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Student Views on the Value of Undergraduate Presentations

Reprinted with permission of Psi Chi Honor Society.

Student Views on the Value of Undergraduate Presentations

Dennis P. Carmody, PhD
Psi Chi Eastern Regional Vice-President
Saint Peter's College

Psi Chi was founded to advance the science of psychology and to encourage, stimulate, and maintain excellence in scholarship. To that end, Psi Chi serves two major goals, the first to recognize academic excellence, and the second to develop a climate for creative development. Encouragement of student research is a method of achieving the goals and mission of Psi Chi. Chapters provide programs to augment and enhance the traditional curriculum. The regional and national conventions where members present their work and interact with others provide a sample of the practical experience expected of professional psychologists. In support of investigating the effects of the programs, Psi Chi established the Thelma Hunt Research Award in 1996 ("Psi Chi Announces Two New Award Programs," 1996). The award was designed to advance the professional development of members, to encourage active involvement among members, to use behavioral research to address policy questions, and to stimulate research-based reports for Psi Chi publications. One question posed by the National Council at the 1996 midwinter meeting concerned the tangible impact of student presentations on student researchers. How does the experience of presentation influence excellence in scholarship and development? This report describes the findings of a survey supported by a 1997 Thelma Hunt search Award.

      To answer the question, several groups of Psi Chi members were surveyed in 1997. Alumni were randomly selected from the mailing lists of two chapters.1 Over 120 surveys were sent in March; 36 alumni returned completed forms. Undergraduate and graduate samples were drawn from the student presenters at the regional meetings of the Eastern Psychological Association in Washington, D.C., in April, and at the 25th Annual Hunter College Psychology Convention in New York in May. Surveys were distributed to 65 presenters; 37 returned the surveys by mail. On-site samples were drawn from the national meetings of the American Psychological Society in Washington, D.C., in May and the American Psychological Association in Chicago in August. Surveys were distributed to 32 presenters; 22 of these surveys were returned. Undergraduates who attended Psi Chi events as members of the audience completed and returned surveys on site; the 32 surveys returned by audience members represented a group of nonpresenters-. Of the total 249 members contacted, 127 returned the survey (52%).

      The survey form was a single sheet with four sections. Respondents completed demographic information including year of graduation from an undergraduate program; membership in Psi Chi (graduate or undergraduate); whether graduate school was considered, entered, and completed; employment status; and presentation experience. For the respondents who had presented, 10 questions were asked: seven were checklists of options, and three were open-ended questions on what was learned, and the respondents' regrets and gains from the experience. For the respondents who never presented, six questions were asked, with no-yes format, on the opportunities available for presentation experience. All respondents were asked to complete the fourth part of the survey in which ratings on a 4-point scale were assigned to statements on the value of undergraduate research, the role of the advisor, and the effect of presentations on the presenter. Respondents were given options to obtain a copy of the results, either by providing their name and address on a separate post card, by sending an e-mail message, or by reading the results in Eye on Psi Chi.

      Returns have provided several descriptions of the profiles of presenters and nonpresenters. Among the alumni, 44% had presented a poster or paper at a conference as an undergraduate. In review of the 36 alumni with completed surveys, differences were observed in the distributions of careers for presenters and nonpresenters. For example, 75% of the respondents working as psychologists did present as undergraduates. In contrast, 75% of the respondents working as social workers and counselors and 89% of the respondents working in administration and business were nonpresenters. Graduate school was a major goal for all presenters and 96% of the nonpresenters. In fact, among alumni, 93% of the presenters and 82% of the nonpresenters had entered graduate school.

      The 76 presenters with completed surveys (16 alumni and 60 undergraduates) answered several questions concerning their motives to conduct research and the source of their ideas. The options most frequently endorsed for the source of their research were courses in independent study (61%), psychology (38%), honors (24%), and research methods (14%). When asked to identify who inspired them to conduct research, endorsements were course instructors (56%), self-motivation (55%), mentors (33%), and fellow students (14%). Presenters indicated that the reasons they presented were personal challenge (89%), graduate school (76%), encouragement from a professor (59%), and career (34%). Presenters were asked to reflect on their feelings at the time of their first presentation. Feelings before the presentation of excitement, tension, worry, and calmness were followed after the event by relief, excitement, calmness, and surprise as shown in Figure 1.

