Psychology is just one of the over fifty majors Elizabethtown College lists on its College Catalog and Student Handbook. In addition to regular coursework, the psychology department offers its students several opportunities to experience hands-on student research.
The psychology department helps students to build up to doing “individual, original research,” beginning as a first-year Intro to psychology student reading about research studies. In a class being taught this semester by Dr. Jean Pretz, each student is required to design, carry out and present their own research project. Students are required to hand things in for grading and an ethics review every step of the way. “[The students] consider what we’ve already been working on and carve out a piece of that to really make it their own.” Pretz says, “[I try to] encourage them to come up with something they’re interested in.”
General psychology students can participate in student research experiments for course credit. This is beneficial to both the participating students and the researcher in that general psychology students are able to experience the study firsthand rather than just learning about them and this results in a larger participation pool – there are probably 100 students taking general psychology a year, according to Dr. Michael Roy. Some students choose to search for an “interest pool” to complete their study while others make use of the student population at Etown.
Junior Lee Soltys participated two such studies during her sophomore year. “It was interesting to see what they were testing for and how they came up with these things.” Soltys said. Senior psychology major Tatem Burns remembers participating in a friend’s experiment during her first year and wondering what they were testing for and its outcome. “It’s a nice flip [being on the other side of the experience]” Burns said.
This year, Burns is working on her Senior Research Project, which is a follow-up of the Scholarship, Creative Arts and Research Project or SCARP project she worked on with Roy. The SCARP program gives students the opportunity to work with a faculty member over the summer. As the amount of students on campus over the summer is not enough for a participation study, Burns and Roy recruited 100 people for a 15 minute study via Amazon Mechanical Turk, which pays participants a small amount of money for completing Human Intelligence Tasks, including psychology experiments. More studies can be completed online now in order to tap into a different participation pool, and according to Roy, Amazon Mechanical Turk has options to limit the potential pool to specifics wanted by the researcher.
The project Burns is currently working on focuses on time estimation, which she defines as “the ability to perceive how much time has passed.” It is currently in the stage of writing an international review board proposal. This stage is important because it ensures that the project is ethical, novel, and fits in with current study in psychology. What’s nice about this type of project, according to Burns is that, “You get the entire experience as if you were an actual researcher.”
Doing research like this at the college level is essential for students who want to go to graduate school, but for people with no interest in attending grad school, it “shows that they have the ability to be analytical and answer questions empirically,” which will be useful in obtaining a career in their field, according to Roy. Student research at Etown is useful to not only the student, but also the professors. “I have tons of data, more than I can possibly process.” Pretz said, “[Students will often] have an idea that is fresh and new and helps me to think in another way.” In example, Pretz referred to a SCARP project she worked on with junior Andrew Kile last summer. “By giving him ownership or responsibility for it, it moved forward better than if I was doing it alone.” Pretz said. As for students who do intend to go on to grad school they will be “head and shoulders above people they go to school with in terms of understanding how to perform a study and understanding statistics and methods.” Roy said.
There are no student experiments up and running at this point in the semester.