Doing Collaborative Research in Psychology: A Team-Based Guide

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Jerusha B. Detweiler-Bedell & Brian Detweiler-Bedell

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    To our children–Rory, Roan, and Coriander

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    Foreword: Engaging Students’ Curiosity as Research Creators

    PhilipZimbardo

    In education there is a striking difference between the consumers and the creators of knowledge. Most students are cast in the role of consumers. They consume the facts, ideas, theories, and values handed down to them by their expert elders, and they ask, “What does it all mean?” By contrast, individuals who create knowledge reshuffle existing information in order to explore the unknown. They ask, “What if this idea or theory were changed?”

    A similar distinction all too often separates liberal arts colleges from research universities. University professors are the creators. They focus on designing research paradigms that will generate new knowledge, and they avoid teaching undergraduates because teaching takes time away from their research. Meanwhile, liberal arts professors are accomplished teachers who work closely with undergraduates. They pass on to students the knowledge and evidence created by their colleagues at research universities.

    These traditional distinctions have always been flawed, and they need to be abandoned. Each of us should consume as much knowledge as possible and aspire to be effective teachers, and we should be endlessly curious about exploring new realms of ideas and creating new knowledge. This applies as much to undergraduates as to anyone else. Indeed, what is wonderful about psychology, and the social sciences in general, is the endless variety of unanswered questions that can be investigated by students even at the very start of their academic journeys. But recasting undergraduates in the role of knowledge creators requires a new tradition of teaching and learning. The key, as Jerusha and Brian Detweiler-Bedell advocate in this new guide to team-based research, is for professors to organize bright, motivated students into effective research groups.

    I have valued such learning–doing collaborations ever since I was an undergraduate researcher, whose first original study emerged from an urban sociology course at Brooklyn College. Growing up in New York's South Bronx ghetto, I was aware of the confrontations between incoming Puerto Ricans and the African Americans who had lived in the neighborhood for many years. So I organized a small research team of fellow students to do extensive interviews of members of these groups, and I published our findings while I was still an undergraduate in the sociology journal Alpha Kappa Delta.

    Later, as a graduate student instructor at Yale, I insisted that each of the 25 students in my introductory psychology course do an original study. Most of them ended up doing studies at their daddies’ corporations, but one team helped me do a fascinating study of shoeness. Shoe was the quality of everything cool at Yale, especially the style of clothing considered “in” among the all-male Yalies at the time. We had seniors rate items of clothing according to how shoe they were, then my team raided the dorms and gave a summary shoe rating to each student's wardrobe. We found that prep school freshmen were much more shoe than their public school classmates, but this divergence shrank until, by senior year, everyone was Yale Shoe True Blue—perfectly cool, perfectly acculturated.

    Then came my forty-plus years at Stanford, where the students were blazing with smarts and boundless energy that only needed to be focused on the excitement of doing research. I admit, I get excited about too much, but each “much” ends up as a research program, typically in collaboration with a team of undergraduate honors students and graduate students. These teams worked with me in developing research programs on time perspective, shyness, the cognitive and social bases of madness, and that oldie but goodie, the Stanford Prison Experiment. Through it all, my undergraduates were not simply research assistants. They were my collaborators, and I took their ideas seriously. The prison experiment grew out of a class project conceived by undergraduate student David Jaffe, who played a central role as the warden of our Stanford County Prison and coauthored the original articles reporting the study. Similarly, Bob Norwood's in-class question stimulated my pioneering research on shyness in adults. Bob, a shy student himself, helped me develop this line of research and coauthored the project's Psychology Today article.

    The bottom line for me, and my message to my colleagues everywhere, is to inspire inquiry and curiosity in undergraduate students, while also empowering them to be active creators of knowledge and understanding. Some of these students will go on to an academic career in psychology, but many others will translate the lessons of psychology and their experience as creators into inspired accomplishments in a host of other fields and in their personal lives as well.

    Among the hundreds of students in my research teams and the thousands I taught in many different classes, two stood out as special. Jerusha Detweiler was the smartest kid in the class, smashing the uppermost grade barriers, and she was one of the most sensitive neophyte researchers I had encountered. Brian Bedell was a “do it right” and “do it all now” kind of guy who could organize any number of his peers into an effective research ensemble. So imagine what these two could do in collaboration! I did imagine it, and so I did everything I could to make this vision into a reality, into a permanent unity of the Detweiler-Bedells.

