know when I was a sophomore, I still thought that all psychologists were basically Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs– sneaking into storage units late at night to explore a killer’s wares, examining dead bodies for clues to how they reached their demise, having intimate and revealing conversations with a serial killer through 4-inch Plexiglas. Such action-oriented images defined psychology for me. It pushed any ideas of sitting behind a desk, performing scientific experiments and analyzing data, to the very back of my mind.

Luckily, I had a bunch of very patient, but very direct, mentors who introduced me to the value of research. And I am not talking about just the “oh, now I have another line to put on my CV” sort of value. We all can remember the first time we found a significant effect size with data we had personally collected and pored over every detail of. There comes a shining moment when you realize that you have added something to the field of psychology! My mentors taught me that all the hand-wringing that came before that moment was worth it, and soon “researcher” became a part of my definition of a psychologist.

Now, I am on the other side, working as the graduate assistant for an undergraduate research program. Graduate students have a unique connection with undergraduates in our department – although, like faculty, we are older and more experienced, it is often easier for the undergraduates to connect with us. We are also still in the weeds of academia, often closer in age, and spend a lot of time focused in on the same areas. So for the undergraduates in our lab, in the classes we teach, or just at department events, we can become a major mentoring voice. In essence, we have a choice – we can simply go about our expected duties, or we can push ourselves a little farther. We can reach out to undergraduate students to introduce them to the world of psychological science.

Of course, that isn’t always easy. Undergraduates face a lot of obstacles in regards to research, and no, it isn’t just the obstacle of eating so much ramen that they cannot get into the lab. Undergrads often avoid research because:

  1. “Research” does not fit into their schema of “psychologist”.

Teaching these students, who may think of psychology a solely consisting of clinical work (or, in my case, forensic clinical work) how research can fit into the picture is invaluable. Speak to your undergrads about your work, and connect it directly to clinical experience. Bring current research into the classroom. Discuss with students your own experiences of doing both hands on work with clients and future-oriented work with science. Eventually, the connection will click.

2. They think that they do not know enough and will make too many mistakes

Undergraduate students (and graduate students as well, honestly) may become stuck in the paradoxical loop that they do not want to attempt anything new for fear that they will not do it perfectly the first time, or that they will disappoint their superiors. As a student who has certainly made mistakes yourself (likely in the recent past!), you can be the one to break that infinite circle of passivity. Talk about your own mistakes, even if you are not directly prompted. Use them as teaching moments for that specific task, but also as a general teaching moment that no one is ever perfect. Mistakes often lead to the most valuable teaching experiences. And as for not knowing enough, remind them –  research is for exactly that purpose, when we don’t know enough, we seek out the answer. You are learning as you go along, and this field is all about jumping in and get your hands dirty. The earlier you do it, the more you will learn.

3. It is an ambiguous concept.

Lots of what we learn in undergraduate psychology is concrete; problems are described and solutions presented. In research, you have to identify the problems, or areas of uncertainty, and hypothesize solutions. Simply coming up with these two things – a research problem and a hypothesis – can be arduous enough. And it becomes even more difficult when we realize that even the most well-thought out hypotheses do not always work out.

Encourage undergraduates to draw on what they already know, and then to take a risk. Research requires taking a dip into the unknown, which is inherently risky because it is uncharted territory. Being walked through the less-defined steps for the first time can prove to be a very helpful experience. Ask undergrads to act as research assistants for your projects, and have them do more than just data collecting. Introduce them to how you came up with the research question, the IRB approval process, show them the write-up. If possible, invite them to come to conferences with you so that they can get a taste of it (and get some free vendor pens). Be the guide for the first leg of this uncharted journey, but then step back once the journey has begun. The students will realize that their risk can reap reward.

4. They do not know how to ask for guidance

Often, even if an undergraduate student is ready to integrate research into their life and jump into a pool of potential mistakes and ambiguity, they may not know how to ask for help. As graduate students, you can be an enormously helpful resource. Be inviting to undergraduates that want to come to your labs. Encourage undergraduates in your classes to speak with you after class if they are interested in research, and be willing (or knowledgeable about other labs where you can refer them) to refer them based on their topic of interest.

