Acquiring Research Experience: Resources for Interested Students

 

Students interested in pursuing a graduate-level education in psychology or another social-, behavioral- and/or mental-health-science related field should strongly consider acquiring undergraduate research experience. Many graduate programs prefer to admit students who have research experience before beginning their graduate education. For students interested in pursuing a doctoral-level education, this is required by doctoral programs. For students interested in pursuing a masters-level education, this is highly valued.

By acquiring research experience as an undergraduate student, you will gain extensive hands-on experience utilizing the scientific method to conduct original empirical research. This will allow you to develop research skills related to hypothesis generation, method design, data collection, data analysis and dissemination of research findings. These are all skills essential to the success of any student in a research-focused graduate program. 

Further, working on research projects as an undergraduate provides opportunities that would not otherwise be available. For instance, you might have the opportunity to attend a University-funded trip to a professional research conference where you will be able to present the research you conducted, learn about up-to-date research in the field of psychology by professional scientists and network with professional psychologists and graduate students. Further, you may have the opportunity to collaborate with a faculty member in the writing of a manuscript that can be submitted to peer-reviewed research journals.

Acquiring undergraduate research experience also provides you the opportunity to work one-on-one with a faculty member for one or more semesters. This will allow you and the faculty member to work closely together, which is valuable for the purpose of acquiring strong, useful letters of recommendations for graduate programs and jobs later on. 

 

There are various ways you can approach acquiring research experience as an undergraduate student at Stockton University

  • You can apply to work as a research assistant with a faculty member on one of the faculty member's research projects (see the "Psychology Program Faculty Members Who Conduct Research with Students" section below for more details). Please note that by working with a Faculty member as a research assistant, you can earn 0-4 PSYC elective credits in an "PSYC 48XX-level Independent Studies" course. 
  • You can conduct a Project for Distinction in your senior year, which is an independent research project of your own design that you develop and conduct over a 1-year period under the supervision and guidance of a faculty member (see the "Project for Distinction" section below for more details)
  • You can register into a course that requires students to conduct research during the semester (see the "Psychology Research Course Offerings at Stockton University" section below for more details)
  • You can register for the Empirical Research Concentration, which is a curriculum for Psychology majors who want to concentrate on taking psychology courses that emphasize the development of research skills (see the "Empirical Research Concentration" section below for more details)
  • You can apply to work as a research assistant in a lab at another institution during the summer (see the "Summer Research Opportunities at Other Institutions" section below for more details)

By clicking the links below, you will find information about each faculty member's research interests, representative publications, eligibility requirements of student research assistants, skills to be developed by student research assistants, general responsibilities of student research assistants, and procedures for how to apply to work as a student research assistant.

Jessica Fleck, Ph.D.

Helana Girgis, Ph.D.

Zornitsa Kalibatseva, Ph.D.

Justin Ostrofsky, Ph.D.

Elizabeth Shobe, Ph.D.

Connie Tang, Ph.D. 

Kaite Yang, Ph.D.

A project for distinction is a two-semester professional research project conducted by a student seeking to graduate with distinction in Psychology. Distinction requires the majority approval of full-time faculty members of the Psychology Program. Students must register for 0-8 credits in an independent study titled, “Research Project for Distinction”. The credits may be divided across two semesters, where appropriate (e.g., atypically large or time consuming projects).

 

Eligibility Requirements to Conduct a Project for Distinction

Students must have a minimum G.P.A. of 3.2 in PSYC courses. Students must also have completed or be enrolled in PSYC 3242, Experimental Psychology.

 

Benefits of Conducting a Project for Distinction

Prestige: Relatively few students graduate with program distinction

Increase Competitiveness of Graduate School Applications: Many graduate schools require a record of independent scholarship  

Gain Experience Conducting Research: Integrate knowledge from multiple domains; Learn in depth about a topic of interest to you; Understand all aspects of the research process   

Demonstrate Research Skills: Comprehend published research articles; Critically evaluate strengths and weaknesses of past research; Generate research hypotheses; Develop research design skills; Collect primary data / Utilize secondary data; Analyze data; Write a complete research paper using the APA style; Orally present research in public; Prepare a manuscript for journal submission 

Professional Interactions: Interact closely with faculty; Interact with members of the field at conferences

 

Types of Research Projects Suitable for a Project for Distinction

Students may conduct experiments, observational studies (e.g., correlations), surveys, archival research, or qualitative research (e.g., interviews). The research method and design is determined by the student and their faculty mentor as an appropriate method for testing the hypothesis. Regardless of the chosen methods, research projects must include data and analysis of that data. Data can be collected in-person (e.g., laboratory, classroom, community), online, or through archived or other data banks.

