Finding research opportunities that you would L.I.K.E as an undergraduate!
This is a guest post by Dr Liam Satchell, who has come a long way from failing his Psychology A level to completing his PhD and is now a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of West London’s Department of Law and Criminology. His research focuses on the use of personality psychology in forensic and security settings and has worked with educational, animal welfare and political psychology research. Liam is passionate about getting undergraduate (UG) students and the public involved in the research process. He has created UG-focused research teams like the First Real Impressions and Engagement in Naturalistic Designs (FRIENDS) group and frequently gives talks about the nature of forensic psychology research to children, families and older adults.
Just Graduated? Check out the 6 Jobs for A Psychology Graduate straight out of university?
Doing your Dissertation? Check out the how to get published How to Get Published as a Psychology Graduate
Thinking of doing a MSc? Check out 5 Reasons why you should have a Masters in Psychology
Miss the Last Article? No Worries Check out Why you Should Join the BPS
Research in psychology can be a daunting process, combining the challenging activities of careful planning, participant recruitment, data processing and statistics. However, I find it one of the most rewarding parts of my work as a University psychologist. There is no doubt that doing research work and studying for a research degree is difficult. Ask anyone who has done a PhD will tell you that it’s stressful and hard work. But does anything beat the feeling that you’re discovering new things and contributing to science?! If your answer to that question is a wonderfully geeky “Yes!” then I hope you L.I.K.E (I worked hard for that acronym!) my tips on getting into the Literature, getting Involved, getting Known and getting a range of Experiences.
Get into the Literature.
Reading always sounds boring and to be honest, I rarely sit down for a day and just read journals. But when I’m thinking about a psychological theory (and/or trying to win a pub argument), having a read around the literature can be really useful. But it’s also critical for your chances in finding research experience opportunities. Knowing what’s going on in science can give you a real edge in carving out both your niche and spotting places to develop work with lecturers. My tips for being generally aware of the literature are:
- Prioritise reading stuff that interests you. If you want to study depression or aggression or cognitive development, browse the most recent papers in that domain. Remember your class reading is benefitted by general reading.
- Read up on quirks you see in your friends, TV and pub chats. One of my favourite examples is my (now well-rehearsed answer) to what even is normal? (It’s 65%).
- Look for easy ‘ins’ into current science. I’m a complete nerd for BBC Horizon and popular science shows. A lot the scientists who appear in shows like this talk about up to date science and you can chase their publications. Academics like doing this kind of work and it can keep you up to date (I once even appeared on the Discovery Channel!).
I really recommend getting involved with research as soon as you comfortably can. It is so much easier than you might think. Once you’ve found someone in your department who is doing stuff you’re interested in, send them an email. Tell them that you’re interested in a research career and ask some inquisitive, relationship building, questions.
- “Have you got any research projects that I could volunteer to help with?”
- “Do they know anyone else looking for volunteers? “
- “Would you be interested in developing research in [similar area] which I’m interested in?”
Don’t worry about someone saying no. More often than not, we’d love some help with our research! (And “no”s are most likely due to the nature of the research or the academics’ workload and factors not relating to you as an enquirer!). Volunteering to help out with studies can be a great way to learn about the issues and solutions to some of the challenges in research. Keep an eye out for paid research assistant posts – but remember that these aren’t common and it helps to have the record of getting involved when competing for that job!
Research can be a lot of fun when you’re well networked and people know you. Nothing makes the research and job process better than having lots of contacts who are willing to help you out. As someone who has undergrads working for me, I forward job and project interests along to those who may be interested in a particular area. Getting known by those who can pass opportunities to you can give you the essential inside track for your research career.
To get networked;
- Contact people whose work you’ve read and ask questions you might have about their studies (keep it brief though!)
- Ask if you can get involved with their work from a distance (as a personality psychologist I conduct a lot of large scale online research that we always need help sharing around – even from long distances!).
- Go to events or conferences in your interest area (sometimes a drink with a new person at a conference can lead to great research opportunities).
There’s a lot of competition in academia but also a lot of collaboration. We like helping each other out and an effective undergrad research assistant benefits us as much as it benefits you!
Get a range of Experiences
It’s important to try and explore as much as you can in different research domains, before settling on a key interest. Take advantage of the typically diverse research expertise of your department (and beyond). Explore different styles of research. Try some quantitative research. Try some qualitative research. Try behavioural coding. Try questionnaire studies. If you’re bold, try research in other departments! (I learned a lot working with Sports Science, Criminology and Creative Industry departments!). As someone volunteering around, you will have rare freedom to experience what suits you and what doesn’t – a choice you may not have so much later in your career as you specialise.
- Look for different method studies to engage with
- Contact researchers you may not have interacted with before and ask about their methods
- Try to find more and more stuff on the things you like.
There’s a lot to L.I.K.E. but be ready…
Like most psychology jobs in research and practice, you will be entering a world of intense competition. Many people apply to PhDs having already authored journal articles and/or worked with the big names in the various fields. This makes for some tough competition and more often than not you will faces “no” responses and rejections. But if you’ve done your best to find stuff you L.I.K.E in research and you are willing to keep pushing and persisting then you’ll be ahead of the curve.
Get into the Literature and find what you like,
Get Involved wherever you can,
Get Known by as those who can help you,
Get a range of Experiences before you dedicate yourself to a steam,
And be ready to persist and keep trying
Thank you for reading this week’s Guest Post by Dr Liam Satchell Tune in Next Wednesday for another Guest from someone in YOUR field!