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Today’s undergraduates will be our future lab partners, classmates, and eventual colleagues. It is important that we begin to build their foundation of science from the very beginning – science is an integral part of moving psychology from the past into the present, to make treatments more effective, and to make lives better. After all, Clarice Starling may have had all of the action sequences, but she may have never solved the case of Buffalo Bill without the scientists identifying the moth.


Editor’s Note: Fallon Kane is a clinical psychology doctoral candidate at the Derner School of Psychology. Her research focuses on personality pathology and interpersonal relationships, and personality change with age. 

 

How college students can tackle common psychological problems

ThinkingCompleting a college degree can be a hard ball game and not everyone can hit it out of the park. I think we all can agree that college life often brings up tough challenges that can break even the strongest of students if they are not able to handle them well.

Besides academic pressure, students often have to juggle various other psychological pressures such as unfavorable family conditions, infatuations, peer pressure, insecurities, bullying, health issues, etc., that can make it even harder to cope.

All of this can affect one’s psychological well being and can contribute to a lack of focus and potentially losing sight of ultimate life goals.

 Common problems

Around 43.7 million American adults were diagnosed with mental health conditions in 2016. Fear, stress, loneliness, sleep deprivation, anxiety, depression, emotional troubles, self-loathing, addiction, sexual tension, etc. are some common psychological problems among students.   

While severe cases of depression and anxiety topped the list, a significant section of young adults also suffered from illicit drug abuse and alcohol abuse. In some cases, conditions were severe enough that patients showed suicidal tendencies.

What to do?

It’s typically easier to treat psychological conditions at an early age, between 16 – 24 years old. After some online research, I have summarized a three-step plan to help deal with and conquer mental health issues while pursuing your degree:  Admission, Analysis, and Consultation.

The Plan:

  1. Admission

A good first step to addressing psychological problems is admitting that you have a problem and determining that you are willing to face it head on. It certainly takes some amount of bravery to admit that something’s wrong with yourself. Remember, you’re not alone.  As I stated above, there are 43.7 million adults that also have some type of mental health condition. There is no shame or weakness in admitting that you have a problem.  It is easier to treat and improve your mental health condition if you report signs as early as you see them.

What to look for?

According to Mental Health America, there are several warning signs and symptoms:

  • Confused thinking
  • Prolonged depression (sadness or irritability)
  • Feelings of extreme highs and lows
  • Excessive fears, worries and anxieties
  • Social withdrawal
  • Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Strong feelings of anger
  • Strange thoughts (delusions)
  • Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations)
  • Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Numerous unexplained physical ailments
  • Substance use

2. Analysis: Studying the Connection and Consequences

Most psychological problems are connected to another or lead to another, or they may be a result of one another. For example, loneliness can cause fear, and fear can cause stress and anxiety. Emotional tension can lead to sexual trouble, which in turn can result in addiction and sleep deprivation, etc.

Taking a look at these connections not only helps to identify the problem but can help you identify a pattern, which can prevent an minor illness from branching into more serious consequences like self-injury, drug addiction, depression, bipolar disorder, or in worse cases, causing harm to yourself or others.

To prevent such consequences, you need to understand your problem and know what led to this condition. If you want to read up, there’s enough research on mental health and psychological disorders and papers that you can find on the internet. Be informed.

3.  Consultation

It sounds very obvious but yes, consulting a professional or speaking to a student counselor can be a tremendous help. If you don’t know where to start, try going to the campus counseling center or look for a student support group on your campus. The university health clinic can also refer you to a mental health professional. If you prefer to find someone off campus, do an online search for “mental health professional” in your city or town.

A recent survey by Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors (AUCCCD) revealed that 72% of students surveyed have felt positive results after consultation. Sharing your problem with a professional will help you get proper guidance, medication, and rehabilitation that’s suited to your condition.

Final words

Recovering from psychological turmoil is a hard battle but it is important to persevere. Remember, you are not alone. It may be difficult to pull yourself out of a depression or overcome anxiety without obtaining professional assistance. Talk to someone that can  help you.

