Now that you know the importance of doing research as a student, let's talk about how to do this with the practical and financial constraints that students face. This column is about ways that students can get involved in research and present their work too, given the limited resources (supervision, equipment, and money) available for student research projects. These are my suggestions for how to acquire the resources needed by student researchers.
Students' first exposure to research often occurs under the supervision of their professors. Find a professor who is doing some interesting work and make yourself useful to her or him. How can you make yourself useful? One of the best ways to become useful is to develop good computer skills, including skill at using statistics programs, such as SAS, SPSS, and SYSTAT. I wish I had begun using computers earlier. As a graduate student, I was convinced that if I laid a hand on a computer, it would break. I didn't want to damage my friends' computers. After I collected my dissertation data, however, I scraped together enough money to buy a PC. I also bought SYSTAT, the most user-friendly statistics program available at the time. The computer made analyzing data and writing my dissertation infinitely easier. I wished I'd learned to use one earlier in my career.
Having a good foundation in statistics and computers will make you an invaluable resource to professors and increase your opportunities for collaboration and publication. Statisticians' names are often included on publications because their input is so crucial for the research design as well as the analysis and interpretation of data. Take courses on qualitative and quantitative data analysis. Insist that your research and statistics professors teach you how to use statistics packages such as SAS, SYSTAT, and SPSS. Working through problems by hand can give you a better understanding of how the formulas work, but learning how to use the programs is important for efficient data analysis. Insist on learning about qualitative and quantitative research designs as well. If your school doesn't offer a course or section on qualitative methods, ask that they do. Psychology is not the only field that uses research methods and statistics. Knowledge of research and statistics will make you an asset to a variety of companies and prove to be useful in any career field.
Join a Group
In the case of students doing research, the more the merrier! There is strength in numbers! Develop or join a faculty-student research group. Doing research with friends can be fun, and you can help each other do even better work. When I was teaching at Connecticut College, I participated in a faculty-student research group. The faculty there had found that research groups were efficient and effective means through which to increase research productivity. Groups were composed of at least one faculty member and undergraduate and graduate students in psychology. Each group was centered on a theme such as health psychology, psychology of women, or clinical psychology. The faculty members would lead and mentor the groups, providing guidance on issues unfamiliar to the students. Students could participate by doing anything from handing out surveys to conducting their own project. Students who were more experienced in research would mentor those who were less experienced, regardless of age or educational status. Students in the groups received feedback on their research designs, got help from other students when they ran their studies, and pooled resources. The groups often presented and/or published the results of their studies at local, regional, and national conferences. Students were shown how to submit their projects for presentation, how to set up poster sessions, and how to present papers. Those who provided significant assistance were listed as authors on the resulting scholarly products. I have started a similar group at La Salle University. We meet in the food court of the student union. Anyone can join us. I enjoy working with students on research, and the group format gives me an efficient way of reaching students who are interested in research.
There Is Such a Thing as Free Data
Some students find the process of collecting data daunting; however, there are many free, student-friendly sources of data available. If you take my advice and learn about qualitative data analysis, you can take information from the world around you and turn it into data. Ask your professors about "representative sampling" and "content analysis." You can make use of data from popular culture if you can do qualitative analysis. For instance, if you wanted to look at contemporary portrayals of men's and women's roles, you could examine newspapers, rock videos, popular music, and films to see what they tell us about women and men. Or, you could examine the messages conveyed regarding psychologists, violence, sex, race, children, or the elderly. For instance, Dr. Chrisler's research group at Connecticut College examined the messages about the consequences of men's and women's behavior as presented in "slasher" films. They found that expressions of sexuality had more dire consequences for women than men in these movies.
In terms of quantitative data, plenty of it is available free from archival sources. Archival data is data collected by someone else. You can even get free data from your public library by looking through published census reports. State and federal agencies are required to publish their data and sometimes provide copies of their raw data. There are published lists of data related to census studies and public schools. For instance, students in my experimental psychology class evaluated the claim that we are dumping huge amounts of money into city schools relative to suburban schools and claims that the city students were "privileged" in that sense. The students found that city schools were actually allotted significantly less money per student and that the class sizes were significantly larger than those found in the suburbs. They wrote the news agency a letter to that effect. Another group of students, by analyzing the data from an educational foundation, evaluated the claim that hoards of women and minority applicants were displacing White male faculty at universities. They found that the change in the percent of women full professors barely reached significance over the 20-some years since affirmative action. There were few studies that included data on minority faculty because, researchers reported, there were insufficient numbers for basic analyses!
Similarly, you could evaluate those claims about the uniquely worrisome behaviors of the current youth cohort. Are generation X, flower children, baby boomers, the Me generation, and the beat generation really different psychologically? Since we have been giving many of the same tests to college students for many years, why not compare their psychological profiles? This data is sitting in psychological journals in the library, waiting to be disentombed.
