How to Get Involved in Counseling Psychology Research
As a current undergraduate student or postgraduate student, those interested in counseling psychology often question how to become involved in research. There are several avenues for becoming involved in counseling psychology research. The way that you locate a research position will likely be influenced by your geographical location, current student status, and level of experience. Current students may have a slightly easier time locating research positions than postgraduates. However, postgraduates who are looking to return to school or change careers to counseling psychology should not be deterred from seeking out research opportunities.
Research opportunities could entail any number of tasks. Basically, anything that relates to the application of the scientific method constitutes research. This may include developing a hypothesis (or research question), conducting a literature review, measuring your construct, collecting and analyzing data, and presenting your findings (either through a poster or publication). Research opportunities can come in many different forms, including through coursework, volunteering in a faculty member’s research lab, or conducting your own research study through a thesis or independent project. Sometimes research involves working directly with research participants, whereas other times it can be simply helping with one part of the research process (i.e., conducting a literature review).
One of the most common methods of locating a research position is to e-mail counseling psychology professors at your university (if you are a student) or nearby universities. Prior to contacting the professor, ensure that you have done your research and fully understand what they study. You can do this by reading their website and looking up some of their publications. Create a brief introduction e-mail that highlights your experiences, what you would contribute (e.g. special computer skills, knowledge of other languages, experience working with a population they study, etc.), and why you are interested in volunteering. You may also want to attach a resume or CV to your initial e-mail. Professors get a lot of e-mails, so try to keep this succinct and clear. Often times, psychology departments send out e-mails to students about labs that may be seeking volunteer research assistants. However, some professors may have positions available that they have not advertised. Don’t be shy – many professors are seeking motivated, intelligent research assistants.
Another method for gaining research experience is through research apprenticeship courses. These courses often take the form of an independent study course, where a professor mentors you on a research project. Some professors allow you to develop your own research ideas, while others permit you to develop ideas from their larger research projects. Either option offers you an invaluable opportunity to accrue research experience from an expert while also allowing you begin to explore which areas of counseling psychology interest you the most.
Some psychology programs have doctoral level students who need research support for their dissertations. This could serve as an alternate if you are unable to secure a research position with a professor. Graduate students are often busy as well, but often take time to mentor undergraduate students. Similarly to meeting with faculty members, make sure you prepare and ask informed questions about graduate student’s research.
Another popular option for obtaining research experience is to work as a Research Assistant or Research Coordinator. Some of these positions can be in academic settings, while others are in hospital settings or non-profit organizations. These positions are often full-time and require a commitment of 1-2 years. Websites like APA and ACA often advertise jobs for students. You can also ask your current and former professors whether they know of any openings for Research Assistant positions. Some positions may be filled by word-of-mouth. Therefore, it doesn’t hurt to e-mail any professors or labs where you have a strong interest in working to see whether they anticipate hiring in the near future.
Current students may also want to inquire about the possibility of conducting their own research by completing an undergraduate thesis. These are often mentored by a psychology faculty member. You can also apply to research and internship opportunities that are listed through APA (http://www.apa.org/education/undergrad/research-opps.aspx) or other organizations.
If the above methods fail to help you secure your desired research position, you can also sign up to attend regional or national conferences. These allow you to gain more of an understanding of the current research being done in counseling psychology and will assist you to further refine your areas of interest (assuming they are still developing). Remember that most graduate programs will view research experience highly favorable. In fact, in many programs you are even required to develop and carry out your own research project. Thus, it behooves you to obtain research experience now!
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