February 1st, 2015

Assumption College promotes collaborative research

Faculty/student research has been a long-standing practice at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass.. But during the last five to eight years the institution has increased its research opportunities for students, according to Paula Fitzpatrick, Ph.D., professor of psychology and department chair at the college.

Fitzpatrick attributes the renewed interest in collaborative research, in part, to a newly designed honors program launched in 2009. “The college created a summer fellowship where students could work on research projects with faculty. Additionally, the psychology department worked with administration to find funds for students who are not part of the honors program to conduct research,” she said.

Every year approximately five research teams comprised of two faculty members and one or two students engages in a research project, Fitzpatrick explained. “Students have three options. Some work on projects over the summer; some, during the year. And some do research as an independent study,” she said. “It’s nice to have a pool of students during the school year to do data collecting. Over the summer, they do data coding and analysis when the student has more time to spend on the project.”

Faculty is responsible for training the students, making reading recommendations and ensuring they have access to literature. “We meet with the students, answer questions and spend a lot of time training on data collection and coding. There is a considerable amount of work with data assessment software and statistical analysis,” Fitzpatrick said, pointing out that students work directly with faculty at this undergraduate institution.

Students are expected to put in a certain amount of time to demonstrate their commitment to the project. They are immersed in all phases of the project from collecting data and creating data sheets to developing experimental protocols and recruiting participants. Fitzpatrick said, “We try to make it a complete educational experience.”

Furthermore, students have an opportunity to present their research on campus and at regional, national and international conferences. “They may do oral or poster presentations in a professional venue, which they can put on their resume. Grad schools are looking for students with research experience, to know that they have developed research skills,” Fitzpatrick said.

Senior Katherine Schmidt has been working with Fitzpatrick on exploring movement synchronization in individuals with autism. “I selected the topic my junior year and received a research fellowship to work over the summer on it,” she said, noting that she has written an IRB proposal, relearned data analysis, recruited participants and run a study. “Working with faculty enables me to create a more developed, in-depth experiment,” she said. “Professor Fitzpatrick has taught me a lot about research. She is talking about presenting the research at a conference and possibly publication down the road.”

Also working with Fitzpatrick is junior Andrew Lampi, who is researching the social coordination of children with autism. “She has helped me learn techniques and practices. I’ve developed connections in the field and learned more about autism and psychology” he said. He hopes his findings will serve as a gateway to future research in this area.

Sophomore Anna doCurral’s project on skin conductance measures and how serenity can cause a shift in cognitive processing, has enhanced her classroom work. “You learn in the classroom with textbook theories and research but it’s not until you apply it that you understand,” she said. “I’ve taken a new approach to barriers and use psychological research to learn from my mistakes. Some of the best findings come from mistakes. Research opens doors.”

Fitzpatrick emphasized that the skills students develop during this collaborative research is transferable. “Employers want workers with quantitative skills and attention to detail,” she said. “Students involved in these projects are making a difference in advancing knowledge about the topics. They are not just working under faculty but with faculty. It’s very characteristic of what research is like in the field of psychology.”

By Phyllis Hanlon

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