Reprinted with permission by Psi Chi Honor Society.
Creative Outlets for Student Research
What Do I Do Now That My Study is Completed?
Jack L. Powell, PhD
University of Hartford
At some point during their undergraduate career, most psychology
majors are required to conduct an empirical research project
and write a paper based on that research. Obviously, this
must be something that faculty find inherently useful and
important for their students to do. There is a great deal
that can be learned in this exercise, even if the exercise
ends there. There is, however, the potential to get even more
out of the experience after the study is completed and the
grade is assigned. That is, there may be some real benefits
to dusting off that paper and trying to get it published in
a journal or presented at a conference. To that end, I will
discuss (a) why students should resurrect that paper or not
let it die in the first place (i.e., the benefits); (b) what
students should consider before bringing that paper back to
life (i.e., the costs); and (c) some resources and suggestions
to help students decide what options are available for their
paper's new life.
I require students in
my Experimental Psychology class to conduct an independent
research project. Early in the semester, I tell them that
in previous semesters, students have presented superior papers
at conferences or published them in journals, and that this
could be a goal they set for themselves as they work on their
project. Of course, I realize that publishing and/or presenting
will sound more like a threat than a motivating reward to
many students, but I still think most students are intrigued
by the idea that their paper might be considered for publishing
For students who decide
to pursue publication or presentation, there is much that
can be learned. Publishing is especially known for its strange
rules and procedures. A student might hear an instructor talk
about rejection rates or publication lag time, but one can
really understand that concept only after anxiously waiting
six months to hear that the paper is not publishable in that
journal. There is also much that can be learned by presenting
at conferences. There are very few jobs in the world where
all one has to do is conduct research and write about it,
and never have to tell anyone else what one has found. Communication
skills--both writing and speaking--may be the most important
skills students should be learning in college.
Finally, publishing or
presenting one's research provides the added benefit that
it looks good to potential employers and graduate schools.
Patricia Keith-Spiegel (1991) surveyed psychology graduate
school admissions committees on what they were looking for
in candidates. She concluded that "research experience--as
a research assistant or, even more so, work on a project that
resulted in an authorship credit on a paper presentation or
article published in a scholarly journal--is extremely impressive
in applicants to both scientific and traditional clinical
programs" (p. 86).
Costs and Cautions
In addition to the benefits
of "doing something" with a project after it is
completed, there are also some costs that one should consider,
or at least cautions one should take. First, not every paper
will--or should--be published. In fact, not all "A"
papers will get published. This is not just because the standards
of publication are so much higher than the standards in a
course; it is because the standards are also different. Research
papers are typically graded on a number of criteria, including
writing style, the development of logical hypotheses, appropriate
statistical analyses, clear discussion of both the contributions
and limitations of the study, etc. These criteria are also
important to a journal editor. But journals also look at the
significance of the results. Journals expect a contribution
to the literature, and nonsignificant results are typically
not a big contribution in their eyes. This is no fault of
the researcher; it is simply that there is a limited amount
of space available to publish the results of research, and
the competition for that space is high. In addition, life
is not always fair. Rejection rates are high for psychology
journals, often between 50% to 90%.
A second consideration
before the decision to pursue publication is whether one has
the time to put into publishing it. The time it takes to get
a paper into publishable shape is always longer than is anticipated.
After that, there is typically several months of waiting to
hear back from the publisher whether the paper was accepted.
Even if it is accepted, it is rarely accepted without requests
for further revisions.
If the decision is to
pursue publication or presentation, there are several options.
I have categorized the possible outlets for student research
into four groups, including the advantages and disadvantages
of each, and references for specific outlets within each of
these four categories.
look great on a resume; they really impress graduate schools.
But they also have high rejection rates. One question is,
which journal? Journals in Psychology (1997), published
by the APA, was developed to address this concern. It contains
entries for over 300 journals, including publisher, editor,
editorial policy, notes on submissions, number of subscribers,
acceptable articles, and rejection rate.
By the way, authors cannot
submit a paper to two journals simultaneously. Authors can,
however, submit a paper to a second journal after being rejected
by the first journal. Also, a paper can be submitted to a
journal after presenting it first at a conference. Many researchers
present their papers at a conference first, get feedback and
suggestions there, and then submit the paper to a journal.
Presenting at professional
conferences has the same advantage as professional journals--it
looks very good on a resume. Additionally, acceptance rates
are much higher for conferences than they are for journals,
and the wait to find out whether the research was accepted
is not as long. Most regional and national meetings are listed
in Eye on Psi Chi (see page 37 of this issue), and
each month in American Psychologist, APA Monitor,
and APS Observer. These meetings are also listed
on the Psi Chi website (www.psichi.org/content/conventions/reg_conv.asp),
along with information on student paper competitions at regional
and national meetings.