      Presenters had several considerations immediately following their presentation: to present again (86%), a further commitment to psychology (72%), never to present again (4%), and to change careers (3%). No one indicated they would leave psychology in the short term. Long-term impact included other presentations (50%), meeting new contacts (43%), new opportunities (37%), graduate school (36%), and a career in psychology (34%). Some reported considering leaving psychology long after the experience of presenting (3%).

      In open-ended questions, presenters reflected on their gains and regrets from the experience of public presentation. Two main dimensions emerged from a review of the statements, one concerning a sense of accomplishment and self-efficacy, and the second the pleasure that their work was accepted and valued by a receptive audience. Table 1 presents many of the free-response statements. Some presenters regretted not preparing sufficiently for the presentation or for the questions following the presentation (7%), and others indicated the experience of preparation was pressured and stressful (3%). Other respondents regretted presenting a poster rather than a paper; two presenters indicated there was little interaction from the audience at the session and that the session was not well attended. One presenter regretted not starting research work earlier in their academic career.

      For those who did not present, 82% of the alumni and 53% of the undergraduates indicated they never considered presenting their research. When asked if a professor encouraged them, 41% of the alumni and 53% of the undergraduates indicated yes. No one indicated that a professor discouraged them. About one half of the alumni and one third of the undergraduates attended conferences, and one third did observe other students present. Finally, 47% of the alumni and 56% of the undergraduates wish they had presented.

      The survey included 15 statements focused on three dimensions: (a) going beyond coursework to present undergraduate research; (b) the role of the faculty member; (c) the overall effect of undergraduate presentations. All respondents rated the dimensions on a 4-point scale ranging from disagree strongly to agree strongly. A multivariate analysis was applied to the 15 ratings using the two independent variables of Alumni Status (alumni vs. current undergraduates) and Experience (did vs. did not present). The overall effects were significant for the variable of Experience (F = 2.329, p = .009) but not for Alumni status or the interaction of the two variables (p > .05). The analysis included 101 respondents who were inducted into Psi Chi as undergraduates and who answered all questions in the fourth section of the survey. All groups strongly agreed that presentations helped to advance one's career and increase one's skills. Presenters agreed more strongly than nonpresenters that going beyond coursework was fun and promoted personal growth. While all groups strongly endorsed the statement "Faculty should be a sounding board for interested students," all groups strongly disagreed with statements that "Faculty should not encourage students but leave them alone" and "Faculty should discourage students from the stress of presentations." Among the Alumni group, presenters differed from nonpresenters in their ratings for the role of the faculty advisor. While Alumni nonpresenters preferred faculty to work actively with students, Alumni presenters preferred faculty to encourage students to work on their own. In terms of the overall effect of undergraduate presentations, all groups strongly endorsed "personal satisfaction" and agreed slightly with the effect of "career success." All groups were neutral on the effects of "better chance at graduate school admission" and "better chance at graduate student financial assistance." However, presenters had lower ratings than nonpresenters of "higher grades" as an effect. Apparently, for those who did not present, the impression is that higher grades are a result.