 

How to Choose a Topic for a Project for Distinction 

The Psychology Program faculty would like for students to pursue areas of research that are of interest to the student. Decide your general area of interest. This can be something broad, such as your favorite PSYC course. It can also be more specific, such as something you learned in a class or read that you thought was interesting or sparked an idea, or based on your personal observations in your daily life.  Project for distinction can also be an extension of a project from Experimental Psychology or an independent study.

Meet with the faculty member of your choice to discuss a research project that is best for you. Each faculty member has a different approach toward projects for distinction. Some faculty may require that you develop your idea independently, some have preferences for topics, some have working hypotheses, and some require that you simply join their ongoing research program where the hypothesis and methods are set. Faculty members will also direct you to others who may be a better fit for your interests and ideas.

 

Timeline of Activities Required for Completing a Project for Distinction

When to BeginA student may begin a project for distinction any time during or after they complete Experimental Psychology. Some experience as a research assistant to a faculty member prior to beginning a project for distinction is recommended, but not required. The project should begin early during their junior year to be of greatest benefit to students who are applying to graduate school and desire experience with conference presentations and manuscript submission.  Most students begin their project in their first semester of senior year and complete it in their last semester of their senior year. An earlier start would be more beneficial to the students

Deadline to Complete. Projects for distinction papers must be complete and submitted to to all Psychology Program faculty no later than one week prior to the oral defense. The oral defense is presented during the annual Psi Chi conference scheduled during the last week of April in the Spring semester. Fall oral defenses must be scheduled during the last two weeks of the Fall semester. The deadline for approval by the Psychology Program faculty for a student to graduate with program distinction is the last day of exam week in the last semester of the student's senior year. Late papers will not be considered for distinction, except in extreme circumstances beyond the control of the student.

Refer to this document for a detailed list of tasks and timeline

 

Additional Resources 

Required Project for Distinction Cover Sheet

Generate a Hypothesis Worksheet

Project for Distinction Guidelines

Abstracts and Full Papers of Projects for Distinction Completed in the Past

This concentration provides a structured curriculum for those students who are interested in pursuing a research-focused graduate education in psychology or a closely related discipline. Students will develop their ability to read, comprehend and critically evaluate primary research articles. They will also receive systematic training which will enable them to conduct research projects independently. Students will be required to complete two courses focusing on statistical analysis techniques, one seminar course that heavily requires the reading of primary research articles, multiple research projects, and at least one formal experience in disseminating research findings to professional researchers. Completing this concentration would strengthen students’ graduate school applications and improve their chances of being accepted into competitive graduate programs. The structure of this concentration is flexible enough that students (including transfers) could complete it in two years; it is open to both B.A. and B.S. students

The following courses (16 credit minimum) will fulfill the requirements of the concentration:

PSYC 3641 Advanced Statistics (elective for BA, required for BS)

PSYC 36XX Additional Senior Seminar (elective for BA, required for BS) [PSYC 3641 may not be used to fill this requirement]

Two Research Courses from below (8 credits):

  • PSYC 27xx Research Practicum (elective for BA/BS)
  • PSYC 37xx Research Tutorial (can be senior seminar for BA/BS)
  • PSYC 3740 Data Analysis Practicum
  • PSYC 4810 Research-based independent study (elective for BA/BS)
  • PSYC 4815 Research-based independent study in neuroscience
  • PSYC 4895 SIRE course in neuroscience (elective for BA/BS)
  • PSYC 4899 SIRE course (elective for BA/BS)

Completion of at least one of the following (0-4 credits):

  • PSYC 4820 Project for Distinction
  • Author (or co-author) of Regional, National or International Conference Presentation
  • Author (or co-author) of Peer-Reviewed Publication

What is the PSYC Research Portfolio?

The Psychology Student Research Portfolio is a Blackboard portfolio template that is available to students to compile, reflect on, and share their research skills, experiences, and accomplishments. The portfolio template contains sections for students to add relevant research-related coursework, a research reflection, a resume or CV, and other research documentation. Students can use this tool to keep their achievements organized, up-to-date, and aligned with research-related elements that are valued in graduate applications in psychological disciplines. Completed portfolios can be shared with faculty, employers, and graduate admissions.

Why should I create a PSYC Research Portfolio?

Research experience is highly valued by graduate admissions committees in many psychological disciplines. Some careers that do not require graduate degrees and are open to psychology majors (e.g. data analyst) may value research skills. Having a centralized location for storing evidence of your research accomplishments can help you track and articulate your skills and experiences. This can benefit you in several ways:

1). When you apply to graduate schools or research-focused careers, you already have an inventory of your skills, experiences, and accomplishments. If necessary, you can share a link to your completed research portfolio with a graduate school or employer.

