Category Archives: Training Issues

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. 

 

Crying Wolf: Is the public really at risk and do we really need another licensing exam?

The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) has repeatedly explained that its mission is to support licensing boards in meeting their goal of public protection. With this in mind, on March 21, 2016, the ASPPB announced its intention to create a competency exam, the Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology Step 2 (EPPP2), which the ASPPB expects to be ready for implementation by January of 2019. Unlike the EPPP, which is intended to assess knowledge, the EPPP2 is intended to assess competency-based skills. While public protection is an admirable goal, and one which I believe the ASPPB is sincerely committed to, it’s unclear how this additional test would help licensing boards meet their goal of public protection. The EPPP itself has been subject to many critiques that remain unanswered, critiques that would likely apply to the EPPP2 as well. Due to the significant investments of time and money students will be required to make in taking the EPPP2 (the cost of the EPPP is $687 in most jurisdictions, and half of test takers spend over 200 hours preparing), these critiques should be addressed prior to the implementation of the EPPP2.

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Possible Impact of Federal Hiring Freeze on the Internship Match

Dear fellow students,

As many of you already know, President Trump issued an executive order on January 23rd toInternships in Psychology Workbook freeze the hiring of Federal civilian employees across the executive branch with the exception of military personnel. The President’s memorandum can be found here. At present, this freeze includes all hiring at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BoP), and the Indian Health Service (IHS). Taken together, these three Federal departments are host to more than 700 APA-accredited internship slots, the vast majority of which are accredited through the VA.

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Will I ever get paid overtime? Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), established in 1938, is a federal law that regulates overtime pay, minimum wage, child labor, and recordkeeping. This past Spring, the U.S. Department of Labor approved a proposal to increase the salary threshold to qualify for FLSA standards, meaning anyone working full-time and making less than $47,476 will qualify for FLSA benefits. The new salary threshold was expected to go into effect December 1, 2016; however, it was recently blocked by a Texas judge. Although this ruling has been halted, we want to keep APAGS members informed as to how its roll-out will affect them should this injunction be dismissed. Below we answer some of the biggest questions about the proposed FLSA changes to help you stay informed.

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Now that you’ve submitted your internship application…

For many students training to be Health Service Providers (HSP), the internship application process tends to be one of the most stressful periods of their graduate school training. Preparing applications by looking through training brochures of multiple internship sites, writing cover letters, completing essays, logging hours… the list goes on. It is difficult to really practice self-care during this intensive process, and sometimes we find ourselves struggling to complete an application in the eleventh hour. A number of sites have early deadlines, some before November, while others go straight through to the end of November/early December. Students can choose different ways of submitting their applications, some opting to submit in batches, based on deadlines, while others may opt to submit all applications at one time.

If you’ve finished submitting your application at this point, CONGRATULATIONS! This is the perfect time to take a break!

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Some students may be thinking, “Now is the time to prepare for my interviews, plan travel, etc.” As someone who has been through this same process last year and also taking part in it again this year, my advice is this: DON’T DO IT.

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