      How do the findings of the survey address the question of the effectiveness of the experience of public presentation in meeting the goals and mission of Psi Chi? Articles appearing in Psi Chi literature, including the quarterly publication Psi Chi Newsletter, replaced in fall 1996 by Eye on Psi Chi, have continually endorsed student participation in conferences and research. Messages from the presidents of Psi Chi over the past several years have stressed the importance of the presentation experience in personal and professional development (Davis, 1995; Dutch, 1992; Horvat, 1994; Jackson, 1997; Jalbert, 1996; Lubin, 1993). Undergraduate students in psychology have been informed that student research is one component of a well-balanced application to graduate study (Schumacher, 1994; Takooshian, 1993). Faculty members are also aware of the richness of collaborative research with undergraduates (Davis, 1995). Recommendations have been offered on how to foster and recognize student excellence in research (Bockert & Newman, 1995; Newman, 1995) including the hosting of conferences designed to highlight student presentations (Levine, 1993). Preparation for the graduate admissions interview is enhanced by the experience of presentation of one's own work (Horvat, 1994; Jackson, 1997; Jalbert, 1994, 1996). The ability to take command of a topic and present the material at an appropriate level may be a determining factor in admission to a program as well as receipt of financial support for graduate training (Carmody, 1996; Takooshian, 1992). The value of conducting original research is stressed as a method of enriching the teaching of college courses (Takooshian, 1990), and plans to choose an advisor and follow through on delivery of the findings of research have been offered (Davis, 1995; Takooshian, 1993).

      Based on the findings of the survey, it is evident that Psi Chi members are committed to the profession of psychology. Over 90% of the presenters and over 80% of nonpresenters have entered graduate school, an indication of the continued interest of our members in academic excellence. Courses in psychology continue to be a source of research ideas, and faculty continue to be a major inspiration to initiate student research. Students relish encouragement by faculty and wish to have faculty attention during the course of undergraduate research. Students are motivated to conduct research by personal challenge, personal commitment, and preparation for graduate school rather than by the expectancy of higher grades and enhanced acceptance into graduate programs or financial assistance. Personal growth is a major outcome of the experience as confirmed by the many statements of a sense of accomplishment and self-efficacy and by the pleasure that the work was accepted and valued by a professional audience. A desire to present again was confirmed by a large majority of respondents.Psi Chi continues to be a major supporter of student research with the sponsorship of programs that highlight student paper and poster sessions at regional and national meetings, and with granting awards for research excellence (Newman, 1995). For example, the Edwin B. Newman Award for Graduate Research, the J. P. Guilford Awards for Undergraduate Research, the Allyn and Bacon Awards, the Regional Research Awards, and the Undergraduate Research Grant Program continue to provide national recognition for excellence in scholarship, an effort most recently endorsed by Jackson (1997). With the addition of the Thelma Hunt Research Award, Psi Chi continues to provide funds to initiate projects for faculty and students and to recognize the contributions of members who exemplify academic excellence ("Psi Chi Announces Two New Award Programs," 1996). Based on student views of the value of the experience, the programs developed by Psi Chi have been successful in the achievement of the goals of creative development of our members and recognition of academic excellence.

References

Bockert, D. P., & Newman, S. E. (1995, Summer). Fostering and recognizing student excellence in research: Part two. Psi Chi Newsletter, 21(3), 6-7.

Carmody, D. P. (1996, Spring). From classroom research to presentation. Psi Chi Newsletter, 22(2), 6-7.

Davis, S. F. (1995, Spring). Convention season, Psi Chi, and you. Psi Chi Newsletter, 21(2), 1, 11.

Davis, S. F. (1995, Summer). The value of collaborative scholarship with undergraduates. Psi Chi Newsletter, 21(3), 1, 12-13.

Dutch, S. E. (1992, Winter). Message of the president: Things to do in '92. Psi Chi Newsletter, 18(1), 1, 28.

Horvat, J. J. (1994, Winter). Message of the president. Psi Chi Newsletter, 20(1), 1, 3.

Horvat, J. J. (1994, Summer). So, you didn't get accepted into graduate school--now what? Psi Chi Newsletter, 20(3), 1, 28.

Jackson, K. A. (1997, Winter). Building upon Psi Chi's strong foundation. Eye on Psi Chi, 1(2), 64.

Jackson, K. A. (1997, Spring). Following a dream. Eye on Psi Chi, 1(3), 64.

Jackson, K. A. (1997, Summer). Accomplishing our purpose. Eye on Psi Chi, 1(4), 64, 62-63.

Jalbert, N. L. (1994, Spring). How to get into graduate school. Psi Chi Newsletter, 20(2), 6-7.

