A common theme in Psi Chi is to get involved. For example, in her presidential column in the first issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Fall 1996), Norine Jalbert encouraged members to make Psi Chi more than just a line on their resumes. More recently, Psi Chi's current president, Jesse Purdy, again encouraged members in his Winter 2001 President's Message to get involved. One question I often hear from students is "How do I get involved in research?" The answer to that question is rather simple. You ask. That answer is sometimes frustrating, because students are not always sure who to ask or how to initiate the conversation. However, students, keep in mind that very few faculty members will turn down the opportunity to teach a student who is willing to get involved in research. If you are a student, ask a professor with whom you interact well if there is a project you can work on. Another approach is to find out the kinds of research projects being conducted by the different members of your faculty, and then ask the faculty member whose research is closest to your own interests if you can help. On the other hand, the same answer is true for faculty. If you are a faculty member, ask a student or students to get involved with your research. Do not wait for them to come to you.
Why is it important to get involved in research? It is true that getting involved in research will enhance your resume or graduate school application. Conducting research will also increase your understanding of concepts you learn in class, because you begin to apply your classroom or textbook knowledge. However, there is another important reason for getting involved in research. Research fosters a mentoring relationship. Although there seems to be no clear definition of mentoring in the literature, several important characteristics of mentoring have been found. For instance, mentoring is usually a helping relationship focused on achievement. With regard to research, this may mean completing a set of experiments or preparing a paper for presentation or publication. Mentoring can include emotional and psychological support, direct career assistance and professional development, and role modeling. Researching within a particular area of psychology may help clarify whether or not that is an area you want to pursue after finishing your undergraduate degree. Mentoring relationships are also reciprocal. Both the mentor and protege benefit. Again, with regard to research, a student may learn more about conducting research and about a particular psychological phenomenon under investigation, but the faculty member also receives help conducting the study and has an additional person to interact with about the study. Finally, mentoring relationships tend to be personal.
In a recent survey we conducted of George Fox alumni majoring in psychology, we found that those students who were mentored were more satisfied with both their overall education and their education in psychology. Students who were mentored were more productive in terms of scholarly output (e.g., conference presentations, publications). Those who were mentored also felt better prepared for either their current work position or graduate school. While these findings indicate the importance of mentoring, there was an interesting caveat to mentoring.
With the recent emphasis on outcome assessment in education, many departments have developed mission statements to help clarify what the department wants to accomplish. In addition, institutions and departments may also have a list of objectives or value statements. At George Fox University, the objectives for the school are published in the student handbook. With our survey, we included a list of the objectives for the school and asked the respondents to rate the degree to which those objectives were accomplished. There was no difference between students who were mentored and those who were not men-tored in meeting the objectives of the university.
What do the results from this study suggest? First, mentoring benefits students. Students feel better prepared for their jobs and graduate school when they have had a mentor. Mentored students are also more productive in terms of research. Increased productivity in research means an enhanced graduate school application. In addition, greater research productivity also benefits the faculty mentor. However, just because a student is mentored does not necessarily mean that the institutional or departmental objectives were met with that student. Although our mentored students were more satisfied with their education, they did not differ from their nonmentored peers with regard to the objectives listed in the student handbook. This suggests that mentoring must be intentional. As faculty, we may do a very good job mentoring research. After all, mentoring is generally achievement oriented, and research produces a finished product that we can evaluate. However, faculty may not always do a good job addressing other issues important to student development. Therefore, as faculty, we need to examine what is important to convey and model to students and then do it. This may involve mentoring activities that do not include research and that may not be easily assessed. Students, be up-front with your faculty mentor. Tell your mentor what you would like to learn from him or her. One of my best mentoring relationships was very intentional.
I thought I needed to be mentored in a certain area and asked someone who I thought would be an excellent mentor if he was interested. In our first meeting he asked me what I wanted out of the relationship. I listed three or four things that I thought were important. His response: "I can do that." That first, very intentional meeting began a long and mutually beneficial mentoring relationship.
Make the most out of your education and being a Psi Chi member. Get a mentor. Learn more about psychology than you get from the classroom or textbook. Apply your knowledge to gain a better understanding of psychological concepts and principles. Not only will you be in a better position to take advantage of the various Psi Chi programs designed to encourage research (and mentoring), but you will also benefit from developing a personal mentoring relationship with one of your faculty members.