Tag Archives: mentoring

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. 

 

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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Dear Me, Future Psychologist. Yours truly, Dr. Alison Gopnik

Check out our latest installment of Dear Me, Future Psychologist, a gradPSYCH Blog exclusive in which a prominent psychologist writes a letter to their 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.

Gopnik photo really hi-res tiff (002)This letter is from Dr. Alison Gopnik. Dr. Gopnik is a professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley, where she has taught since 1988. She received her BA from McGill University and her PhD. from Oxford University. She is a world leader in cognitive science, particularly the study of children’s learning and development. She is the author of over 100 journal articles and several books including the bestselling and critically acclaimed popular books “The Scientist in the Crib” William Morrow, 1999, “The Philosophical Baby; What children’s minds tell us about love, truth and the meaning of life” Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2009,  and  “The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the new science of child development tells us about the relationship between parents and children” Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2016. She is a fellow of the Cognitive Science Society and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

She writes the Mind and Matter science column for the Wall Street Journal. And she has also written widely about cognitive science and psychology for The New Yorker, Science, The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Times Literary Supplement, The New York Review of Books, New Scientist and Slate, among others. She has frequently appeared on TV and radio including “The Charlie Rose Show” and “The Colbert Report”. Her TED talk has been seen over 2.75 million times. She has three sons and three grand-children and lives in Berkeley, California with her husband Alvy Ray Smith.

DEAR-ME

FROM THE DESK OF ALISON GOPNIK:

May 2017

Dear Me,

Now by all the rules, you should be the one who is hesitant and uncertain, just starting out in life as you are, and I should be the one who’s figured it all out – I have the very unfair advantage, after all, of knowing how things will turn out. But, knowing you as I do, I’m afraid it’s mostly going to be the reverse. You are so sure about who you are and what you’re going to do, and most of my wisdom is a lifetime’s accumulation of doubt, even about the most fundamental biographical facts.

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Dear Me, Future Psychologist. Yours truly, Dr. Y. Barry Chung

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.

Y. B. ChungThis letter is from Dr. Y. Barry Chung. Dr. Chung received his PhD in counseling psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1996. He was a faculty member at Georgia State University and Department Chair at Northeastern University, before joining the faculty at Indiana University Bloomington where he is currently Associate Dean for Graduate Studies. Dr. Chung is a past President of the National Career Development Association and Society of Counseling Psychology, and is President-Elect of the Council of Counseling Psychology Training Programs. He is known for his scholarly work on career development, multicultural counseling, and sexual orientation and gender identity issues. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association (Divisions 17, 44, and 45), Asian American Psychological Association, and National Career Development Association.

DEAR-ME

FROM THE DESK OF Y. Barry Chung:

April 2017

Dear Me at 16,

This letter is from you when you are 53. I hope the letter reaches you alright via the time travel machine.  I know you are still in high school in Hong Kong, and have no idea what your future may hold.  But if you don’t mind knowing ahead of time, there will be lots of major changes in your life.  You will live in a different country (USA), speak English daily (I know, trust me, you can!), and you will be a psychology professor, university administrator, and leader of several national associations.  I know these may be too much to take in right now, when you are still struggling to grow up, living in poverty.  But trust me, they will all happen.  Well, I am writing today to give you some advice.  You may not need it (evidently you have become me), but as your older self I would like to help.

First, I know you are struggling with that “odd” feeling that you are attracted to men. Don’t be afraid.  It is only natural, and life gets better.  You will come out as a gay man in your 20s, and ultimately find a loving life partner when you are 39 (yeah it takes time and be patient with all the heartbreaks).  You will devote most of your career to researching on and advocating for LGBT issues.  In fact, you are probably most known by your professional peers for your LGBT work, and eventually you decide to leave a bequest donation to support LGBT research when you leave this world.  For now, just trust your feelings and don’t allow others and society to make you become someone else.  Your experience with heterosexism will be a powerful motivation to pursue the kind of work that will benefit people like yourself.

