Hi everyone! I’m Sophia. I’m in my second year studying Psychology at York, and in Vanbrugh College. In this blog, I aim to give you a useful insight into how York’s Psychology staff can support you in becoming an independent researcher. As a result, you’ll be in a strong position to review existing studies on a topic. You’ll go on to conduct your own research projects during your degree, in your areas of interest. I’ll also highlight how these skills can be really useful in your future career.
To be honest with you, I was a bit worried before I started at York about how good I’d be at doing my own research, because I’d never really done it before. There has been so much psychology research over the years, and researchers add to this everyday. It’s quite normal, therefore to feel a bit clueless at first. Where you’re supposed to look for sources for your work? And, how you know when you’ve found the right sort of thing?
However, right from the start, staff provide you with really useful information to begin properly conducting research.
Independent research in Years 1 and 2
Learning how to research
We had a session in Term 1 introducing all the university online resources, like YorSearch, the library catalogue. They showed how to use sites like Google Scholar, which I now rely on for every assignment. Honestly, it’s a lifesaver once you’re familiar with it!
From first term onwards, you’ll do various small assignments involving simple independent research, such as essays. For essays, you’ll summarise existing research on the topic, then answer the question based on the research. You’ll also write practical reports, describing a study you’ve run in class, what you found, and how this adds to existing research. These assignments are great for developing skills you may not have used much before. For example:
- reading research papers concisely (e.g. scanning the introduction and conclusion first)
- choosing papers which are the most relevant to your assignment and are also trustworthy
- describing studies you or others have done
Improving your skills through a mini project
Another key part of the course that will improve your independent research skills is the mini project. This group work project takes place at the end of Year 1. You pick a research question which interests the whole group. You’ll split up the project so you each have your own tasks involving independent research. But, you still have the support of the rest of the group, so you can help each other out and bounce ideas off each other. I found this particularly helpful project. My group suggested different ways to approach research tasks that I hadn’t considered at all before. I’ve actually gone on to keep using those approaches. The wonderful ‘cited by’ button in Google Scholar is a great example. It’s a super helpful shortcut for finding more papers related to a topic!
These tasks given to you are spread throughout 1st and 2nd year, meaning you have plenty of time to develop all of the skills really well, getting detailed feedback after every one. This helps you prepare well for your big 3rd year independent project. For this project, you pick a topic; research existing studies; then conduct your own research.
Why are these skills useful?
The independent research skills you’re taught will last you far beyond 3rd year though – they’ll be useful for a range of careers. Obviously, research skills have direct application in a research-based career (either in psychology or another field). Skills include:
- reading existing literature in the field
- seeing what’s already been shown and where the gaps are
- how to back up everything you claim with sources
But the skills are also applicable to a multitude of careers that aren’t research-based: for example, thinking critically about material you read, planning your time well, scanning through long documents to pick out the key information, etc.
Personally, I’m really interested in becoming an educational psychologist, or a primary school teacher specialising in SEN (special educational needs), so I’ll be able to use the skills I’ve developed to read reports more quickly, saving myself lots of time, and to find important information about different developmental disorders online by using my skills in identifying trustworthy sources and being familiar with online psychology journals.
So, there we go! Hopefully this has given you a good idea of the sorts of independent research projects you’d conduct on the York psychology course, and how Psychology staff supports you throughout to develop the skills you need to be able to do these projects really successfully. Thanks for reading!