An Appetite for Research in the Undergraduate Population

For the past four years we have run Research Assistantship Schemes in the Psychology Research Centre. These schemes, both voluntary and paid (fusion-funded), have lead to both expected and unexpected benefits. Read on to find out more.

The 2nd year Psychology undergraduate voluntary Research Assistantship Scheme received 45 applications this year which represented 25% of the eligible year group. This represents an almost 50% increase on the year before. Prior to formalising the scheme numbers were much lower than that. Formalising the scheme has helped reveal an amazing appetite for research in the undergraduate population, but our schemes have had further reaching benefits. One benefit has been that our accrediting body, The British Psychological Society, has commended the RA scheme. We have also learned that some students applied to our undergraduate course because of the RA scheme.

The related Fusion-funded Research Assistantship Summer Scheme received 37 applications for the 7 paid positions. Two of the positions were advertised to completed 3rd year students. Advertised as prestigious positions and a potential platform to MSc level study, all of the 3rd year applicants went on to apply for our research MSc in Lifespan Neuropsychology. This year the number of BU students recruited to the MSc has doubled (acting as somewhat of a buffer against the sector-typical drop in external applications). Furthermore, 66% of the unsuccessful applicants volunteered as RAs with us over the summer instead of missing out. Some of these applicants joined our RA schemes in their second years as volunteers meaning that we have provided them with a pathway for research training from early in their degree through to MSc; for some this has lead to their names’ inclusion on submitted papers.

For the first time this year the summer scheme positions sought sponsorship. Non-financial sponsorship came from three local charities alongside which the RAs worked giving them further invaluable experience. At least one of these is now considering providing financial sponsorship for summer 2014; we hope to introduce matched- or fully-funded sponsorship options in the near future. In sum, the RA positions are a useful route route to engagement with local, external bodies and could entice first-time funders, representing first-step funding, and potentially leading to funding for matched- or perhaps fully-funded PhD positions and beyond.

The RA schemes have been running in the Psychology Research Centre for four years. Increasing formalisation has led some important benefits for students and staff and revealed an appetite for for research in the undergraduate population that previously could only have been guessed at. For sure, some of this represents the desire for more general experience for CVs but most are genuinely interested in the outcome of the research. Students learn the difficulties involved in research and begin to better understand and appreciate what academics spend their time doing when they are not teaching. Staff are learning more about the utility of involving fresh, eager minds in their research. If wielded properly, RA schemes have the potential to meet student demands, increase MSc level study here at BU and as a consequence prevent the loss of our best students, and help build future researchers. We are happy to report all of these outcomes in the four years the schemes have been running. We aim to continue the formalisation and offer Certificates for newly defined stages of Research Assistantship, which involves combining our up until now separate voluntary and paid schemes. We have spoken to at least one head of group who is interested in porting this formalised scheme to their discipline and to allowing our RAs to interact in the hope of fermenting interdisciplinary discussion and research and the undergraduate level. We hope that this blog entry will spark more interest.