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Dear Me, Future Psychologist. Yours truly, Dr. Alan Kazdin

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.

akazdin-photoThis letter is from Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, ABPP. Dr. Kazdin is Sterling Professor of Psychology and Child Psychiatry at Yale University. At Yale, he has been Chairman of the Psychology Department and Director of the Child Study Center at the School of Medicine. Currently he is Director of the Yale Parenting Center. His 750+ publications include 49 books that focus on research methodology, interventions for children, parenting and child rearing, and interpersonal violence. His parenting work has been featured on NPR, PBS, BBC, CNN, Good Morning America, 20/20, Dr. Phil, and the Today Show. In 2008, he was President of the American Psychological Association.

DEAR-ME

 

 

 

FROM THE DESK OF ALAN KAZDIN:

Dear Alan,

I am sorry to have taken so long to write you. Writing to you was on my to-do list, which I misplaced several months ago. I finally found the list when I decided it was time to do my laundry. In any case, I am here now and so pleased to be in contact with you.

A task set out for me is to offer advice based on the perspective of time that has elapsed from when and where you are at age 16 to when and where I am now at age 71. As you will know in some distant future, as a general rule I am reluctant to give advice to anyone but I really love to receive the input of others, whether I follow that or not. With that in mind, I am not going to give you advice now even though I care about you deeply and actually am tempted.

I know you are really caught up in the present and truly enjoying yourself. As it turns out you will look back on this period with enormous warmth, joy, and amusement but also it will have enduring impact in relation to your very modest roots. Your style in the next decades will continue to focus on each present period without a long-term plan or even seeming goals beyond the immediate horizon. As odd as that may sound, I urge you to stay with that style—it will serve you well. Moreover, you will always be pleasantly baffled as to how you ended up here and there in your personal and professional lives, given that you were not thinking very far ahead.

There are some things you might consider as guides as your life and world continue to expand. Perhaps keep in mind that one (you) can (almost) never be:

  • Too kind to others;
  • Too forgiving and merciful;
  • Too helpful for those less fortunate, whether through no fault of their own or who have seemingly played a strong role in their own plight;
  • Too caring, intense, and loving;
  • Too connected to family; and because I know you and how you think,
  • Too funny.

After a very long and wonderful life, your mother has passed away quite recently, but she was fond of prizing you throughout your life for your enthusiasm and said that was the best gift she gave you. (She, and for that matter her entire cohort, were not genetically or epigenetically informed and knew little of the many domains [e.g., microbiome, connectome, environome, interactome] that influence affect, behavior, cognition, socialization, and health. Consequently, she pretty much took credit for your having that enthusiasm, and she had that as well.) Along with that, you have a somewhat naïve and occasionally Don Quixote feature about you. (I think next year you will be assigned to read that book—the real one, not those yellow Cliff Notes of which you are especially fond.) Soon, college will start to sculpt and then polish these features of you and eventually help you integrate them. (Apologies for the life spoiler—yes, believe it or not despite your fooling around so much now, you are going to college. I know you will provide an acknowledging smile when you read this—at this time in your life; you are taking high-school extremely seriously, except the part about classes and academic work! There is a potential spoiler here too but I will hold back. If you can save this letter and read it again in 3 or 4 years from now, you will understand and be happily astonished.)

As you move forward to your job and career (I am not telling what that is), direct any training, talent, or skill you have to helping people at the level of the individual but also at the level of society more broadly. There is enormous suffering and astounding inertia, indifference, and illusory efforts (all talk) to help. On the other side, there are many people already working to help and in amazing and creative ways that can and do make a difference. Use your enthusiasm, Quixotic naiveté, and intensity to connect with like souls, and join the battle in whatever way you can. There is so much to do and so much need, it is easy to find ways to contribute.

Above all, enjoy yourself and your family and keep your natural focus on the present. The main insight of your distant you (me) is how quickly life can unfold and pass. Probably the last thing on your mind at this moment is the prospect that in a relative flash of time, you may be old and asked to write a letter to your 16-year old self. By that time, quantum states may have been mastered and you could be in the same room at the same time and be both the 16-year old and the older wrinkled version who writes you now. Quantum computing is almost here and probably there will be quantum Skype or FaceTime right after that so if you are not in the same room, perhaps you and I can still chat and see each other.  Either way, I am so pleased to be entangled with you now.  Enjoy yourself.

Un fuerte abrazo,

Alan

Editor’s Note: Dear Me, Future Psychologist is inspired by the Dear Me book series by Joseph Galliano. Special thanks to David A. Meyerson, Ph.D. for creating this series for the gradPSYCH Blog. Please check out other letters in this series: