Undergraduate Research Assistantship Scheme 2015

Ella Rhodes hears from some past recipients of the British Psychological Society funding.

Twelve undergraduate psychology students have been funded to carry out summer research placements this year. The Society’s Undergraduate Research Assistantship Scheme (RA) aims to give up-and-coming researchers real experience of academia as well as training and career development support.

The students will carry out their research between their second and third year of study in a hugely diverse range of projects. Among those who have been awarded the funding this year are Lorna Philips (University of Liverpool), whose supervisor Catrin Eames told us about their research looking into mindfulness-based interventions in health service settings.

Dr Eames said these interventions have been identified as having the potential to improve wellbeing in a cost-effective way. She added: ‘Evidence suggests that service provision within the UK health service falls short of the UK national guidance, with a provision gap in terms of availability of trainers and increasing demand for services.’ Their study will use a cross-sectional online survey design to explore the provision and capacity of mindfulness-based interventions in the UK.

Lorna will undertake all aspects of the study and will be trained in the Society’s ethical procedures as well as ethical practice for psychological research online in terms of consent, anonymisation and procedures for withdrawal. She will also develop study measures, collate data and develop data management skills, and analyse the results. Lorna said: ‘I have just completed my second year and hope to work towards obtaining a PhD relating to clinical psychology following my degree. Clinical psychology is something I have been passionate about throughout my academic studies; I am fascinated by the power of the mind and the strong influence it has over an individual’s wellbeing. As a result, my goal is to be part of a field of research that is focused on changing lives and helping individuals who struggle with mental distress.’

Stephen Gibson (York St John University) and student Rachael Booth will be spending the summer carrying out a discourse analysis of broadcast media coverage of UKIP during this year’s general election. Dr Gibson said: ‘The project follows a long line of analyses of political discourse,’ adding: ‘The novelty here arises from the rise of UKIP representing what many commentators have suggested is a “hardening” of attitudes in relation to immigration in recent years. There have been some fascinating studies of the rise of UKIP by political scientists, such as Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin’s Revolt on the Right, but few attempts to use the tools of social psychological discourse analysis to explore how the party has positioned itself.’

Gibson explained that discourse analysis was a broad term for a number of approaches to the analysis of language-in-use. He added: ‘This [project] will entail a close attention to the way in which UKIP politicians use language in order to present themselves and their party as reasonable, rational and tolerant. It will also seek to situate this analysis within a broader understanding of the cultural and ideological themes on which UKIP’s representatives in the election debates draw.’

Rachael will receive training in transcription and discourse analysis during the project, and will have opportunities to be involved in the analysis of the data and the writing up of the project findings. She told The Psychologist: ‘My interest in qualitative research was sparked during first year, in lectures covering qualitative research methods. During second year we completed a module in social psychology which covered immigration discourse. This sparked my passion to engage in the current research as I found the assignment and the lectures so interesting.’

Dr Alexandra Kent (University of Keele) is undertaking a project ‘999 Police call openings: Asking for help and assessing urgency’ with her student Chloe Waterman. Chloe said she was still undecided as to whether to go down a research or psychotherapy career path, adding: ‘In either direction though, I want to instigate change and help people, whether that be directly with clients and patients or indirectly through the advisory role of social research, with my preference being in discursive psychology and, in particular, given my current experience, working with charities or public service providers.’

Chloe has previously worked with Kent using data from the NSPCC helpline. She said: ‘My other field of study is English and I have always leant towards a more qualitative approach to psychology. I have also found myself wanting to find ways to make more instructive change and I see research as a way to do this.’

We also heard from some of the students who were given funding under last year’s Undergraduate Research Assistantship Scheme, about the progress they have made since their projects. Fatima Tresh (Kent University) looked into gender biases in recognising leadership potential in job candidates, which, she said, laid the foundation for her final-year project and application for postgraduate funding. ‘The scheme gave me a head start in a research project that I am incredibly passionate about, and gave me a huge advantage in the highly competitive postgraduate funding application process. I am confident that being awarded the BPS RA was a major contributor to receiving my ESRC 1+3 funding for master’s and PhD and I highly recommend applying for anyone who wishes to pursue an academic career.’

Another of last year’s recipients, Katie Thompson (Leeds University), said she had gained much more from the experience than she expected. Her project looked in to how prior outcomes from a gambling task can influence decision-making behaviour in a subsequent gambling task. Recipients of the award are able to present a poster at the Society’s Annual Conference, and Katie said this had been an amazing experience. ‘During my degree my focus shifted from learning and exploring areas of interest to obtaining good grades. However, when I attended the conference I was delighted to hear about the various areas of psychology academics were pursuing research in, and the encouraging and friendly environment renewed my excitement about psychological research.’

During her project last year Rachel Smith (University of Liverpool) looked into whether body weight predicts memory for food advertisements and food intake after exposure. She has since obtained a PhD Scholarship in the Early Start Facility at the University of Wollongong in Australia, to start this July. ‘I believe that without the opportunity from the BPS I would not have possessed the experience needed, nor the initial desire to apply for a PhD, so for that I am truly thankful. I would recommend that every one who has the opportunity considers the scheme because it really benefited me and gave me a fantastic insight into psychological research.’

To apply for the Society’s RA scheme, which is available for up to 12 people each year, the proposed research must give undergraduate students real benefits as well as tangible training and career development support. The awards last for between six to eight weeks and will usually be completed in the summer break before the beginning of the final year of study.

For an application form and further information on eligibility criteria and the application process, e-mail Carl Bourton on [email protected]. The 2016 award opens for applications in November.

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