THE IMPORTANCE AND BENEFITS
Becoming immersed in research, as an undergraduate or graduate student, can be one of the highlights of your education. Many students avoid research because they think, “I want to be a practitioner, not a researcher. So doing research will add little, if anything, to my education.” Hogwash! First, as an undergraduate student, you should realize that doing research is slowly becoming mandatory for entrance into many graduate programs in psychology. Moreover, according to an interview with Dr. Steven Yantis, director of graduate studies for the department of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University (Munsey, 2007), “Letters that say this applicant was a student in my class and they got an ‘A’ are probably worse than nothing (italics added) because if that’s the best you can say, it means you can’t say much” (p. 41). Therefore, it’s essential that students get letters from professors who know them personally. Being a research assistant is a perfect way to do this.
Second, as a graduate student, even if you plan on being a practitioner after graduating, publishing papers and presenting at conferences demonstrates to prospective employers that you’re conscientious, motivated, and curious—essential characteristics for success. Experiencing constant rejection from editors can take its toll on your confidence. Will you persevere? Or will you put your manuscript in the file drawer cabinet? Leaving school with a few presentations and publications suggests the former: you experience defeat, adjust accordingly, and succeed.
Finally, regardless of your educational level, doing research will let you determine if it’s something you might want to pursue in the future. Before entering graduate school, being a professor never entered my mind. But while at St. John’s University (Jamaica, NY), I had the pleasure of being exposed to the thrill of designing studies, testing hypotheses, and learning something new while advancing the field. As my mentor, Dr. Raymond DiGiuseppe, always said, “There’s nothing like good data!”
Our lab, The Gratitude in Youth Laboratory, fosters a nurturing learning environment. I urge students to be involved in all levels of research: design, data collection, entry, and screening, analyses, presentation, and publication. I treat students as colleagues. We have fun working together, but it’s intense. Our projects are increasing in number and complexity. We’re looking for people who love learning, are driven to grow and excel, and persevere. We also want people who are honest, mature, prompt, playful, and have a healthy dose of OCD (details matter!)