A bachelor's degree in psychology allows people to work as research or administrative assistants for psychologists. A doctorate's degree in psychology typically involves five to seven years of graduate study, which ends with a dissertation involving original research. The advanced degree opens many doors to opportunities involving research and teaching positions at universities, health care services, private industries, and with the government. Psychologists with a doctoral degree often choose to conduct their own research studies while accepting a career position in the meantime.
"The most noticeable current trend is just how many undergraduates are getting involved in research," says Gary W. Lewandowski Jr. Ph.D, the Department Chair of the Department of Psychology at Monmouth University. "Not only are more students getting involved, but more are doing so at a high level [such as] presenting at research conferences."
The most important thing that Mitchell Metzger says he tells students about research is to get involved early. "We have many of our students helping out in the lab with research projects as early as their sophomore year," says Metzger, a professor of Psychology at Ashland University (Ohio) and department chair since 2007. "When a student gets involved early in their undergraduate career, they really have the opportunity to build a variety of experiences by the time they graduate."
He says that while the students may start out in 'lower level' research roles such as data collection and data entry, they are undergoing valuable preparation for diving more deeply into the research process.
Students with an interest in graduate-level psychology research tend to experience a more beneficial application process when they pinpoint a specific area of study before applying.
Conducting an ample amount of research also makes final school selections much easier to achieve, and helps iron out the details of future plans. It is important for students to apply to a program that accommodates their values, abilities and interests. Finding the right graduate program is one of the keys to succeeding in the psychology research field.
The countless opportunities that a student can gain psychology research experience and knowledge are:
Help Out a Professor – Dr. Lewandowski suggests getting started as early in your academic career as possible. "Even if you have not had a research class yet, if a professor is willing to have you help out, you will not only get a head start, but will learn a lot that will make taking the class easier," he says. "The more experience you can get the better."
Find a Mentor – Some of the best ways to gain experience in psychology is learning from those already in the field. "The amount of work may be daunting at first, but just like anything else, you adjust over time and find new ways to manage," says Kongit Farrell, who is a life and relationship coach with a Master's degree in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University. "Just keep at it and work on finding a mentor to help."
Attend or Present at a Psychology Conference – "We have a number of graduates with multiple conference presentations under their belts by the time they finish their bachelor's degree, which is a huge advantage for them as they apply to graduate schools," says Metzger. "Many graduate programs see undergraduate research experience as valuable, regardless of what the specific area of research might be that the student was involved in.
Write and Publish Articles and Papers – "It is becoming more necessary for undergraduates to have co-authored journal articles in order to get into Ph.D. programs after college," says Dr. Lewandowski.
Become a Research Assistant – Obtaining a research assistant position is a valuable opportunity to gain experience, and forge professional connections that can help in the future. Universities, hospitals, and private organizations hire assistants to conduct research on psychology projects. Having previous experience working in labs or on academic research projects improves the chance of being accepted into advanced degree programs and research jobs after graduation.
Read APA Magazines and Newsletter Articles – Reading APA magazine and newsletter articles about research tools and methods, as well as the Monitor on Psychology and gradPSYCH magazines keep students in tune with the latest in psychology research.
Independent Research with Faculty Advisor – Taking advantage of independent research and study projects allows undergraduate students to work closely with professors who serve as advisors. The student and faculty usually share a mutual interest. These professors can also write strong letters of recommendation for future graduate study, which demonstrates a student's ability to work independently.
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