Engaging students: The Research Apprenticeship Summer Scheme in the Psychology Research Centre

In the last round of applications to the Fusion Investment Fund Dr Ben Parris, Dr Sarah Bate and Professor Sine McDougall from the Psychology Research Centre applied for, and were awarded, funds to pay for five summer placement positions that enabled our most promising students to gain a greater insight into life as researchers on a full-time basis. For a period of 9 weeks the students became part of one of the research laboratories in Psychology.  The students were responsible for experiment preparation, data collection, and data preparation and joined in lab discussions. Three RA positions were open calls; two were allied to REF impact case studies. All 2nd year students were invited to apply for the positions. Linking in with the employability strand on the undergraduate course the students were asked to provide an up-to-date CV and a 500-word summary on how the summer placement scheme would benefit them in their future career. The five selected candidates were housed in P106, which was converted into dedicated office space where the RAs could base themselves over the summer period and interact with each other and with postgraduate students and members of staff.

The scheme had a large impact on research. The five students on the scheme contributed to literature reviews, data collection, experiment programming and lab discussions for several members of staff in the Psychology Research Centre. Whilst they were each allied to a particular member of staff, others in the Centre sought their help when there was a bit of down time on the main project on which they were working. Whilst it is too early to list research outputs that have benefitted from this scheme, clearly the data collected, the literature reviewed, and the experiments programmed have all contributed towards the research goals of members of the Psychology Research Centre. Overall, data from over 200 participants were collected at a time when it is particularly difficult to recruit and test participants. Moreover, given that the scheme represents effective training for those seeking a career in academia, the full-time positions gave students the opportunity to engage in professional practice. Furthermore, by allying two positions with impact case studies the scheme involved their engagement with bodies external to the university (e.g. Poole Hospital).

Feedback from the students themselves provides useful insight into the utility of the scheme to them. All students reported great satisfaction with the scheme, having learned how to conduct a piece of research properly. They report having learned useful technical skills that they can apply to their final year projects. Most importantly they report direct benefits for their final year of study. Not only have they used their time wisely in thinking about the project which forms a large part of their final year (and degree as a whole) but the students reported that one of the biggest benefits was improvements in article reading skills.  Two of the students commented how extra reading for lectures now seems a lot easier; they can now read and extract important information in half the time.  This has enabled them to explore a much broader range of papers, which has increased their understanding of Psychology.  One student wrote ‘My general understanding of Psychology has been greatly improved, igniting a much stronger passion for the subject than I have ever felt before and the impact that this has had on my University work is extremely valuable to me’. Another wrote ‘Since starting back in term one, I have found that reading journal articles has become an easier process for me. I am now able to look at any article from any topic area and understand more fully what I’m reading, and where to go to find the information that is relevant for the task at hand’. As a final example, one of this year’s RAs wrote ‘The opportunity to continue to study, conduct research and become more familiar with programs such as SPSS throughout the summer means that the return to the final year is considerably less daunting and I feel more confident about designing and conducting my own study’.

A final important consequence of this scheme neatly highlights one of the benefits of fusion.  Admittedly an unintended consequence of the scheme, engaging potential researchers of the future had the consequence of making researchers of the present feeling somewhat trapped in the past. One of the apprentices took it upon himself to introduce us to the potential of Twitter and Facebook for participant recruitment. This has now been incorporated into our participant recruitment strategy. The Facebook site attracted 80 ‘likes’ within a few days (I believe that number is now much higher) and has since been used to recruit participants.  This will increase the efficiency with which all members of the Psychology Research Centre complete research. In short, the masters became the apprentices.