Tag Archives: academia

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. 

 

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The Learning Scientists: Our Story

LSLogo200x200Recently, I had been trying to come up with creative ways to help my students link concepts from class to the real world. Improving learning is one connection. But there are many others, such as how we might frame an advertisement to help it sell, or how we can improve procedures in the criminal justice system to avoid false convictions – like Steven Avery’s first conviction. (The many who watched Making a Murderer have probably thought a lot about this connection to cognitive psychology, possibly without realizing how much of a role it plays!) Anyway, I decided to create an assignment requiring my students to interact with one another and make connections with popular psychology-related articles on Twitter. The first step was creating a Twitter profile for myself, and building it up with psychology-related tweets.

One random night, I saw that Yana was tweeting many messages to a lot of different Twitter handles. It turns out Yana had been feeling guilty that she wasn’t doing more to reach out to the community with her work on improving study strategies. Somewhat impulsively, she tried searching “test tomorrow” on Twitter, and realized that TONS of students were tweeting about upcoming exams. Many students were tweeting about being unprepared, not knowing how to study, or being unable to concentrate.

So, Yana started tweeting advice and encouragement to the students: wishing them luck on their exams, asking them what strategies they used to study, and whether they’d tried practice questions or writing out everything they knew on the topic from memory. I thought it was such a cool idea that I decided to join in. I suggested we start using the hashtag #AceThatTest, and overnight that hashtag had turned into our joint Twitter account: @AceThatTest. That was January 22nd, 2016.

Since then – in under a month – we have gained almost 700 followers on Twitter, tweeted well over 2,000 times, hired a student intern, made a website with a blog (learningscientists.org), been asked to help out with a book on learning, and forged many new connections with researchers and educators around the world. The project really took off in ways that I think neither of us had anticipated! The passion we both bring to the project comes from our mutual frustration with the lack of communication between science and educational practice.

We want to improve communication between the various educational experts. Education is an extremely important topic, and we believe that there are many experts in this realm, each bringing an important perspective that can serve to improve education. Teachers who have been practicing in the classroom for years are experts. Students, by the time they graduate high school, and may be considering entering into higher education, have 13 years of educational experience under their belts, and could be considered experts. Professors, like Yana and myself, who both research learning (sometimes in the lab, sometimes in live classrooms) and teach undergraduate students in our own classrooms are experts. Professors who are working with teachers in training in institutions of higher education are experts.

If you have an “it takes a village” mentality, like we do, then the idea of having so many experts with diverse experiences and perspectives is extremely exciting. No one person can solve every problem that comes up, but a diverse group has serious potential to get things done. Unfortunately, many of these groups are not communicating with one another as much as we believe they should be. The situation is not entirely dissimilar from the schism between research and practice in clinical psychology. In an ideal world, researchers would clearly communicate their findings and make them easily accessible to practitioners. Meanwhile, practitioners would communicate any practical concerns they have with implementation to inform further research. Yet instead of this type of symbiotic relationship, there is a strained relationship between clinical practice and clinical research, and the lines of communication are not as open as they should be, and need to be if we want clinical psychology to be maximally beneficial for the profession and the public as a whole. Clinical psychologists know this, and have been addressing the problem; there have even been special APA Convention programs and even special journal issues to address the lack of communication.

The same problem occurs in education – communication is simply not open, and it’s time for the many educational experts to address this. We have to talk to each other if we want to improve education. It seems to us that we can’t complain about a lack of communication while keeping our heads down in our own silos. For this reason, Yana and I started the Learning Scientists community.

Please help us spread the word, and open lines of communication between all education experts. There are many opportunities for you to get involved: Tell colleagues outside of psychology about this work, follow us on Twitter and tweet at us, comment on our blog, or even write a piece on something you’re passionate about and send it to us. You can get in touch with us through our website via our “contact us” tab, or on Twitter @AceThatTest.

LScientists Banner200x849About the authors:

MeganSmithMegan Smith is an Assistant Professor in the Psychology department at Rhode Island College. She received her Master’s in Experimental Psychology at Washington University in St. Louis and her PhD in Cognitive Psychology from Purdue University. Megan’s area of expertise is in human learning and memory, and applying the science of learning in educational contests. 

YanaWeinsteinYana Weinstein is an Assistant Professor in the Psychology department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. She received her PhD in Psychology from University College London and had 4 years of postdoctoral training at Washington University in St. Louis. The broad goal of her research is to help students make the most of their academic experience. 

Together they co-founded the Learning Scientists (@AceThatTest on Twitter) to make scientific research more accessible to students and educators.

 

 

What rights can psychology graduate students expect no matter where or what they study? (Image source: Julia Manzerova on Flickr. Some rights reserved.)

