Independent Research

The Department of Psychology and Education has adopted the philosophy that the best way to learn psychology and education is to do psychology and education. As an expression of this philosophy, the department maintains a major commitment to undergraduate research. This commitment is backed by excellent library and laboratory facilities, by a small student-faculty ratio, and by a belief among department members that, with help and encouragement, undergraduates are capable of engaging in significant research. This confidence in the ability of our undergraduates is supported by the fact that many students have seen their work published in some form and many have presented their independent work at Mount Holyoke's Senior Symposium, and at professional meetings.

There are a number of reasons for including independent research in your program. Alumnae often cite their satisfaction in having made a personal contribution to the subject matter of psychology and in having learned about research in a way not possible from reading or even from taking laboratory courses. Students who have gone into graduate programs say that they have been far better prepared than their colleagues; those who have taken jobs say that, thanks to 395 or honors work, they feel more confident in their own abilities. Moreover, virtually all graduate schools in psychology and related fields, and most employers, are interested in candidates who can work independently, accept responsibility, and conduct research. Some doctoral programs will not even consider candidates who have not been involved in independent research.

Psychology 295 and 395

These courses, which are offered for a variable number of credits, provide opportunities for many different kinds of independent projects. Both 295 and 395 can encompass a small research project, perhaps in conjunction with faculty research or with another student's honors research.  Alternatively, they may involve library research, a series of topical readings, or some other activity which the student and her sponsor consider to be of value to the student's educational program.  The number of credits and the selection of 295 or 395 depend on the amount of time involved and the sophistication of the work.

Psychology 395 with Oral Presentation

Psychology 395 with oral presentation offers the same kinds of experiences as honors theses, but the projects are only one semester long and are sometimes conducted by students working in pairs or in groups of three.  These projects are usually more limited in scope than honors projects since the research must be conducted and analyzed in one semester.  However, a pair or trio of students can accomplish a more ambitious project than could a single student.

A semester is a very short period in which to design and conduct a research project.  For this reason, all students planning to elect Psychology 395 with oral presentation should make every effort to obtain a faculty sponsor no later than the advising period prior to the semester in which the 395 project is to be undertaken.  This suggestion does not mean that you have to have developed a research idea before speaking to faculty members.  It does mean that you will be ready to select a research project at the beginning of the next semester.

Where to Begin

Students often ask, "How do I go about getting involved in research?"  There are many answers.  Ideas may come from course readings, class discussions, or informal discussions outside of class.  In laboratory courses, a project may suggest questions that can be pursued in an independent research project.  Talk with students currently engaged in independent work and with members of the faculty.  Attending 395 symposia and the College’s Senior Symposium are good ways to learn about ongoing student research in the Department.  Students may also seek out faculty whose research interests them, and discuss possible projects that are part of that faculty member's ongoing program of research.