As I write this message, I am sitting in a cabin at the Bamfield Marine Station, Bamfield, British Columbia. I spent the day with four students from my lab at Southwestern University. We were attempting to reconfigure a 25 Yen 25-foot square open ocean net pen that contained eight adult pacific salmon. The day before we had begun an experiment that consisted of two trials each of either the sounds of foraging killer whales, the visual sighting of a 10-foot-long model killer whale, both the sounds and the model whale, or control sounds. At the end of a long day, I watched the video-tape to discover that we were not able to see the fish underwater through our underwater video camera. The water was murky; the tide was coming in and going out, moving the net back and forth; and the lighting was not always perfect. In 90 minutes of recorded videotape, we saw salmon swimming three times for very short periods. We simply were not going to be able to use the video camera as it was configured to collect enough data to make reasonable assumptions. This morning we reduced the amount of space in which the salmon could swim from 117,181 gallons to 46,875 gallons. To do this we raised the net 20 feet. By constricting their space, we thought we might be more likely to see the salmon swim-ming in the pen. We were wrong. In 40 minutes of video we saw the salmon swimming about four times and then for only brief periods of time. The four students spent this afternoon standing on the corner of the net pen watching salmon within a quadrant of the pen. They used a continuous and a discrete sampling technique to determine if they could observe and record salmon behavior for 10-minute periods of time. It looks like this will work, and we will begin the experiment over again tomorrow.
What the students do not appreciate at this point in their careers is that we had learned a very valuable lesson. In the research business, things do not always go as planned, and you have to be able improvise on the fly. If you have ever been involved in a research project, then you know what I mean. Things happen that simply cannot be foreseen, and you have to be able to think through the solutions and be willing to modify your project to reflect the realities of the situation. The best way to learn to troubleshoot these kind of situations and to determine if this is really the type of career you desire, is to obtain hands-on research experience. More importantly, you would like to have the experience of working in a high-powered research lab. Here you would learn that even in these labs, things do not always go as planned, and one spends a great deal of time trying to figure out what went wrong and how can it be fixed.
So how do you acquire such experiences? Psi Chi supports and recognizes research activities for students through a variety of programs, including the undergraduate research grants program, faculty advisor grants program, Thelma Hunt awards, best paper awards, poster and paper sessions at regional and national meetings, and several publisher-cosponsored research paper competitions. However, Psi Chi did not have a program to support students who wanted to conduct research at Level I or II research institutions but who lacked the financial means to do so. You will be pleased to learn that at its midwinter meeting the National Council approved the funding of two new programs to support undergraduates who desire to work in such research institutions.
In the first program, Psi Chi will form a partnership with the National Science Foundation (NSF). Through its Research Experiences for Undergraduates program (REU), NSF supports 10-12 students at each of 15-25 sites to conduct research at Level I and II research institutions. NSF provides a stipend to the student to cover expenses for a 10-week stay, and they provide support to the institution hosting the student. This program is very successful. Students acquire sophisticated research experience, gain a clear picture of life in graduate school, and can obtain strong letters of recommendation from the top researchers in the field. Such experiences and benefits have launched more than one career.
In the new program, at the beginning of each summer, NSF will provide Psi Chi with the list of REU sites that they will fund for the following summer. Psi Chi will contact each of the site directors directly to see if they would be willing to host one or two additional students who are members of Psi Chi. Final selection of the student would be in the hands of the project directors, but the student must be a member of Psi Chi. For the summer of 2002, the National Council has agreed to fund six Psi Chi students. In the Fall 2001 issue of Eye on Psi Chi, we will publish an announcement of the REU sites willing to take on additional students. Students will use the same forms and procedures that are used in the NSF-REU applications. The principal investigator (PI) of the REU site will be responsible for selecting the Psi Chi student(s).
In addition to the NSF partnership, the National Council voted to develop and administer its own program. Psi Chi students, along with their faculty advisors, would find their own research opportunities at Level I or II research institutions. Psi Chi students would then submit a one- or two-page application that consists of a brief description of the project and a statement of impact. In addition, the application would contain a letter of recommendation from the student's Psi Chi chapter advisor or other faculty advisor, and a letter from the person with whom they hope to work. The student would also submit a vita. Psi Chi regional vice-presidents would select one student from each of their respective regions to be a Psi Chi Resident Scholar and fund them up to $2,500 for up to 10 weeks, along with $1,000 of support to the sponsor.
Psi Chi plans to initiate these programs for the summer of 2002. Watch for announcements in Eye on Psi Chi and on our website. In the fall we will provide additional details and the forms necessary for you to apply.
Now I know what you are thinking. Why should I go through the effort of applying for something I have very little chance of obtaining? Apparently everyone thinks this, because for the most part all of our programs do not receive many applications. Last year, for example, we had enough money to support at least 30 applications for our undergraduate research grants program, and only 26 applied for the grant. Not all grants were approved for one reason or another, but you get my point. Our funding percentage is significantly higher than most national funding agencies. Consider that NSF has a funding rate around 10%. What you need to keep in mind when applying for these programs is that it is worth the effort. Spending 10 weeks at a Level I or Level II research institution really can change your life and launch your career. It is worth the effort to apply. But what if you don't get funded? Well, you really have learned something about applying for grants, and this skill will serve you well the rest of your life. If you find you enjoy applying for grants, there will be all kinds of companies and organizations interested in your skills. A successful grant writer is a very marketable person. So why not take a shot? You may well get funded, and you might even enjoy the experience.
Well, it's time I got back to my whales. I wish you the best as you begin the new school year, and I encourage you to be on the lookout for more details about Psi Chi's new opportunities for research experiences.
Summer 2001 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 5, No. 4, pp. 7, 12), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 2001, Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.