Graduate Students Have Rights. APAGS Just Spelled Them Out.

What rights should psychology graduate students expect no matter where or what they study? (Image source: Julia Manzerova on Flickr. Some rights reserved.)

What rights should psychology graduate students expect no matter where or what they study? (Image source: Julia Manzerova on Flickr. Some rights reserved.)

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a graduate student in psychology discuss aspects of their training or education that seemed inequitable, I could pay back all my loans.

Too often in graduate school, students come across situations in which they believe their rights have been infringed upon in some way. When this occurs, many students feel at a loss for how to advocate for themselves and what they can or should be able to reasonably advocate for. The result for many students is dissatisfaction, frustration, and occasionally leaving a training program or experience.

The APAGS Committee has honed in on this student concern over the past year and opted to move forward with creating a student “bill of rights.” This was a very detailed process that included a literature review of various student right documents from across the world, drafting lists of rights based on this literature and our own experiences, and completing many revisions with input from APAGS leaders and many outside resources.

At long last, the APAGS Committee voted in December to approve a document titled, “Position Statement on the Rights of Psychology Graduate Students.” The Committee is planning to distribute these rights across various platforms and to a variety of constituents. The Committee is even considering bringing the document to APA’s Council of Representatives for consideration as an official policy document! That’s a huge step, and we will keep you posted.

In the meantime, we hope that students, programs, and other interested parties can use this document to their benefit. Use it to advocate for your own rights and thereby create a program or training experience of the highest caliber. If you have other ideas and reactions, we would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below!

Here now is the text of our position statement, which is also available on our website.


Position Statement on the Rights of Psychology Graduate Students

Preamble

The American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS) deems the rights described in this document to be indispensable to the fair, equitable and respectful treatment of every psychology graduate student throughout their education and training. The protection of these rights fosters the highest quality graduate training experience. APAGS considers these rights essential, not aspirational, and we urge graduate programs to implement these rights in their unique settings and training environments. We encourage current and prospective students to utilize these rights in making informed graduate program selections and in advocating for themselves as issues arise.

1. Institutional Environment

1.1 Right to respectful treatment by faculty members, colleagues, staff, and peers.

1.2 Right to have professional and personal information handled in a sensitive and respectful manner such that personal information is only disclosed when it is deemed necessary for educational or training purposes, and that students are informed prior to any such disclosure (See Ethical Standard 7.04).

1.3 Right to affordable insurance inclusive of health, vision, dental, and mental health care coverage.

2. Program Policies

2.1 Right to publicly available, accurate, and up-to-date descriptions of costs, the availability of financial support, and the likelihood of ongoing support throughout training (e.g., percent of students with full and partial financial support during year one, year two, etc.; available funding options), to be provided prior to or immediately following the program’s interviews for prospective students (See Ethical Standard 7.02).

2.2 Right to accurate and up-to-date information from research advisors and thesis/dissertation committee members on professional factors that could impact student training, career development, and timely program completion.

2.3 Right to access and exercise formal written policies regarding leave and accommodations as they pertain to pregnancy, parenting/caregiving, bereavement, medical or mental illness, and disability.

2.4 Right to access and exercise formal written policies and procedures regarding academic and placement/internship requirements, administrative procedures, evaluation, advisement, retention, average “time to degree,” and termination (See Ethical Standard 7.02).

2.5 Right to express opinions and have representation on campus committees relevant to professional development, with voting privileges where appropriate.

2.6 Right to exemption from new graduation or program requirements, developed after admission, that might result in a delay of graduation.

3. Professional and Educational Training Opportunities

3.1 Right to appropriate professional training (e.g., teaching, research, clinical practice) in the current standards and practices of the discipline and specialty area (See Ethical Standard 7.01).

3.2 Right to be evaluated by faculty consistent with current ethical practices in employment, progression through the program, and grading, solely on the basis of academic performance, professional qualifications, and/or conduct (See Ethical Standard 7.06).

3.3 Right to quality mentorship.

3.4 Right to change advisors and committee members for professional and personal needs.

3.5 Right to receive timely, ongoing feedback on all areas of trainee competency and the opportunity to address growth areas with support from faculty.

3.6 Right to co-authorship in publications when the student has made significant contributions of ideas or research work (See Ethical Standards 8.11 and 8.12 a-c).

3.7 Right to freely communicate and collaborate with other academic colleagues.

3.8 Right to lead, assemble, and participate in organizations and activities outside the academic program.

3.9 Right to engage in self care as a routine practice throughout training (See Ethical Standards 3.05 and 3.06).

4. Work Environment

4.1 Right to fair compensation for services provided during training (e.g., graduate, teaching, and research assistantships).

