Tag Archives: Professional Development

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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Considering a Career in Aging (Part 1)

In graduate school, much of what you learn is about yourself, more specifically, grad school asks of you to be insightful. This look inward may include a reflection on the kind of psychological services you want to provide, research you wish to conduct, and who you would most like to work with in your professional career. Many graduate students may consider working with adults, children, couples, Veterans, the incarcerated, LGBTQ, racial and/or ethnic minorities, or those who may be most vulnerable in our society. If you find that you want to work individuals that come from all those parts of life, then I have a suggestion…older adults!

You may ask, what exactly does the term “older adults” mean? Well, it generally is meant to refer to adults 55 years of age and older. Using the term “older adults” is generally received as more acceptable than “elderly,” or “senior,” but there is no hard and fast rule about which term to use. As the awareness around the culture of being an older adult grows, so do appropriate evidence-based treatments, considerations in assessment, and expectations around what “normal” functioning look like.

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Translating Psychology from the Classroom to the Community

By Rachel Moore and Michael K. Scullin (Baylor University)

Hi all! We’re Rachel Moore (student) and Michael Scullin (professor), and we are teaming up to show you how to go from being a student of psychology to an ambassador of psychology.

Across two class assignments in 2016, Baylor University students translated psychological science from the classroom to the community. The students collectively produced 15 community outreach projects on sleep health and 19 “news” videos on human cognition. Below we interweave the professor’s view and student’s view on the two classroom assignments.

Community Outreach Project on Sleep Health

Professor Says:

As a sleep researcher, I spend a lot of hours in the lab (not sleeping), without direct contact with the families who might benefit from my research. Therefore, I asked the local Children’s Science Museum if my lab could create a “pop-up” exhibit. For an entire day, we held a booth of sleep science activities and taught kids and their families about sleep. It was a lot of fun. I think we learned as much from the families as they did from us.  Following this transformational experience, I challenged students in my Sleep class to create an innovative, community-based outreach project that promoted sleep awareness.

Student Says:

The community outreach project intimidated me! It extended beyond the comfortable bubble of homework and tests, and I feared the impending face-to-face interaction with strangers. In the beginning, I remember thinking I was in no position to interrupt people’s lives with some information I learned in classes—why would they want to listen to me?  Understanding that friends, family, other students, or strangers may exist on the receiving end of our work raised the stakes to convey information as clearly and effectively as I could. So we had to buckle down and ask ourselves, “What do we find important? Who should know this information? How will we share?”

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