Research for Psychology Majors
Engaging actively in independent research serves an advantage in developing research skills and preparing students for the rigors of graduate school. It is a great opportunity to develop skills as a scientist and benefit from the strong mentorship of a department faculty member. Students may conduct research for credit under two formal course mechanisms: Independent Study and the Senior Thesis.
Students interested in conducting research with a Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences faculty member — and who would like to obtain course credit for doing so — should consider registering for a research-oriented Independent Study (PSY 480). This is a great way to experience first-hand what it’s like to be part of a research team.
Receiving Course Credit
The Independent Study is worth 3 credits and requires 9 hours of research per week for the term enrolled, under the supervision of the research mentor. (Students can also take it for variable credit, e.g., 1 credit hour = 3 hours of work per week, up to a maximum of 3 credits per Independent Study).
How to Enroll in an Independent Study
Students must identify a faculty mentor in the department and work with them to develop a directed plan of study for the term. Once the faculty mentor and plan of study have been established, the student will need to complete the departmental Independent Study form [PDF] and obtain all relevant signatures. Once completed, the form must be submitted to the Undergraduate Coordinator who will then register the student for the course.
The Senior Thesis [PDF] sequence (PSY 490, 491, 492) is a mechanism for conducting senior thesis research in collaboration with a faculty mentor in the Department of Psychology. Students selected to work with a faculty mentor can take the Senior Thesis sequence instead of 12 credits of advanced psychology electives. The expectation of the entire three-term seminar is that students will work with their research mentor and develop an independent project (a senior thesis), as well as contribute to the work of their mentor and/or the mentor’s research team. Students’ work should include at least 12 hours per week conducting research. The type of work conducted and manner in which time is allocated (independent project vs. lab work) is negotiated between the student and their research mentor. However, all students registered for Senior Thesis are required to complete an independent thesis by the end of the academic year.
Some suggested goals for the independent project include: an extensive literature review on a topic of interest; a first-authored paper or poster of archival or original data that the student presents at a regional or national conference (e.g., ABCT, EPA, APA, NAN) along with a scientific report that serves as their thesis; a co-authored manuscript for publication; etc.
Unlike traditional psychology courses, there is no regular course meeting time for the Senior Thesis sequence. Students arrange all responsibilities with their research mentor. The final grade is determined by the quality and degree of the student’s work with their faculty mentor.
Please Note: Mentorships with faculty are extremely competitive. Students interested in taking the Senior Thesis sequence are highly encouraged to identify a faculty mentor as early in their undergraduate career as possible (preferably by junior year of study at the latest) and start minimally by volunteering as a member of his/her research team in order to develop a mentorship well before the student’s senior year.
In order to enroll in Senior Thesis, a student must be considered a senior (i.e. have completed at least 130 credits) by the fall term of the year they wish to enroll. Additionally, the student’s faculty mentor must email the Undergraduate Coordinator indicating that he or she has agreed to supervise the Senior Thesis sequence (this email must be sent during the registration period for the first term the student wishes to enroll). The Undergraduate Coordinator will then register the student for each section of the Senior Thesis sequence throughout the academic year.
Additional Research Opportunities
Volunteer Research Assistantships
The ability to evaluate the reliability and validity of psychological information in places like journals, magazines and newspapers is critical to functioning in today’s community. Whether these communities are scientific or every day, being able to discern science from fiction is critical in effective and timely delivery of accurate information and treatment of human behavior. This is one of the core principles of the Drexel Psychological and Brain Sciences program.
While classroom instruction provides basic knowledge about research with human subjects, knowledge in action is equally important. To that end, we encourage students to volunteer to help on research projects in the labs of our faculty. Being part of a research team provides students with close-up, hands-on experience in how collaborative research is conducted and what goes into producing a finished, published document. Importantly, it also provides opportunities to sharpen students’ critical thinking and research skills, which are useful in all domains of life.
There are several ways for students to find available opportunities:
- Check with the faculty members teaching your classes
- Get involved in Psi Chi’s mentoring program (upper-class students are often already in labs and can help you get information about openings)
- Check with fellow students
- Check with the Undergraduate Director
- Check Drexel’s website about research opportunities across the university