Have you ever thought about presenting your research through Psi Chi at a regional or national conference? It might first appear to be a daunting task. Presenting research is a time-consuming activity that requires a good project with solid research design and attention to detail. However, pursuing the research, writing the abstract, and presenting the research are all excellent professional activities for undergraduates. Investigations of psychology graduate school admissions criteria indicate that research experience is an important correlate of acceptance (Keith-Spiegel & Wiederman, 2000; Mayne, Norcross, & Sayette, 2006). In addition, undergraduates who have conducted research perceive their experiences to be positive and associated with gaining skills and insights (Seymour, Hunter, & Laursen, 2004). Sleigh and Ritzer (2007) argued that research experience helps to develop interpersonal skills (i.e., listening skills, ability to work in groups), learning (i.e., desire and ability to learn), adaptability, and problem solving.
As a new Vice-President for Psi Chi in the Midwest region, I wanted to learn more about the students who submitted research presentations to the Midwestern Psychological Association (MPA) conference and the projects they submitted. One of my primary interests was obtaining a better sense of the relative workload and division of responsibility between faculty advisors and student researchers. Faculty expect to provide assistance to students who are learning how to conduct research; consequently, authorship issues between faculty and students can be ambiguous (e.g., Fine & Kurdek, 1993; Oberlander & Spencer, 2006). All undergraduates who submit posters to present at the MPA conference that is held in Chicago in late April or early May submit their abstracts through Psi Chi. In addition, graduate students who are members of Psi Chi can submit abstracts.
In fall 2006, Psi Chi received 283 abstracts with undergraduates as the primary authors for the 2007 MPA Conference. All of the abstracts were evaluated by three reviewers. Twenty proposals won regional awards. This article gives an overview of the results of an online survey that I sent to each student who submitted an abstract. A 52% response rate was achieved yielding 146 participants. The project was reviewed by the Institutional Review Board at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Students participated in the survey out of their own volition with no incentive.
Results from the descriptive study included several interesting findings that suggested a strong convergence of experience for most students. The vast majority of submitters (86%) found out about the opportunity to submit an abstract from a faculty member. The average number of undergraduate authors per abstract was 1.5. Students who submitted came from a wide variety of 4-year universities and colleges (see Table 1
). Social (41%) and cognitive (21%) were the two most common fields represented in the submissions followed by developmental and clinical/counseling. It should be noted that social and cognitive are also the dominant fields in MPA presentations overall. Most students reported that their research topics were related to a faculty member's research (32%) or a follow-up on a personal insight (32%).
Students reported that they had been working on their projects an average of 5.5 months prior to the proposal deadline and started to work on their proposals an average of 3 months prior to the deadline. Respondents indicated an average of 86% of the research project was completed by the undergraduate authors. The range was 5%-100%. Table 2
provides the results of the relationship between students and their faculty advisors for each of the major segments of a research project.
Overall, the results suggest that undergraduate research is a collaborative process between a faculty member and a student or students that occurs over multiple months. If you are interested in pursuing the chance to present your research findings, talk to your faculty advisor or your Psi Chi faculty advisor and find out the deadlines for conferences in your area. Information about submission deadlines is also posted on the Psi Chi website at www.psichi.org. There will be local, regional, and national opportunities for you. Also, remember to explore your college or university's guidelines on the use of human participants. Studies indicate that research opportunities for psychology undergraduates are prevalent (Kierniesky, 2005; Perlman & McCann, 2005). Sadowski, Flagler, Dowd, Ball, and Collins (2002) offered some good advice on how to get information about these opportunities in your own department. It is definitely worthwhile for you to look into the possibilities.Overview of the Study's Results
- The average number of undergraduate authors per abstract was 1.5.
- Respondents indicated an average of 86% of the research project was completed by the students, and they indicated that the highest level of faculty help was needed with the data analysis and choosing measures.
- Social psychology and cognition were the two most frequent topic areas, and students indicated that "a follow-up to a personal insight" and "a topic related to a faculty member's research" were the two most common prompts for their research projects.
- Students had worked an average of 3 months on the abstracts and 5.5 months on their projects prior to submission.
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Keith-Spiegel, P., & Wiederman, M. W. (2000). The complete guide to graduate school admission: Psychology, counseling and related fields.
(2nd ed.) Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Kierniesky, N. C. (2005). Undergraduate research in small psychology departments: Two decades later. Teaching of Psychology, 32,
Mayne, T. J., Norcross, J. G., & Sayette, M. A. (2006). Insider's guide to graduate programs in clinical and counseling psychology, 2006/2007.
New York: Guilford.
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Sadowski, G., Flagler, D., Dowd, K., Ball, J., & Collins, L. H. (2002, Winter). Finding opportunities to get involved in research: Some advice from the students' perspective. Eye on Psi Chi, 6
Seymour, E., Hunter, A., & Laursen, S. L. (2004). Establishing the benefits of research experiences for undergraduates in the sciences: First findings from a three-year study. Science Education, 88,
Sleigh, M. J. & Ritzer, D. R. (2007, Spring). Undergraduate research experience: Preparation for the job market. Eye on Psi Chi, 11
(3), 27-30.Betsy L. Morgan, PhD,
is currently a full professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (UW-L). She received her bachelor's degree in psychology and women's studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1985, and her doctorate in social ecology (an interdisciplinary applied social science program) from the University of California, Irvine in 1994. Dr. Morgan has served as the faculty advisor for the UW-L Psi Chi Chapter since 1995. Her undergraduate institution did not have a Psi Chi chapter until 1989, so she was inducted the year she became the faculty advisor for UW-L. She coordinates the psychology honors program at UW-L which involves approximately 12 students a year in designing their own independent research projects, submitting a grant, and submitting abstracts for presentation at the Psi Chi portion of the Midwestern Psychological Association (MPA) meeting. Over 70 UW-L students have presented at MPA over the last 10 years, and two projects have resulted in publications in the Psi Chi Journal of Undergraduate Research.
Dr. Morgan is a coauthor of the book Majoring in Psych: Career Options for Psychology Undergraduates
(3rd edition) and has given many career talks at MPA and APA conferences. Currently, she is the Midwestern Vice-President of Psi Chi.
Photo Caption (top right of article):
Meghan Berny (left) and Jessica Miller (Mount Union College; OH) at their Regional Research Award poster at last year's 2006 MPA Regional Convention.
Summer 2007 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 11, No. 4, pp. 23-24), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 2007, Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.