In 2011, Dawn Smail graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Psychology and continued on her academic journey to recently complete her MSc in Applied Psychology (Therapies) here at Salford. Dawn’s first publication, written during her time here as a student, originally featured in the North West of England Branch newsletter called “The Update”. In her article, she considers the value of gaining research experience as an undergraduate, and how one opportunity can lead to another such as gaining her first publication. To see the original version of Dawn’s article click here. We would like to thank the British Psychological Society for giving their permission for this post to be republished on our blog.
Research experience as vital work experience: reflections on being an undergraduate psychology student in the field
By Dawn Smail
As an undergraduate student, I was presented with an opportunity to work for an ongoing interdisciplinary research project at the University of Salford. The main aim of the research was to carry out social survey questionnaires with residents living in areas where construction work was being carried out nearby. In the third year of my studies, to say I was a tad anxious before going into the field is perhaps an understatement. However the excitement I felt about getting some much needed work experience soon outweighed any anxieties I had. I knew it would be challenging work but with my background knowledge in psychology waiting to be put into practice, I felt ready to take on this new challenge.
Before commencing the research I attended a mandatory two-day workshop that was designed to inform and teach us, the trainees, how to comprehensively prepare for every stage of the research process. The interactive programme included discussions around the following broad topics: communication skills, ethical issues, project management, and cultural sensitivities. This training prepared me for the challenges of social survey fieldwork, particularly door knocking as a method of recruiting participants in research.
Due to my research methods training on my degree course, I knew that developing rapport and trust between the researcher and the participant was an essential element for good quality research. On the doorstep, I realised how difficult developing a connection with a participant is in such a short space of time. Not being able to develop an instant rapport with the participant made me feel slightly defeated and less motivated. However I did overcome these feelings and realised that ‘real world’ research is very different to what can be known from a lecture or a textbook.
On a daily basis, many hours were spent visiting people at their homes where a substantial amount of doors remained closed and those that opened did so with a ‘no thanks’. When people agreed to be interviewed I felt a great sense of achievement which appeared to have a cascading effect on the rest of the day. I really enjoyed interviewing residents and what I learned from the experience has, without doubt, given me a better understanding of doing research with people. I also found that working in a team of researchers allowed me to share my ‘doorstep’ experiences. Our team meetings were an invaluable source of support which also helped to foster a sense of progress and success.
This experience gave me the opportunity to meet with other researchers, many of whom I have remained in contact with since. My role as an employee, rather than student, was an excellent way for me to expand my knowledge of Psychology as a science by gaining first-hand experience of research in action and gave valuable insight into the day-to-day work carried out by academic researchers.
I would like to see more work experience opportunities for Psychology undergraduate students on offer. The DIUS (2008) argue such skills are undoubtedly beneficial to a fresh graduate and offer an advantage when applying for further clinical training or job applications. Therefore I feel very fortunate that I was given the chance to work on this project. It has opened doors to further opportunities for me such as writing this article.
Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills (2008) Higher education at work – high skills: high value, London: DIUS, (Available at: www.dius.gov.uk/consultations/con_0408_hlss.html)