    And so here we have this guide to team-based research, one of the best labors of love that I have ever seen. It is written in an accessible, even charming style, filled with interesting material, exciting adventures for students and mentors, and a detailed exposition of how to get from a clueless here to clue-filled there. You will find that it covers all the essential steps in the research endeavor. Where do good ideas come from? How do you translate the curiosity of “What if?” into a testable hypothesis? How do you design a logically convincing study and then execute it in a way that stands up to the messy realities of implementing any research design? And how do you analyze the data generated by your research so that your findings provide meaningful evidence in support of equally meaningful conclusions? These steps culminate in the take-home message of your research, which you must preach to the world—not just to your choir. This means becoming a polished speaker and presenter. It also means writing up your research as a technical report, thesis, or poster for a conference, and ideally as an article for submission to a professional journal. This book will walk you through the process of making your oral presentations and write-ups accurate, meaningful, and interesting. In this way, your hard work can achieve the highest goal—of being memorable.

    What is so unique and special about this guidebook is that it spells out the how and why of organizing undergraduates into effective research teams, enabling students to share their energy, naive excitement, and dedication to the goal of creating new knowledge in ensembles of like-minded peers. Undergraduates are continually expanding their own intellectual boundaries, and working together in teams they have the ability to expand the available knowledge in our field, perhaps in unexpected ways. That is the lesson of this book. What more could a student, teacher, or reader of this extraordinary book want? Not much more—from my view as a former student, ancient teacher, and current reader of this very timely team-based guide.

    Preface

    When colleagues or friends ask what we enjoy most about our jobs as professors, the answer comes quickly and easily. The students. When we were undergraduates two decades ago at Stanford University, we had the great fortune of being mentored by professors who were passionate about the process of learning, not just about the content of their courses. They taught us that learning should be immersive and fun, and, above all else, they taught us that learning should be a collaborative endeavor. Within psychology, this type of learning happens when professors and students work together doing science. This means conducting research in the classroom and in the lab. Our professors at Stanford instilled in us the belief that undergraduates have amazing potential and can grow rapidly into promising researchers. Now that we are professors ourselves, we think of our students as our youngest, most vibrant colleagues, and these colleagues are the best part of our jobs.

    This spirit of collaboration is essential because psychological research is a team effort. As undergraduates, we worked closely with graduate students and their faculty advisers. Our regular team meetings ushered research projects from start to finish. During these meetings, each team member, including the undergraduates, had the ability to make key contributions to a project's success. Later, as doctoral students, we collaborated with one another. (Our marriage and children have been long-term side effects of what began as a purely academic relationship.) As we worked together, we reached up to faculty mentors and down to undergraduate assistants to help us pursue our lines of research. This team-based approach to research is the norm at larger universities, where professors, graduate students, postdoctoral students, and undergraduates all work together to conduct research. In such an environment, teams form naturally as people with different skills and different levels of experience and expertise interact.

    After we earned our doctorates, we found ourselves on a long drive from Connecticut to Oregon. We were about to begin our jobs as faculty members at Lewis & Clark College, a small, primarily undergraduate liberal arts institution. As we drove, our minds kept returning to our best experiences in learning and conducting research. In every case, these experiences were collaborative. The line between teaching and learning was often blurred, and the line between learning and research seemed artificial. Doing science was doing science, period. These musings led us to a clear vision of how we would involve undergraduates in collaborative research. We planned to do so systematically, engaging ourselves and our students in collaborative research both in the classroom and in our research lab. Together with our students, we wanted to own the ideas and questions of psychology.

    We have been pursuing this goal for more than 10 years. In classes ranging from Community Psychology to Advanced Statistics, we ask our students to work in teams in order to tackle challenging, real-world research questions. Similarly, in our lab, we have developed a laddered, team-based method of collaborating with our students. As we developed and refined this approach to teaching and learning, it became clear to us that our focus on teamwork and many of the skills we were teaching our students were not emphasized in standard research methods texts. Students should know what goes on behind the scenes of research. They should learn to work effectively with their peers and their professors, and they should develop a clear understanding of how to move a project from a vague set of ideas to a polished presentation of data. These skills require a concrete understanding of collaborative research. In other words, students master research only through doing it.