Student journals are typically
published to provide a forum for student research. Although
these are not quite as prestigious as other journals, they
do have higher acceptance rates, and they still look very
good on a resume and application. Division 2 of the APA (Teaching
of Psychology) has a website that lists these journals (www.lemoyne.edu/OTRP/otrpresources/otrp_undergrad.html).
One of the journals listed there is the Psi Chi Journal
of Undergraduate Research (see the Psi Chi website, www.psichi.org,
for information about the Psi Chi Journal).
Finally, there are student
conferences. This may not be the most prestigious of the options,
but may be the best option for many student papers. First,
it has a higher acceptance rate than the other options. Second,
any sign of research is looked upon favorably by admissions
committees. And third, it is energizing to present with and
to students who are in similar situations as oneself.
conferences were designed expressly to give students a chance
to report their work (Palladino, Carsrud, Hulicka, & Benjamin,
1982). Typical undergraduate psychology research conferences
cover just a few states (or less) and range from quite small
(e.g., 15 presentations altogether) to very large (e.g., 250
presentations). Virtually all require that a faculty member
sponsor the student's paper. In most conferences, a panel
of judges rates the submissions, and the best ones are selected
for the final program. Faculty members serve as moderators
for panels of 15-minute student presentations on related topics,
and presentations typically report on empirical research,
although some conferences also accept theoretical papers.
Many of the presentations come from class projects and independent
study efforts. Conferences often have a featured speaker and
a group meal or general social event (Carsrud, Palladino,
Tanke, Aubrecht, & Huber, 1984; Keith-Spiegel, 1991).
Many of the undergraduate research conferences are listed
annually in Teaching of Psychology (the journal published
by Division 2) and on the Psi Chi website (www.psichi.org/content/conventions/other_conv.asp),
which is updated regularly.
Finally, one's own college
or university may provide--or wish to develop--local meetings
to showcase meritorious student work. Psychology departments
may put together an annual student research presentation meeting,
complete with a guest speaker or faculty-led symposium.
Whatever the decision is regarding whether to pursue publishing
or presenting a paper, the first person students should talk
with is their instructor or faculty advisor. If the advice
is to pursue publication or presentation, there are still
many more decisions to be made concerning where the paper
should be submitted, what changes need to be made, and how
authorship credit should be assigned. On the other hand, the
advice might be to not pursue publication or presentation.
Undergraduate--and sometimes graduate--research papers are
often conducted with time limits and are typically the first
attempts at research. In research, we call those pilot studies.
Research that is not published might still be a good starting
point for an independent study the next semester to do it
"right" the next time.
American Psychological Association (1997).
Journals in psychology: A resource listing for authors
(5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Carsrud, A. L., Palladino, J. J., Tanke, E.
D., Aubrecht, L., & Huber, R. J. (1984). Undergraduate
psychology research conferences: Goals, policies, and procedures.
Teaching of Psychology, 11, 141-145.
Keith-Spiegel, P. (1991). The complete
guide to graduate school admission: Psychology and related
fields. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Palladino, J. J., Carsrud, A. L., Hulicka,
I. M., & Benjamin, L. T. (1982). Undergraduate research
in psychology: Assessment and directions. Teaching of
Psychology, 9, 71-74.
Author note. An earlier version of this paper was
presented in a Psi Chi panel, "Encouraging Student Research,"
at the 70th annual meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association
in Providence, R.I., in April 1999.
Correspondence concerning this
article may be addressed to: Jack Powell, Department of Psychology,
University of Hartford, West Hartford, CT 06117-1599. E-mail
may be sent to [email protected].
THE AUTHOR: Jack Powell, PhD, is an associate
professor of psychology and cochair of the Psychology Department
at the University of Hartford, where he has served as a faculty
member since 1989. He attended Oxford University in 1979-80,
and received his BA in philosophy and psychology in 1981 from
William Jewell College. He received his MA and PhD in general
experimental psychology from the University of Missouri-St.
Louis in 1983 and 1987, respectively.
His main research and teaching interests
are in the area of social psychology, in which he has published
a number of articles, primarily concerning judgment and decision
making. Most recently he has explored such topics as how individuals
often critically judge persons with HIV/AIDS, and how individuals
are self-serving in the majority of their perceptions of themselves,
but highly self-critical when it comes to judgments of their
own bodies and appearance. Dr. Powell is also a research associate
with the Center for Social Research at the University of Hartford,
where he conducts evaluation studies on various community
programs. His recent research in this area includes several
studies evaluating programs designed to prevent child abuse
and neglect in the state of Connecticut.