I want to do research, where do I start?

Being an MA student at John Jay gives you endless opportunities, as the variety of research going on here is incomparable. You can start with browsing through the research interests of the faculty in the department. Once you find someone whose interests appeal to you, contact the professor (e-mailing usually works best), let him or her know of your interest, and find out if there are available Research Assistant (RA) positions in the lab or if they are accepting students for thesis advisement. Most professors, if they have an opening, will ask you to send them some information about you (i.e. your CV) and/or will set up a meeting. It is highly recommended that you read at least one of their recent publications before you go to the meeting. This will allow you to better understand if this is really what you are interested in and to get better insight into the field. It will also allow you to have a more knowledgeable conversation with the professor. Remember: choose a topic that inspires you. It is OK to be interested in more than one area. You can contact more than one professor, and you can work in more than one lab (depending, of course, on how much time you have). However, the faculty recommends that you do not participate in more than 2, or at the maximum, 3 labs. It is more important to develop your skill set and responsibilities within one or two labs that you are very interested in, than to be superficially involved in many. For example, becoming a Study Coordinator in one lab will benefit you more than doing data entry for three different labs.

Please remember that being an RA is a job (though not a paid one, usually) and all interaction (via email, in person and in lab/lab meetings) is essentially an ongoing job interview. These are the faculty members who may one day be deciding on your PhD application or, at least, they are someone you may ask to write a letter of recommendation and if you have not been professional, responsible and reliable, they will not have positive things to say on your behalf. Keep all interactions professional!

I want to contact professors for research but do not have a CV, how should I create one?

MSRG will hold an informational session about creating your CV. You are also encouraged to visit the Center for Career & Professional Development for assistance developing and/or updating your CV. Another resource would be to reach out to the Assistant Director of Master’s Program Career Advising, Jessica Mooney. She is there to help with professional development and can look at CVs, resumes, cover letters, etc.

How much time do I need to do research?

Research is very time consuming and requires commitment and good time management skills. Each lab has different requirements. Depending on the project and the organization of the lab, you may be required to spend a specific number of hours per week (usually between 6 to 10 hours minimum) and attend weekly lab meetings. If you are working on your own thesis or independent research project, you should expect to spend at least 20 hours a week. So if you have a full-time job and are taking classes, unless you are superhuman and need no sleep doing research may prove extremely difficult. Most professors expect a minimum of one semester commitment for RA positions. If you are doing a thesis, you should expect to spend a minimum of two semesters (sometimes more, depending on whether you are collecting your own data, etc.).

What does a Research Assistant position entail?

A research assistant is someone who is involved in somebody else’s research project. The responsibilities may range from finding appropriate articles for the literature review, compiling bibliographies and reference lists, to collecting and coding or entering data, running the statistical analyses and writing parts or all of the manuscript. The difference between an RA and a researcher is that the RA is helping with the development of the researcher’s idea and the researcher orchestrates the idea and research design.

Why would I want to do a Master’s Thesis?

Although working as an RA will give you some experience, doing a thesis is a great way to show that you are capable of doing independent research work at the graduate level. It is also a great way for you to figure out if research is really what you like. Most PhD programs (even the Clinical ones) have a major research component and will prefer student with substantial research experience, and especially students who can show that they are able to complete a research project from start to finish. In addition, you will need letters of recommendation, and a good letter will come from a professor who has seen you work and can really comment on your abilities.

What does Thesis work entail?

When doing a thesis, you may come up with your own research idea, or elaborate on something that your supervisor is currently working on. You will have to fully develop your literature review and methodology, analyze and interpret the data, and write it up in an APA format. Professors have different expectations as to the length of your final thesis, but usually it is no less than 35 pages. The degree of mentorship and assistance along the way depends on the individual style of your supervisor. Some professors work closely with you on every step of the project and expect frequent updates. Others give you more flexibility and independence. Most will expect your participation in lab meetings and may ask for additional involvement in other ongoing lab work. It is always a good idea to speak to the current students working with the professor you would like to work with to find out what to expect.

Would I be able to present my work at a conference?

Most professors are very encouraging of students wanting to present at various national and sometimes even international conferences. You can let your supervisor know that you would like to submit your project to an appropriate conference and they will usually be happy to assist you with it. Being a John Jay student, you always have the great opportunity to present your work at the MA Forensic Psychology Student Research Conference which takes place at the college in May. To learn more about other conferences related to the field of Forensic Psychology and Criminology, their dates, places, and deadlines, you can visit the following websites:

American Psychology and Law Society

American Society of Criminology

Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences

Why would I want to present at a conference?

Conferences are great for getting your work recognized. They are also great for meeting prominent researchers in the field and likeminded students, exchanging ideas, and networking. If you are planning to apply to PhD programs, having a conference presentation or poster on your CV will give you a lot of extra points.

What does presenting at a conference entail?

There are two main ways to present your work at a conference – poster and panel presentation. The criteria for a poster to be accepted are usually somewhat less stringent (not in terms of level of work expected, but rather the stage of your project at the time of submission) and the deadline is usually later than that for presentations. Presentations are usually done in Power Point and occur in a panel with 3 or 4 others (your professor may want to submit a full panel which you will be part of, or you can submit an individual paper that the conference organizers will then combine with others on a similar topic). Presentations are usually 15-20 minutes each, with time for questions afterward. They are more formal than posters. Posters are presented during the poster session where you will show your work along with many others, and have a chance to discuss it with people who come to see it in a more relaxed atmosphere. Both ways are great for being able to showcase your work.

I don’t have a project to present, is it still worth going to a conference?

YES! Even if you are not presenting your own work, you can benefit greatly from attending a conference in the field of your interest. You will be able to find out about all the current developments in the field, newest projects that may not even have been published yet. You will be able to network with researchers and students that may inspire you and give you ideas for your own project. You will meet people from other universities where you may eventually apply for PhD and gain insight about the kind of research going on there. Again, networking is key in the world of academia.

Would I be able to publish my work in a journal?

Most professors will help you bring your work to a publishable level if that is your goal or agree to include your name on their publication if you substantially contributed to the project. The order of authors on such publications should be discussed ahead of time to avoid confusion and disappointment. It is important to keep in mind that each faculty member has their own rules regarding this process and it is important to be aware of this when agreeing to work on a new project. It is extremely rare to publish as the sole author at the MA level. However, it is actually of great benefit to publish with professors because they will help you in the process, as they are published themselves and know the process. Many are likely to be known in their field and therefore it will be an added bonus for you to have your name associated with nationally and internationally recognized figures in the field. Bottom line, discuss your interest in publishing with the supervisor and he/she will let you know how they usually go about it, and what you need to do.

What else should I know about research?

Being a researcher is not easy: it requires time, commitment, motivation, and devotion. You will spend long hours doing seemingly boring tasks like data entering, you will get frustrated at times for not being able to obtain all the data you wanted, get discouraged because your results did not come out the way you expected and because you can’t make sense of the analyses. However, it will also give you endless opportunities and incredible satisfaction and sense of accomplishment. Nothing compares to seeing your ideas recognized, your hypotheses confirmed and the “aha” moment of when it all finally makes sense. It can be as much fun as you make it. It will help you develop intellectually and professionally, regardless of whether you decide to make it your career or just an experience. It will give you skills that will help you in any path you choose.