Projecting yourself Grace Lau links statistics to fashion, shopping, and dating.
ENJOY learning about psychology but find the statistics a struggle? Doing class projects would lighten things up by mixing the potentially scary statistics with the more interesting bits of psychology.
ENJOY learning about psychology but find the statistics a struggle? Doing class projects would lighten things up by mixing the potentially scary statistics with the more interesting bits of psychology.
Like many other students, I used to find statistics too abstract to be understandable and was convinced that statistics textbooks were written for aliens. However, from correlation to structural equation modelling, I managed to acquire in my undergraduate years substantial statistics knowledge and skills through doing projects for courses that interested me. Projects put statistics into a real research context; and if you are interested in the research questions, you will be excited by the data analyses that answer those questions.
I remember the first time I enjoyed doing ANOVA was when I did a project for my social psychology course. As a group of fashion-conscious youngsters, our group decided to study the impact of physical appearance on helping behaviours. We devised a field experiment in which an accomplice dressed either in a nice suit, stylish smart-casual, or a shabby t-shirt asked pedestrians to fill out a questionnaire for him. The process of data collection was fun (though somewhat embarrassing on the accomplice’s part) and that made us eager to analyse the data – even if it meant we needed to open the statistics textbook.
Given that project work was a core element in most of my modules, I was required to use a broad spectrum of methods and data-analysis techniques to answer different types of research questions related to different courses. These projects were very educational and some of them incredibly cool. For instance, as part of a psychological testing course, I and a few other shopoholics learned how to do a factor analysis by developing a scale that measures impulsive buying tendency; in an ergonomics course, I gained the knowledge of carrying out usability tests by asking friends to sign up for a dating website and pretend to look for a quick date online; and in a course about the psychology of interpersonal communications, our group content-analysed an episode of a movie which showed how a couple hinted nonverbally their want for sex.
In addition to providing extra chances to practise what you have learned in methodology and statistics classes, doing projects also enhances literature-review skills and develops critical thinking. The process of formulating hypotheses and interpreting results requires wide reading around the subject of interest, critical review of the literature, integration of knowledge, and creative thinking. The value of projects thus lies in its ability to give you first-hand experience to think and work like a real researcher.
Besides making learning an engaging experience, doing projects can also have important implications on students who are interested in a career in research. Projects equip students with knowledge and skills necessary for a budding researcher. In my case, doing projects prepared me to do more serious research for my undergraduate thesis, which was later presented in an international conference. Moreover, data collected for class projects were sometimes of such high quality that a paper based on those data would be publishable. And as you probably know already, a publication on your CV could make the difference between acceptance and rejection for a postgraduate place.
Doing projects not only consolidates your hard knowledge, but also improves critical thinking and perhaps most importantly, makes statistics fun! It was only when I encountered students who had not done any projects apart from those required by the methodology courses and the dissertation that I realised how much I benefited from project-based learning. So if you are one of those who are not yet benefiting as much as you can from your course, now you know what to put on the module evaluation form.

- Grace Lau is a postgraduate student at the Institute of Work, Health and Organisations, University of Nottingham.

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