2003-04 Hunt Grant Research Report
Educating Undergraduates on the Process of Conducting Individualized Research
Linsey E. Curtis, BA
University of Arizona
The majority of undergraduate psychology students will be involved in some sort of research before graduation. These undergraduates understand the importance of receiving research experience if they wish to go on to graduate school. However, few take the next step of conducting research on their own. This factor alone could distinguish them from the pools of other graduating psychology majors. Research has shown that journal publication is the most important non-objective criterion for graduate psychology programs (Carmody, 1998; Keith-Spiegel, Tabachnick, & Spiegel, 1994; Landrum, Davis, & Landrum, 2000). Given the importance of experimental research, many undergraduates do not take advantage of research opportunities. Perhaps undergraduates are unaware of opportunities besides participating in labs; or maybe it is their lack of research experience that hinders their ability to find a starting point. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between undergraduates and research. Specifically, the study asked the question, "Why aren't more undergraduates applying for research grants?" It is an important question to ask because of the high availability of undergraduate grants and the lack of applicants.
Participants in this survey were members of a Psi Chi chapter. A survey was sent out to 30 Psi Chi chapters, five surveys sent to each region of the country (East, Midwest, Rocky Mountain, Southeast, Southwest, and West). A total of 10 surveys were sent to each randomly selected chapter. All participants voluntarily filled out the survey.
The survey consisted of questions about students' knowledge of research opportunities within their school, accessibility to faculty conducting research, opportunities to conduct research of their own, faculty support in pursuing autonomous research, and finally funding available for research. A cover letter was included which asked members to voluntarily fill out the questionnaire. The questionnaire was distributed after a social or speaker meeting. In addition to the cover letter, information was included describing the study and asking for a mail-in response. These packets included a postage-paid envelope. Although mail-in surveys were not the most complimentary way of collecting data, Ferrari, Weyers, and Davis, (2002) have shown favorable participant response when return postage-paid envelopes were sent to psychology departments participating in Psi Chi chapters.
There were a total of 56 surveys received from seven participating universities. Female respondents outnumbered male respondents 48 to 8 respectively. Forty-three percent of the participants classified themselves as juniors and 41% as seniors. The remaining 16% classified themselves as sophomores. Freshman and graduate students were allowed to participate in the survey, however none of the respondents fell into either category.
The purpose of the survey was to gain a better understanding of undergraduates' knowledge of research and grants. Therefore, the survey asked participants if they were currently involved in a psychology research lab. Of the respondents, exactly 50% reported they were currently involved in a lab. Participants who answered "no" were asked why they are not currently involved. They were given a set of possible responses that included(a) lack of opportunities, (b) scheduling conflict (i.e. too busy), (c) no interest in joining a lab, and (d) other. Only eight percent of respondents reported there was a lack of opportunities as a reason for not being involved in a lab. Three participants reported they had no interest in being involved in a lab. Additionally, respondents who chose "other" were able to write in a response. Two people in this category reported they expected to join a lab in the upcoming semester and two people had previously been involved in a research lab. As a result of participant responses, it appears students find research experience to be a valuable asset as an undergraduate.
The subsequent survey questions focused on why there was such a lack of undergraduate grant applicants. Ninety-eight percent of the respondents reported they had never written and submitted a grant proposal. Those who responded "no" were asked to report a reason. The same four responses from the previous question were listed. Thirty-two percent reported there was a lack of opportunities to write a grant proposal, 14% reported a scheduling conflict, 38% responded they had no interest in writing a proposal, and 16% responded with "other" answers. "Other" responses included not being aware of the importance of writing a proposal, and two participants reported not knowing how to go about writing a proposal.
Following this question, participants were asked to rate their knowledge of the following: developing an idea for a grant proposal, finding a grant to apply to, how to find funding for a grant, how to write a grant proposal, and how to obtain faculty support. Participants were asked to use a scale printed on the survey to respond to this question. The responses were as follows:
A - very knowledgeable and have had extensive experience
B - some knowledge and a few experiences
C - have rarely been exposed to this
D - no knowledge/have never heard of this.
Participants had a mean response of 1.91 (SD=.66) indicating little overall knowledge of these aspects of grant writing.
Participants' responses indicated that many students are involved in research; however, very few students are involved in their own individualized research. Further, self-reports indicated they knew very little about the grant process as a whole. As a result, an informational booklet was produced to help inform undergraduates about applying for grants. The booklet, The Undergraduate Guide to Grant Writing and Research (for Psychology Students), showed students ways to get involved in research. Additionally, it gave tips and suggestions about how to apply for a grant and listed various resources for funding.
Carmody, D. P. (1998, Spring). Student views on the value of undergraduate presentations. Eye on Psi Chi, 2(3), 11-14.
Ferrari, J.R., Weyers, S., & Davis S.F., (2002). Publish that paper, but where? Faculty knowledge and perceptions of undergraduate publications. College Student Journal, 36, 335-344.
Keith-Spiegel, P., Tabachnick, B.G., & Spiegel, G.B. (1994). When demand exceeds supply: Second-order criteria used by graduate school selection committees. Teaching of Psychology, 21, 79-81.
Landrum, R. E., Davis, S. F., & Landrum, T. A. (2000). The psychology major: Career options and strategies for success. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Linsey E. Curtis graduated cum laude from the University of Arizona with a BA in psychology. As an undergraduate, Linsey has worked with a number of inspiring professors including Drs. Rebecca Gomez, Mary Peterson, and Lynn Nadel. In working with these researchers, she has gained valuable knowledge and experience in many realms of psychology including cognition and language, vision, and memory. Currently, Linsey works as the lab coordinator for Dr. Rebecca Gomez in the Child Cognition Lab at the University of Arizona. Although psychology was Linsey's main focus of study as an undergraduate, she plans on receiving her master's degree in speech pathology.
Winter 2005 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 9, No. 2, pp. 38-39), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 2005, Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.