2). Tracking your research skills, experiences, and accomplishments will enable you to have a more complete picture of your knowledge and interests. Reviewing and reflecting on them can provide insight into what you enjoy and also highlight gaps in your experiences. For example, in reviewing your portfolio, you might discover that you have a lot of experience with literature review, but no experience with data analysis, which you wanted to practice. This can help you redirect and focus your research and coursework priorities and ask more specific questions in precepting.

3). Reviewing and reflecting on your research skills, experiences, and accomplishments can help you communicate a more cohesive and compelling narrative about your research interests and education on your application materials and/or interviews.

4). If you update your portfolio throughout college, you are less likely to omit important skills and achievements when applying to graduate schools or careers.

5). You can get a head start on creating your resume, research reflection, and personal statement so that you do not leave these for the last minute when applying to graduate schools.

 

How do I get started?

To create a new PSYC Research Portfolio, sign in to your student Blackboard account. On the upper right corner, click on your account name and go to Tools>>Portfolios>>Create Portfolio. Click the “Select Portfolio Template” button and select “Psychology Student Research Portfolio Template.” Click the “Submit” button and provide a descriptive title for your portfolio. Make sure that “Available” and “Comments are Private” are checked. Click the “Submit” button. From there, you will be directed to the portfolio template, which will provide you with instructions for each section. Make sure to save your portfolio after you add information. You can always return to edit your portfolio as you gain new experiences.

For more instructions on constructing and sharing a Blackboard portfolio, please refer to Stockton’s student tutorials: https://stockton.edu/blackboard-tutorial/student-tutorials/blackboard-eportfolio-students.html

Helpful tips for creating a PSYC Research Portfolio

  • Certain portfolio template instructions include hyperlinks to additional resources on writing a resume and personal statement. The hyperlinks in the portfolio instructions can only open in the same browser window as your portfolio. You may need to save and re-open your portfolio if you wish to click on a link. It is recommended that you simply copy and paste a link into a separate browser tab or window.
  • Start your portfolio early in your education and add to it as you gain new skills and experiences and complete relevant coursework.
  • Some students may wish to share their portfolio as supplemental material for an application. Before you share your portfolio link with graduate schools or employers, check that all sections are complete and very carefully proofread your portfolio contents. Check for accuracy, consistency, spelling and grammar, and visual appearance. For example, if you will upload your resume and personal statement in a different area of a graduate school application, check to make sure that the resume and personal statement enclosed in your portfolio are the exact same documents that you have enclosed elsewhere in your application.

Questions and assistance

If you have questions about the content, construction, and uses of the PSYC Research Portfolio, please email Dr. Kaite Yang at kaite.yang@stockton.edu.

The following is a list of PSYC courses that are specifically designed to provide students the opportunity to gain research experience and/or to develop skills relevant to conducting research.

 

PSYC 2241: Statistical Methods

Elementary statistical methods for the behavioral sciences. Includes descriptive methods (frequency distributions and graphing) and inferential methods (hypothesis testing, correlation and regression, and simple analysis of variance). Also analyzes nonparametric procedures. Discusses the application of statistics in psychological research. Recommended for sophomores. 

 

PSYC 3242: Experimental Psychology

Students learn the methods employed by people who conduct psychological research. Observational, correlational, and experimental methods will be considered. Students will write APA Style reports of research conducted for class.

 

PSYC 3641: Advanced Statistics (offered every Fall semester)

Quantitative methods of data analysis including higher order analysis of variance, analysis of covariance, multivariate analysis of variance, multiple regression and analysis. Utilizes packaged computer programs. 

 

PSYC 3740: Data Analysis Practicum (offered every Spring semester)

Students will gain extensive experience in conducting quantitative research via the analysis of large, publicly available datasets relevant to a variety of topics in the social and mental health sciences. Rather than learning new statistical techniques, students will apply the techniques they have previously learned in their statistics courses in order to evaluate empirical research hypotheses. Students will also gain extensive experience in communicating research findings via the writing of APA-style research reports.

 

PSYC 3705: Research on Childhood and Adolescence (offered every Fall semester)

Under the close guidance of the instructor, a small group of students will work together to conduct a research project related to children and adolescents. Students will go through all steps of scientific research, including reading journal articles, coming up with research ideas, designing the study, collecting and analyzing data, and writing up the research using the APA style.

 

PSYC 3718: Research in Neuroscience

This tutorial is designed to give students direct experience in neuroscience research. Students will learn about electroencephalography (EEG) as an imaging approach to study the brain. As part of the course, students will collect neuroscience data using the psychology laboratory’s EEG system and analyze these data to learn more about how different areas of the brain work together. Students who enroll in the course should have an understanding of the principles of brain structure and function and possess a preliminary understanding of data collection and data analysis, as performed in psychology and related fields.

 

PSYC 3754: Research on Aging (Permission of Instructor Required; David.Burdick@stockton.edu)

Students conduct guided research on various phenomena associated with the aging process.

