Getting involved in undergraduate research is a fantastic experience that will help build skills to prepare you for graduate school and the work force. If you’re planning to work on a project with a faculty member, consider the following in order to maximize benefits and avoid the pitfalls!
- Start early — Students who begin doing research in their sophomore year develop skills that can lead to graduate-level work in their senior year. Regardless of when you start, be sure to discuss ideas for a project with a faculty member at least one semester before you expect the project to begin.
- Create a contract with your faculty mentor — It is important to set up clear expectations at the beginning to avoid misunderstandings (especially when your grade hangs in the balance). Creating a contract will also help you and your mentor set deadlines and decide on where/how to present the final results of the project. Look here for a sample template from Moorhead State University.
- Apply for funding — The PSU Student Research Advisory Council provides funding for research projects and conference attendance. Be sure to read the guidelines carefully and apply before the deadline!
- Set up regular meetings — It’s important to meet face-to-face with your faculty mentor at least once a week to keep each other updated about your progress and troubleshoot potential problems. Even if you’re doing an independent research project, you’ll still need plenty of guidance from your mentor.
- Attend conferences — Conferences are a great way to get ideas for research projects, to share your findings with others, and to network with colleagues. Your faculty mentor can tell you more about which ones are appropriate for you. Many students do not know what to expect from a conference, and the Eastern Psychological Association developed a set of guidelines so that you can successfully navigate a conference like a pro.
- Present your results — It can be scary to present your results to other scientists (especially for the first time!), but the trick is to be well-prepared. The most common way for psychology students to present their research findings is with a research poster, and North Carolina State University has put together an extremely informative website that is complete with videos and a quick reference guide to get you started. You can use a variety of software to create your poster, and MegaPrint offers poster templates in MS PowerPoint. Posters can even be printed on campus at a reduced rate (contact Dr. Kurt Schroeder at kschroed [at] plymouth [dot] edu for more information).
- Publish your results — If you have groundbreaking results that would be of great interest to the scientific community, you should consider publishing in a professional journal in consultation with your mentor. Because professional journals have low acceptance rates, you may have better luck publishing in an undergraduate journal. Look here for a list of undergraduate journals (the journals dedicated exclusively to psychology are the Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research, the Journal of Psychological Inquiry, the Journal of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences, and The Yale Review of Undergraduate Research in Psychology).
- Keep in touch with your mentor — Your mentor will have invested a ton of time in your project and wants you to succeed even after graduation. Be sure to use your mentor as a reference and update him/her with your career plans. Remember that every relationship you have can help build your network!