    This type of hands-on learning calls for careful guidance. Our goal in this book is to offer guidance to undergraduates who are actively involved in research, whether in their courses or in collaboration with faculty or graduate student mentors. The book is designed to lead students on an engaging journey through the process of conducting collaborative research. We emphasize an approach that promotes effective teamwork and reflects the collaborative nature of experimental psychology. Students will learn to work as a team to generate creative research ideas, design studies, recruit participants, collect and analyze data, write up results in APA style, and prepare and give formal research presentations. We conclude the book with something most undergraduates crave: a practical discussion of how they can market their research skills when they apply to jobs or graduate schools.

    Organization of the Text

    The book's first chapter introduces students to the virtues of team-based learning and teaching, and we emphasize three principles of effective collaboration that we revisit throughout the book: vision, togetherness, and ownership. After reading this first chapter, students can read Chapters 2 through 12 either sequentially or separately. Instructors and research mentors have the flexibility of assigning particular chapters that are most relevant to the current state of a research project or the content of a course. Regardless of the order in which the chapters are read, each chapter builds on the theme of how research is enhanced by effective teamwork, and we use examples from classic and contemporary research studies to bring research concepts to life.

    Chapter 2 focuses on creative idea generation, including step-by-step guidance on how to brainstorm effectively. Chapter 3 teaches students how to develop testable predictions by first grounding their ideas in relevant theories and research. This chapter includes many details about the nuts and bolts of successful literature searches using databases such as PsycINFO. In Chapter 4, we focus on ethical issues, paying particular attention to the use of human participants in research, and we provide detailed guidance on preparing an institutional review board application.

    Chapter 5 transitions to the concrete aspects of research design. This chapter focuses on translating predictions into elegant research methodologies and selecting or designing effective outcome measures. Chapter 6 offers a primer on statistics and data, highlighting how the best experimenters pay attention to what their data will look like during the design phase of a study, well before data collection ever begins. We then devote the entirety of Chapter 7 to something that is often overlooked in traditional research methods texts: piloting an experiment. Chapter 8 focuses on conducting a study and includes detailed discussions of recruiting and running participants.

    Chapter 9 transitions to advice on how to present research findings. In this chapter, we discuss research talks and poster presentations. We then devote Chapter 10 to the process of writing an APA-style paper, focusing on the importance of peer editing in addition to the mechanics of good writing. The book's two final chapters discuss how students can extend and make the most of their research experiences. In Chapter 11, we describe how a student can link his or her research interests with those of a faculty or graduate student mentor in order to develop and carry out a student-initiated project. Finally, in Chapter 12, we reflect on the many benefits of undergraduate research. We emphasize how much a student learns from and is shaped by a team-based research experience, and we describe how the benefits of such an experience generalize outside the research lab and well beyond college. We conclude the book by discussing how students can assess their experiences and market their skills to potential employers and graduate programs.

    Use of the Text in the Classroom and Research Laboratory

    We designed this text as a hands-on, explanatory guide to conducting research, with a focus on the skills needed to collaborate effectively. We cover many of the traditional topics of research methodology, but we also provide detailed advice, backed by numerous research findings, concerning the nuts and bolts of the research process. Moreover, we introduce students to the practical issues of day-to-day, team-based research. This emphasis on team-based research is unique, as is the assumption that students will be doing research while they are reading the book. In other words, we intend this guide to accompany students’ engagement in collaborative research, not precede it.

    This text is aimed at undergraduates taking basic and advanced courses in research methodology, as well as students enrolled in courses requiring independent or collaborative research theses. An equally ideal audience is the undergraduate research assistant or student collaborator who is working with a professor or a graduate student research mentor in a laboratory setting. It is a high-level text for first-year or second-year undergraduates, and it is particularly well suited to juniors and seniors. Although the text is written with the undergraduate psychology student in mind, it may be equally appealing to master's-level psychology students as well as students working toward degrees in health sciences, education, behavioral economics, experimental philosophy, or public health.

    In beginning and advanced psychology methodology courses for undergraduates, this text would be a supplement to a traditional research methods text. Likewise, it would be a supplementary text in lab courses in any of the subdisciplines of psychology (i.e., neuroscience, cognition, developmental, social, clinical). As a supplement, the text would play a central role as students design and conduct original experiments as part of their course work.

    In more advanced research courses such as independent research or honors research, instructors can rely on our book as a primary text. Alternatively, instructors can use it as a stand-alone text in career-oriented courses such as those focused on professional issues or careers in psychology. Faculty or graduate students who run research labs with undergraduate assistants will also find it useful as a stand-alone text because it quickly immerses students in the day-to-day practice of collaborative research.