 

PSYC 4899: Summer RSCH Exp (SIRE)

During some summer sessions, there are research-intensive PSYC courses offered by faculty members that vary in topic or focus. 

The following General Studies courses provide students the opportunity to gain experience and develop skills relevant to conducting scientific research and performing data analysis

GNM 2138 - Scientific Inquiry

This course for non-science majors introduces the learner to the scientific habits of mind by engaging them, physically and mentally in the study of everyday life phenomenon related to science. Learners will be engaged in making observations, inferences, asking questions, collecting and analyzing data.

 

GNM 2338 - Big Data

We are drowning in a sea of data coming from social networks and the internet. Data is the new oil. Students will learn how to acquire, clean, organize, visualize, analyze and assess the veracity of data from public and private sources.

 

GNM 2438 - The Science of Decision Making

This course is aimed primarily at undergraduates in the arts and sciences. Its approach is problem-based and uses Excel spreadsheets to introduce mathematical reasoning and decision making through a survey of linear programs, network structured linear programs, and through probability and uncertainty models. It is self-contained and it doesn’t require any college level mathematics course as a prerequisite.

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Computer-programming skills are increasingly becoming necessary for students interested in conducting research (doctoral programs highly value applicants who have programming skills, and some doctoral programs require applicants to have such skills). Such skills aid researchers in the generation of computerized experiments and in the organization and statistical analysis of datasets. More advanced skills in Artificial Intelligence would be relevant to students with a serious interest in cognitive science, artificial intelligence system development and/or the development of computerized, connectionist models of psychological processes.

PSYC majors interested in conducting research in graduate school should strongly consider taking one or more of the following beginner-level programming courses:

CSIS 2101: Programming and Problem Solving I

An introduction to the fundamentals of software development, including logic, control structures, subprograms, classes, objects, documentation techniques, testing, and debugging. Assignments give hands-on experience writing, debugging, and running programs using an integrated development environment. This course is a serious introduction to computer science and preparation for more advanced courses in computing.

 

CSIS 2102: Programming and Problem Solving II

This course continues the development of problem solving and programming techniques. Emphasis is placed on data abstraction and implementation techniques such as recursion and dynamic data structures; and more advanced object oriented design concepts such as inheritance, exception handling, and GUI. Assignments involve writing programs using these techniques in an integrated development environment.

 

After taking these two courses, more advanced-level computer science courses that cover skills relevant to conducting psychological research include and should only be considered by students with a serious interest in computer programming and have acquired a strong background in mathematics:

CSIS 3103 - Data Structures and Algorithms I (Pre-Reqs = CSIS 2102 - Programming and Problem Solving II & MATH 2215 - Calculus I followed by MATH 2225 - Discrete Mathematics)

Advanced topics in the specification, implementation, and use of important data structures and associated algorithms. Data structures to be studied include stacks, queues, lists, trees, graphs, and hash tables. Algorithm analysis is also studied, with emphasis on searching and sorting. Programming projects provide experience using the concepts covered in the course.

 

CSIS 4463 - Artificial Intelligence (Pre-Req = Data Structures and Algorithms I)

A study of tools, techniques, and applications associated with intelligent computer systems. Topics include problem-solving methods, knowledge representation, heuristics, expert systems, perception, natural language understanding, LISP, Prolog, and other software tools for developing AI applications.

The Stockton University Fellowship for Distinguished Students

The "Stockton Board of Trustees Fellowships for Distinguished Students" program supports student-initiated projects of undergraduate research and/or creative work in keeping with the educational philosophy and mission of Stockton University. Fellowship awards in amounts up to $1,000 each are provided semi-annually contingent upon available funds. 

 

Stockton University Student Request for Travel Funding (STF)

The source funds students' travel to professional research conferences so that they may present their research, learn about up-to-date research from professional psychological scientists and to network with psychological scientists, graduate students and other undergraduate students. 

 

Psi Chi Undergraduate Awards and Grants

This link provides information pertaining to various funding sources related to research grants, research awards and scholarships through the Psi Chi Organization. Most of these require you to be a member of Psi Chi. 

The following provides links to peer-reviewed journals that exclusively publish articles reporting psychological research projects conducted by undergraduate students. It is strongly advised that students consult with their faculty research mentors about whether one or more of these journals is a suitable option for attempting to publish your research. 

Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research

Undergraduate Journal of Psychology at Berkeley

Yale Review of Undergraduate Research in Psychology

Journal of Undergraduate Ethnic Minority Psychology

Undergraduate Journal of Psychology

Modern Psychological Studies

The Journal of Psychology and the Behavioral Sciences

If you have any questions pertaining to the acquisition of research experience as an undergraduate student, please contact Dr. Justin Ostrofsky (Justin.Ostrofsky@stockton.edu) to schedule a meeting.