Although many studies have shown the advantage of undergraduate research experience for students applying to graduate school (Bickes, Lawrence, & Noble, 1997; Lawson, 1995; Purdy, Reinehr, & Swartz, 1989) and for other life experiences (Carmody, 1998; VanderStoep & Shaughnessy, 1997), students in small colleges and universities may be at a disadvantage when attempting to graduate school (Bickes, Lawrence, & Noble, 1997; Lawson, 1995; Purdy, Reinehr, & Swartz, 1989) and for other life experiences (Carmody, 1998; VanderStoep & Shaughnessy, 1997), students in small colleges and universities may be at a disadvantage when attempting to gain these skills. Traditionally, this experience is obtained by becoming involved in faculty research (Gibson, Kahn, & Mathie, 1996; Ossoff, 1998). However, in small institutions, where resources and funding for research are limited and where professors have little time to conduct extensive research programs, many students are unable to become involved in faculty projects. Faced with many of these difficulties, I have decided to share alternatives that our department has used to encourage undergraduate research at Christian Brothers University (CBU). CBU is a small institution in Memphis, Tenn., with an approximate enrollment of 1,800 students. The faculty in the School of Arts is required to teach 12 credit hours per semester and to serve on at least two committees. In addition, there are limited financial and physical resources available for faculty to conduct research. We have found that the following alternative research exercises require a minimum of time and resources and have offered our students many opportunities to gain research experience.
Incorporate Research Into Faculty Duties
One of the reasons that faculty at small colleges and universities find it difficult to conduct research is because of the many duties we must perform outside our academic departments. Psychologists' research training makes us valuable assets to our institutions and the committees we must serve. As a member of the committee evaluating the university's general education requirements, I have found the knowledge of basic research useful. For example, the understanding of test construction has allowed us to evaluate and choose an appropriate standardized measure to assess basic collegiate skills. In addition, we have developed an alumni survey to address former students' perceptions of their educational experience at CBU. Two students from the Psychology Department have been actively involved in this process. One student volunteered as a student representative on the committee when the assessment criteria were determined. Not only has she had the opportunity to be involved in applied research, she has contributed greatly to the committee by giving us a student's perspective on curricular issues. Another student has been involved in the development, administration, and analysis of the alumni survey. She has written a comprehensive report that is currently being used by the committee and other academic groups.
A research course is an excellent opportunity to give students research experience. Since a course in research design is usually required in most psychology departments, incorporating a research project in the course allows every major at least one opportunity to be involved in a study.
At CBU we have a two-semester sequence of research design. In the first semester students learn basic correlational design and are required to complete a group survey project. This project involves reviewing pertinent literature and developing hypotheses on a topic of their choice. They are also responsible for developing a written questionnaire, collecting and analyzing data, and reporting the findings in an oral presentation and manuscript.
In the second semester, students graduate to basic experimental design. The project involves designing a simple experimental study with the manipulation of one or more variables. As with the correlational project, students are responsible for data analysis and manuscript preparation as well as a poster presentation. Since 1997 projects from the two research courses have resulted in 11 poster presentations, three published manuscripts, and one manuscript currently under review.
In the fall of 1997 the first research group was formed. Three students and a faculty member began to meet regularly one hour per week to develop and implement a study. The students were responsible for choosing the topic and decided to study the relationship between self-mutilation, eating disorders, and body image. The group applied for and received a national Psi Chi Undergraduate Research Grant to fund the project. The project took four semesters to complete and resulted in the presentation of two posters (one received a Psi Chi Research Award at the Southeastern Psychological Association Convention), the publication of one article, and one article under review. Besides learning skills necessary to conduct a research study, the students gained the less tangible skills of negotiation, delegation, and compromise.
Since the implementation of the first research group, several other groups have been formed with other faculty in the department. These new groups have collectively presented three posters and submitted one article for review.
Psi Chi Community Service Project
Our CBU Psi Chi Chapter has also increased the research experience of its members and provided valuable assessment services to the community. In 1997 six students and a Psi Chi advisor assisted an agency that provided services to individuals with mental retardation by developing and conducting a survey to evaluate the perceived future needs of the agency's clients. Not only was the information helpful for the agency, it also resulted in a poster presentation at a regional conference and a published article. The Psi Chi chapter is currently assisting an agency that provides residential services to individuals with HIV/AIDS by conducting a study to evaluate their services.
Psi Chi Research Group
In 1999, the CBU Psi Chi Chapter began a research group for students interested in pursuing research experience but who have limited time to devote to a project. The research group chose to study Psi Chi's role with nontraditional psychology students. Requiring less than a 45-minute-per-week commitment, the group breaks up various tasks among the members. At this point in the project, the group has completed a focus group, developed a questionnaire survey, and has distributed the survey via e-mail to approximately 100 Psi Chi advisors across the United States. The research group is hoping to present the results of the survey at the SEPA Convention in 2000.
Through the experiences described above we have found that it is possible to enhance our students' research skills with a small amount of resourcefulness. We have done this without sacrificing our other academic or personal duties. We encourage other faculty at small institutions to look for alternative methods to increase their students' research experience.
Bickes, M. B., Lawrence, V. W., & Noble, L. M. (1997). Using senior exit surveys and alumni surveys to assess the quality of an undergraduate psychology degree program. Psi Chi Journal of Undergraduate Research, 2, 140-146.
Carmody, D. P. (1998, Spring). Student views on the value of undergraduate presentations. Eye on Psi Chi, 2, 11-14.
Gibson, P. R., Kahn, A. S., & Mathie, V. A. (1996). Undergraduate research groups: Two models. Teaching of Psychology, 23, 36-38.
Lawson, T. J. (1995). Gaining admission into graduate programs in psychology: An update. Teaching of Psychology, 22, 225-227.
Ossoff, E. P. (1998, Spring). Involving the undergraduate in faculty research. Eye on Psi Chi, 2, 18-20.
Purdy, J. E., Reinehr, R. C., & Swartz, J. D. (1989). Graduate admissions criteria of leading psychology departments. American Psychologist, 44, 960-961.
VanderStoep, S. W., & Shaughnessy, J. J. (1997). Taking a course in research methods improves reasoning about real-life events. Teaching of Psychology, 24, 122-124.
[LEFT] Sandra Nicks, PhD (left), and student Jennifer Bonds-Raacke at the 1998 SEPA conference.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sandra D. Nicks, PhD, is an assistant professor of psychology at Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tenn. Dr. Nicks obtained her PhD in experimental psychology from St. Louis University in 1992 and has been with Christian Brothers since the fall of 1996. She is a Psi Chi coadvisor and a cosponsor of the Psi Chi research group. Dr. Nicks may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spring 2000 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 4, No. 3, pp. 38-39), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 2000, Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.