Try to avoid temporary fixes like self-medicating and don’t ignore your symptoms. It takes strength to identify that you have a problem and seek help. Love yourself enough to make sure that you are in the best mental state possible, and do whatever it takes to maintain that healthy mentality. Remember, you want to live your best life. Stay safe, stay fit and don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Author:

Ethan Miller is a private ESL tutor and apart from his passion for teaching, he loves to write. When he is not teaching or writing his book, Ethan loves to blog and is a huge fan of educational technology. Follow Ethan on Twitter, and his blog.

Gender & Sexual Diversity: Why ALL Social Scientists Should be Conducting Inclusive Research

Written by:  J. Stewart, North Carolina State University, member of the APAGS Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity

lgbtq-2495947_1920Did you know that the current administration recently eliminated a proposal to include questions about sexual orientation and gender identity in the 2020 U.S. census survey? You may or may not realize that doing so poses potentially serious threats to the rights of many Americans through this powerful form of erasure. Without this data, we will continue to have only rough estimates of the number of LGBTQ+ people living in the U.S.

As stigma surrounding sexual minority identities has lessened over the last few decades, many psychologists and social scientists across specialties are increasingly encountering lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) participants in research conducted in general populations. As researchers who strive to maintain a certain neutrality when collecting and interpreting data, the degree to which we can actively further an equal rights agenda in conducting the research is limited. However, through the small, yet impactful act of prioritizing inclusivity in research practices, social scientists can help to challenge systems of oppression while simultaneously maintaining the integrity of the science.

By merely (yet accurately) recognizing the diversity that exists with regard to people’s sexualities, we can both affirm the identities of people of those experiences and signal to all participants that such experiences are present and valid. This can be accomplished, for example, through the use of inclusive language in surveys and offering more options than just the typical “male/female” and “straight/gay/lesbian” for possible answers to demographic questions. When phrasing questions in binary terms or restricting demographic responses, researchers may inadvertently oppress gender and sexual minority individuals by reinforcing binary conceptions of gender and imposing limited characterizations of sexual orientation.

Dismantling these systems calls for a paradigm shift within every social sphere—including scientific research. Consider the ways in which social science informs public policy. If we do not produce research that reflects the diversity that we know exists in our society, the public institutions that draw upon that research will continue to marginalize that diversity. Given the historical role science has played in oppression, we have an ethical imperative to do better.

Here are ten things that you can do to integrate inclusive research practices into your next study:

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Acquiring a Research-Oriented Post-doc

Graduate school doesn’t last forever, which means that as you approach your defense date you must also consider how to navigate an impending job market. For students interested in research careers, a logical next-step may be to acquire a post-doc, which affords more time after school to expand research skills. Although many psychology students now choose a post-doc as their next career move, the specifics as to how to actually land one are often unclear.

Because this process doesn’t need to be as mysterious as it usually is, below we’ve compiled some tips to help students navigate the post-doc market. Since we’ve already written on the topic of landing a health services psychology (HSP)-oriented post-doc, here we cater more to readers specifically interested in research-specific options.

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Dear Me, Future Psychologist. Yours truly, Dr. John C. Norcross

It’s time for the next installment of Dear me, future psychologist, a gradPSYCH Blog exclusive in which a prominent psychologist writes a letter to his/her 16-year-old self. We hope you enjoy these letters and glean some invaluable wisdom and guidance as you decide whether to enter graduate school in psychology, as you navigate the challenges of graduate school, and as you make decisions about your career and life.

norcross1This letter is from John C. Norcross, PhD, ABPP, an internationally recognized authority on clinical psychology and psychotherapy. Dr. Norcross is Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Scranton, Clinical Professor at The Commonwealth Medical College, and a board-certified clinical psychologist. He has published more than 400 scholarly publications and 20 books, including the 5-volume APA Handbook of Clinical Psychology, Psychotherapy Relationships that Work, Insider’s Guide to Graduate Programs in Clinical & Counseling Psychology, and Systems of Psychotherapy: A Transtheoretical Analysis, now in its 8th edition.  He served as president of several APA divisions and international organizations, receiving multiple professional awards, such as APA’s Distinguished Career Contributions to Education & Training Award, Pennsylvania Professor of the Year from the Carnegie Foundation, and election to the National Academies of Practice.  For more info, please visit Dr. Norcross’s website.

DEAR-ME

 

 

FROM THE DESK OF JOHN C. NORCROSS:

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