ISSOTL Spotlight: An Integrated Scaffolded Research Experience for Psychology Majors

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At Wabash College, the department of psychology has a research-instilled experience for all of the psychology majors. Throughout the four years, students move from basic introductory psychology in their first-year to research methods and statistics. In the latter, the students replicate a published study, learn the philosophy of science, gain a further understanding of statistics, and then extend their replicated project. The students must also take at least 2 courses in areas of faculty specialty (e.g. behavioral neuroscience, cognitive psychology). Karen L. Gunther (shown above) expresses that because of the small class sizes in later courses, there is a lot of individual attention.

In the students’ last years, they take research and literature review courses as well as a senior capstone. Psychology students can replicate or produce original research, peer review papers, propose an experiment (possibly leading to a capstone project), and learn the process to  ultimately write a 12-page literature review. In addition to this, all of the psychology majors are required to take a year-long directed research project in a faculty member’s lab. This serves as their senior capstone.

Because of PURM’s focus on mentoring, the senior capstone project was very interesting to us. Luckily, we had the pleasure of discussing this topic with Gunther. She talked about how at their college, the research topic is usually from the faculty member’s research program. This has many benefits such as faculty knowing the research and the capabilities of their lab better in addition to a higher change of a publishable product and receiving teaching credits. The clear downside is that students don’t generate the research product from the ground up. However, the faculty is there to help them with preparing IRB requests, research talks, and elevator pitches. Gunther also mentioned that she has weekly meetings with her students as well as an open-door policy where she encourages students to stop by to talk. Some of the final things students will do is an oral presentation at the Mid-America Undergraduate Psychology Research Conference and a poster presentation at an on-campus Psychology Research Symposium.

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