Hello and WELCOME to PsychAssist. This week we have a very special guest article from Hannah Nnanna who is a research assistant. She is living proof of how one simple email to your old lecturer can lead to a career in research. This is her story of how much she learnt whilst being a research assistant. All the trials and tribulations where worth it for the end result! This is truly a special article.
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So, you want to be a Research Assistant?
In my final year of university, I was adamant that I wanted to develop a career within research. Although I love the finer things in life, I knew that unpaid voluntary experience would be easily accessible and would bring me closer to this dream. So, I began the search for research experience by contacting lecturers and PhD students offering support for their research projects. My lovely Educational Psychology lecturer (shout out to you Georgia!!),hooked me up with her school-based research project.
The research data focused on the development of the new and improved spelling test, which I believe came into place in Autumn 2018. As a team we were collating data from two local primary schools in Coventry. When I heard that our participants were children, I was so excited! I love working with kids! Especially after completing my final year dissertation, and the stress of convincing students to partake in my study, I believed that children would be easier to convince via bribery (with ethical consent of course!!).And I was correct!
Top tip: If you are ever collecting data within a primary school buy the shiny Pokémon sticker book 😊
There were approximately 10 different tests for each child in reception to year 6 to complete. Some of which were computer-based non-words, speaking and listening tests, group and individual spelling tests – which included words and non-words, simple maths tests and comprehension tests. It took me a few days to familiarise myself with the different tests, and how to use them. I was unprepared for the exhaustion following a day’s work of data collection. I went from class to class, child to child, repeating the same tests during the day. This was something I never expected, when it came to data collection, I didn’t expect to feel exhausted or bored of seeing the same words and letters and even children every day! But it was great! It taught me resilience, patience and to keep my eyes on the end vision – the NEWtest! It reminded me of the process of completing my dissertation, the sleepless nights, practically living in the library and endless Redbulls! But when I think back to receiving my reward at graduation, it was all worth it!
This role taught me a lot about becoming a Researcher, after a month of collecting data, it felt easier. I was used to children’s names and classes and I knew how to conduct each test. Before each session I prepared the incentives and understood how to communicate effectively with the children. I also learned that it was pointless to force a child to continue a test and saw it more effective to continue the test on the following day and still offer a reward for their participation. Besides this, I gained experience collecting massive amounts of data – 280 participants to be exact, strong communication skills and ability to adapt under pressure.
The most incredible thing was that through these tests, we were able to identify children who may have reading difficulties such as dyslexia and notify their teachers to enable they receive further support – this is the role of an educational psychologist. The motivation to keep going derived from the application of the research, developing a new test which will enable children with disabilities to partake in. I am still honoured to have been a part of this amazing research project with support from the British Council.
“What’s knowledge without experience? The two go hand-in-hand!”
If you are a psychology student, or a student from any discipline and looking for experience, please don’t disregard unpaid experience. Even if you can spare a day a week, whilst earning income, experience, especially in your desired field will enable you to tick off experience on job specifications!! And if it’s research experience you’re looking for, don’t be afraid to ask around your university, Masters students and PhD students! They would love an extra hand!