4.2 Right for students providing services during training (e.g., teaching, research, clinical, and administrative graduate assistantships) to enjoy the recognitions, rights, privileges, and protections afforded to employees under state, provincial, territorial, and national labor laws.

4.3 Right to study and work in an environment free of exploitation, intimidation, harassment, or discrimination based on one’s student status, race, ethnicity, skin color, national origin, religion, political beliefs, economic status, age, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, marital status, pregnancy or parental status, disability, medical or mental health conditions, ancestry, citizenship, military veteran status, or any other identity salient to the individual in admissions and throughout education, employment, and placement (See Principle E and Ethical Standards 3.01, 3.02, 3.03, 3.08).

4.4 Right to work under clearly expressed and mutually agreed-upon job descriptions and work or training conditions.

4.5 Right to perform only those tasks that relate to academic program requirements, professional development, and/or job duties.

4.6 Right to provide constructive and professional feedback to supervisors, directors, administrators, and staff concerning the quality and content of supervision

5. Appeals and Grievances

5.1 Right to clearly defined official grievance procedures and informal complaint procedures.

5.2 Right to whistleblower protection for exposing professional, ethical, or legal violations (See Ethical Standard 1.08).

5.3 Right to due process for any accusation of violation or infraction.

5.4 Right to be free of reprisals for exercising the rights contained in this document (See Ethical Standard 1.08).

Affording and Repaying Grad School

New Tools for Affording and Repaying Graduate School

Affording and Repaying Grad School

On our APAGS website, we recently published a page with tools and materials sorted into four key areas:

  1. Education costs and affordability
  2. Aid, grants and funding opportunities
  3. Loan repayment and forgiveness
  4. Financial fitness

Please visit our new webpage to get information on any of these areas. No matter what phase of an academic career you’re in (a prospective, current, or recent graduate student) there’s likely a link or two to help you. Links consist of materials APA publishes and also materials vetted by APAGS staff.

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Searching for Academic Employment After Your Doctorate

For those of you unfamiliar with the Hunger Games Trilogy books and movies, the Hunger Games are set in the dystopian future of the United States where adolescent male and female participants from each of the 12 districts (states) must compete in a televised battle where they fight to the death.

While this may sound very different from graduate school, there are some similarities that can be drawn and you may feel yourself as a competitor in a battle arena trying to find that perfect post-doctoral employment opportunity.

There is growing evidence that there are not enough tenure track positions for the number of doctorates being awarded, including those with degrees in psychology. According to an article in The Atlantic, less than 20% of those graduating with life sciences PhDs in 2011 had direct employment lined up. While the vast majority obtains postdoctoral training (44%), 37% do not have postdoctoral fellowships or employment positions and are essentially un/underemployed.

For comparison, the unemployment rate in 2013 for those without a high school diploma was 29%. These “unemployed” doctoral recipients may not in fact be unemployed, but rather “underemployed” where they cannot find an adequate full-time position that reflects their educational training.

There is also increasing evidence that the number of full-time tenure track positions have been steadily decreasing, with the majority of college faculty being part-time employees. At public four-year colleges in 2009, 46% of professors were employed part-time. Within private colleges, the split between full- and part-time was closer to 50/50. With the increase in demand for professors since the mid-20th century due to college enrollment increases, there has been an increase in adjunct faculty by 300%—without the same increase for tenure-track positions.

So what can you do as a graduate student in order to increase the odds in your favor? A recent gradPSYCH blog post by Nabil El-Ghoroury, paraphrased below, offers four helpful tips that graduate students in all disciplines can benefit from:

  1. Ally with your colleagues. Build alliances during graduate school by developing collaborative projects with fellow students. Funding agencies prefer collaborative grants, and you may be able to generate more publications through these collaborations.
  2. Learn helpful skills. Think about what you need to land your academic dream job, and pursue opportunities to gain these skills. Departments are always looking for professors who can teach statistics or research methods, or you may want to gain experience with cutting-edge techniques such as fMRI to make you a more appealing job candidate.
  3. Advocate for more resources. Advocacy for increased funding for science research at the federal and state levels could lead to increases in research faculty positions. Instead of deleting those emails calling for advocacy to your representatives, take the time to respond.
  4. Create an alternative path to victory. You may discover in graduate school that academia isn’t for you. With a psychology doctorate you have a skill set that can translate to many nontraditional careers. Take the time to search for alternative career opportunities and seek guidance and insight from someone currently in a nontraditional career.

Alexa Lopez headshotEditor’s note: This post originally appeared in near-identical form in the November 2014 newsletter for APA Division 28, Psychopharmacology and Substance Abuse. Alexa Lopez is 2013-2015 Chair of the APAGS Science Committee, doctoral graduate from the University of Vermont, and current postdoctoral fellow at Virginia Commonwealth University.