Jalbert, N. L. (1996, Spring). Yet another formula for successful graduate school application in psychology. Psi Chi Newsletter, 22(2), 1, 4.

Jalbert, N. L. (1996, Fall). Psi Chi should be more than one line on your resume. Eye on Psi Chi, 1(1), 64.

Levine, J. C. (1993, Fall). Building upon our solid foundation. Psi Chi Newsletter, 19(4), 8-10.

Lubin, B. (1993, Winter). Message of the president. Psi Chi Newsletter, 19(1), 1.

Lubin, B. (1993, Summer). Message of the president. Psi Chi Newsletter, 19(3), 1, 34.

Newman, S. E. (1995, Spring). Fostering and recognizing student excellence in research: One aspect of the Psi Chi mission. Psi Chi Newsletter, 21(2), 4.Psi Chi announces two new award programs.(1996, Spring). Psi Chi Newsletter, 22(2), 1, 16.

Schumacher, S. J. (1994, Fall). A suggested plan of action for graduate school admission. Psi Chi Newsletter, 20(4), 11-13.

Takooshian, H. (1990). Teaching, research, and the question of interaction. New York State Psychologist, 41(4), 44-45.

Takooshian, H. (1992, Summer). Psi Chi advising: Five suggestions. Psi Chi Newsletter, 18(3), 4-5.

Takooshian, H. (1993, Spring). Involving students in report-worthy research. Psi Chi Newsletter, 19(2), 4-5.

Footnote

1The Psi Chi chapter at Fordham University, Lincoln Center was founded in 1983, and the chapter at Saint Peter's College was founded in 1985. Alumni represent persons who graduated during the years 1982-96. The survey included approximately a 25% sampling of the 360 Fordham alumni and 85 Saint Peter's College alumni members of Psi Chi.

_______________

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dennis P. Carmody, PhD, Psi Chi's Eastern Regional Vice-President, is professor of psychology at Saint Peter's College in Jersey City, N.J., where he helped found the Psi Chi chapter and served as the faculty adviosr until 1996. Dr. Carmody is particularly well-versed in the topic of this Hunt Award research--he has sponsored over 50 student presentations at local, regional, and national meetings. The recipient of numerous awards, Dr. Carmody was most recently honored as the winner of the 1997 Psi Chi/Florence L. Denmark National Faculty Advisor Award.
   Dr. Carmody received his PhD from Temple University in 1980. Over the past 20 years, he has conducted research on eye movements, vision, and medical decision making at four medical centers and hospitals. His most recent research interests include developmental disabilities in school settings, optometric intervention in children with autism, and neurofeedback intervention in children with ADD.
   A licensed psychologist in New York, he lives with his wife Deborah in New Jersey and spends free time scuba diving off Long Island and New Jersey and keeping a 1956 DeSoto on the road.

Author note

Special thanks to the Awards Committee of Psi Chi for support of this research through a 1997 Thelma Hunt Research Award and to the alumni and students who participated in the survey.

   Address all correspondence concerning this article to
   Dennis P. Carmody, PhD
   Department of Psychology
   Saint Peter's College, Jersey City, NJ 07306
   telephone: (201) 915-9418;
   fax: (201) 332-7826
   e-mail: carmody_d@spcvxa.spc.edu
   web page: www.spc.edu/~carmody_d/psichi.html

TABLE 1

Open Comments From Student Presenters

Remarks concerning personal gains

  • improved self-confidence (12%)
  • a sense of accomplishment (7%)
  • experience proved their courage and skills (7%)
  • personal growth (5%)
  • improved self-esteem (3%)
  • pride (3%)
  • overcame insecurities especially about public speaking
  • self-empowerment
  • surprised at their own abilities
  • indicated they had initially underestimated their own abilities
  • additional effort was worthwhile and beneficial

Remarks concerning social gains

  • pleasure in sharing research with a receptive audience (14%)
  • pleased their work was valued (12%)
  • presentation served as a stepping stone to a career (3%)
  • learned that research is important and exciting
  • furthered their commitment to psychology
  • recognition of their ability to work as a teacher and researcher