Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Perceived Benefits of Presenting Undergraduate Research at a Professional Conference

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Perceived Benefits of Presenting Undergraduate Research at a Professional Conference

Article excerpt

Research methods courses are often a source of anxiety for undergraduate students (Edwards & Thatcher, 2004; Kracker, 2002; Kracker & Wang, 2002; Papanastasiou, 2005; Papanastasiou & Zembylas, 2008; Winn, 1995), even after student knowledge of research has increased (Sizemore & Lewandowski, 2009). For this reason, teachers often look for ways to increase students' interest in research methods (e.g. Burkley & Burkley, 2009; Chapdelaine & Chapman, 1999; Edwards & Thatcher, 2004; Lipsitz, 2000; Winn, 1995). Maintaining student interest is important, as students must progress through research methods courses if they are to be involved in mentored undergraduate research. Such mentored research is increasingly identified as an important 21st century pedagogy (Brewer, Dewhurst, & Doran, 2012; Crowe & Brakke, 2008; Dotterer, 2002) that involves students in learning-by-doing, motivates students to learn, and promotes skills in analysis and communication (American Psychological Association [APA], 2007; Dunn, McCarthy, Baker, Halonen, & Hill, 2007). Indeed, undergraduate research is an important means of preparing students for the rigors of graduate school (Briihl & Wasieleski, 2004; Huss, Randall, Patry, Davis, & Hansen, 2002).

How might undergraduate research benefit future graduate students beyond the knowledge imparted in research methods classes? One possibility is that undergraduate research increases student self-efficacy and goal setting as a result of professional socialization (Kardash, 2000). Indeed, Thiry, Laursen, and Hunter (2011), in their evaluation of undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs at the University of Colorado at Boulder, concluded that participation in high-quality interactions within a professional community outside the classroom (i.e. mentored undergraduate research, as opposed to in-class inquiry labs) leads to the highest levels of intellectual, personal, and professional development. This was especially true when students reported that they were "becoming a scientist," an indication of professional socialization. However, neither Thiry and her colleagues (2011), nor earlier studies of undergraduate research (e.g. Seymour, Hunter, Laursen, & DeAntoni, 2004) examined the effects of socialization beyond the campus, such as the attendance and presentation of undergraduate research at professional conferences.

In an attempt to meet the APA (2007) goals for the undergraduate psychology major, and Goal 2 (Research Methods in Psychology) specifically, our department developed a curriculum for undergraduate psychology students who are considering attending graduate school. This curriculum includes four research courses in statistics and design as well as required for-credit participation in regional, and in some cases national conferences. Because of the importance of developing student self-efficacy in research methods courses (Helm, Bailey, McBride, & LaBianca, 2011), students complete two projects during the year sequence.

The conference participation requirement can be met in one of two ways. Almost all students meet the requirement by attending the Midwestern Psychological Association Annual Meeting, which is held at the beginning of May in Chicago, IL. In-class preparation for the conference involves two components: time management and basic knowledge literacy. The time management component involves planning for the conference in advance; all students are required (no matter which conference they attend) to prepare a detailed schedule describing which sessions they will attend. This schedule is checked and approved by faculty, and the students use and modify their schedule while at the conference. The schedule is then turned in to the faculty when students leave the conference site along with short reactions to each element of the schedule written while at the sessions themselves.

The basic knowledge literacy component can be completed in one of two ways. …

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