Of course, we faculty are so busy that we often have data that we haven't gotten a chance to analyze. There is sometimes "while we're at it" data--data we collected in addition to the data needed to test a hypothesis, which we thought might come in handy sometime. For you, the time is now--most of us are more than happy to have the data put to good use. Some major institutions, such as Harvard, even have formal programs designed to make use of their archival data. Some pay a small stipend or pay room and board for qualified individuals. Join relevant psychological organizations and watch for the announcements in their newsletters.
There Are Cheap Ways to Collect Data
There are ways of collecting data that reduce the cost of doing research too. The way that is most economical will depend on your particular situation. Situations vary regarding choice of participants, physical layout of campus, mail delivery systems, department software and computer facilities, and access to other resources. If you plan to use questionnaires in your study, you might want to collect answers via a computer program, such as Micro-Experimental Laboratory. The program can be run off of a disk placed in any computer. This saves money on duplicating costs (you still need to duplicate consent forms, however). Some students are now using websites to collect data. Alternatively, you could have participants respond to questions via voice mail so that you can look at language patterns. If you plan to use questionnaires, you need not run up a huge postal bill. You can hand deliver questionnaires to the dorms, use campus mail to distribute and return them, or simply use the department's subject pool. You can hand them out in public areas, such as the student union or library, and have a conveniently placed collection box. Other means of collecting data include creating a webpage for that purpose or using e-mail.
If you are concerned that you are not reaching a broad enough population with your questionnaires, there are phone directories that include regional and demographic information available on CD-ROM. Many of these directories include software that can select random samples from a region automatically. You can find additional information over the Internet. Netscape's People Finder can produce addresses, and Realtor.com can give you information about the average income, educational level, and age of residents in an area. Crime and educational statistics are also posted for major metropolitan areas. Return rates can be a problem with this method, but it has the potential for producing a more diverse sample.
Another way to get research support is to tie in with an existing need, much as Binet and Simon did with their research on intelligence. Many psychology departments are interested in doing outcome studies for their majors. Psychological clinics need a way to operationalize the effectiveness of therapy at their facilities to track patient progress in a standardized way. In both cases, a good review of the literature and consultation with professional psychologists could help you design a battery that would serve their needs. Clinics may be willing to provide paper, duplicating, and postage for such a project.
There Is No Funding Source Too Small to Investigate
If you find you need money, there are many small civic organizations, small associations and societies, student organizations, psychological organizations (such as Psi Chi1), and other groups that will fund small projects. You'd be amazed how few applications some groups get for small grants and how much money goes unspent for lack of applications.
Beat the Crowd: Get an Early Start!
Start working on your research proposal in the summer. If you live in the Middle Atlantic Region, you know that there are at least a couple weeks in the summer when it is even too hot to go to the beach. Spend that time in the air-conditioned comfort of your library or home doing a literature search and typing up a proposal. Submit your proposal to your Institutional Review Board, Human Subjects, or equivalent university or college committee in August. Be ready to run participants by fall, especially if you plan to do a quantitative study involving human or animal participants. Most people plan a study in the fall and don't get around to running participants until late fall or even spring semester. By being ready to run in September, you'll be assured of access to the subject pool. Even at Ohio State University, where (if my memory serves me correctly) we had 7,000 introductory psychology students each year who were required to do 4 hours of experiment credit (a total of 28,000 hours), we sometimes ran out of participants at the end of the semester. Start early.
Let Conferences Set Deadlines for You
Keep the major conference deadlines in mind. The deadline for submission of research projects for presentation for each is listed in the back of the journal American Psychologist. This journal is free if you join the American Psychological Association (APA; www.apa.org) and may be found in virtually every college or university library. Each geographic region has a psychological association. I remind my students that the New England Psychological Association's (NEPA) deadline is in early April, the deadlines for the Association for Women in Psychology (AWP; www.awpsych.org) and Eastern Psychological Association (EPA; www.easternpsychological.org) are in October, and APA's deadline is in early December, followed by the American Psychological Society's (APS; www.psychologicalscience.org) deadline shortly thereafter. Plan accordingly.
If you have read this article, you are already ahead of me. I didn't learn about most of these things until partway into my career as a professor--you already know them as a student! I hope that you will put these suggestions to good use. If you are a regular reader of Eye on Psi Chi, you have already heard that by attending conferences, you can start to establish a network of colleagues. Conferences can also be a lot of fun. Find out when the next one is. I hope to see you there!
1 Psi Chi sponsors several grant programs for student research, including Undergraduate Research Grants (up to $1,500 per grant; $45,000 in total grant money available), NSF/REU Grants (six $5,000 grants), Summer Research Grants (six $3,500 grants), and Thelma Hunt Research Grants (three $3,000 grants). See page 63 for a complete list of Psi Chi's grant and award programs.