    Throughout the book, we emphasize the skills needed to succeed as part of a research team, but it is important to note that “team” can be construed broadly as any type of research collaboration extending beyond a single individual. Indeed, the book is designed to help students and research mentors alike develop more effective collaborations with one another. In this vein, it also can be used in graduate-level teaching development courses, such as those concerning pedagogical issues in psychology, to give graduate students a template for mentoring undergraduates to be more effective research assistants.

    Pedagogical Features of the Text

    Unlike some traditional research methods texts, this book is purposely engaging and conversational in tone. Our goal is to treat the reader as if she or he were sitting in the classroom or laboratory with us. To enhance this experience and to make the text as useful as possible to students, we include the following pedagogical features:

    • Vivid, extended research examples drawn from classic and contemporary studies. Each chapter immerses students in compelling experiments that bring to life the key concepts and lessons of the book. We use these studies as thought-provoking points of entry for our undergraduate audience, and they help “lift the curtain” on the methodological issues we discuss. In selecting these research studies, we have drawn from a wide range of topics spanning the subdisciplines of psychology, and the studies discussed have unique features or challenges that underscore the advantages of team-based research.
    • Quick, key-lesson summaries at the beginning of each chapter. The feature “Seven Lessons (Plus or Minus Two)” prefaces each chapter, introducing the chapter's most important lessons in five to nine succinct, reader-friendly bullet points. This is intended to jump-start discussion among members of a research team so that they can set goals related to their research project. It also serves as a learning check for the student reader, as well as a discussion guide for the instructor or research mentor when the chapter's lessons are covered in class or in the lab.
    • Concrete tips, sample materials, and key sources indexed at the end of the text. We expect students to utilize many of the resources that we feature in the text, including websites, reference books, and hands-on materials (e.g., samples of an informed consent form, a peer editing sheet, a poster template, a job application cover letter). To facilitate easy access to these resources, we have indexed these resources in a feature called the “Researcher's Toolbox,” which appears as an appendix to the volume. Students can jump-start their collaborative research with the aid of this wide array of references and ready-to-use tools.

    Acknowledgments

    Writing this book has been a labor of love in many ways. Our shared love of teaching motivated and sustained us throughout the writing process. Likewise, our love of research and of seeing the research process through the eyes of our students made it a joy to develop the book's content and select the classic and contemporary research examples used throughout the text. And of course, our love and understanding of one another made this project possible in the first place and enabled us to take the idea for our book and shape it slowly over time into a reality. But just as with any endeavor worth pursuing, this book would not have been possible without the inspiration, support, ideas, and guidance we received from many individuals.

    First, we thank Sarita Sarak and our editors at SAGE for their invaluable advice. We also thank the reviewers who provided extensive feedback on the first draft of our manuscript: Steven A. Branstetter, Pennsylvania State University; Kristin Lane, Bard College; Stuart Marcovitch, University of North Carolina at Greensboro; Simon Moon, La Salle University; Melanie O'Neill, Vancouver Island University; Jean Pretz, Elizabethtown College; Eshkol Rafaeli, Barnard College, Columbia University; and Andrew Ward, Swarthmore College. We took your suggestions to heart and appreciated your encouragement. We also thank the National Science Foundation for generous support of our work under Grant No. 0737399, but we remind the reader that any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this book are our own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

    This book would not have been conceived, nor would we be the teachers we are today, without the mentoring we received from our own beloved professors. In particular, we thank David Rosenhan, Mark Lepper, Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Lee Ross, Al Bandura, Peter Salovey, Sheila Woody, Duane Wegener, and Mike Barnes. Special thanks go to our Introduction to Psychology professor, research mentor, and lifelong cheerleader, Phil Zimbardo. Even when he was half a world away hobnobbing with every who's who in the field, Phil provided continued support to this project, once e-mailing us after giving a talk to thousands of people to say he would “rather be with students at the local café.” This is precisely the spirit he instilled in us when we were his students. At heart, we still are those students and always will be.

    Next, we thank our own students, past and present, at Lewis & Clark College. Particular thanks go to Abigail Hazlett, who helped us compile the material for the original BHS lab manual; to Nicolia Eldred-Skemp, who worked with us when the idea of transforming our little lab manual into something more took shape; to Kelsey Domann-Scholz, who helped us with the many logistical hurdles we needed to clear to get the book's first draft completed; and to Emily Umansky, who provided us with the structure we needed to launch the writing process, enthusiastically jumped into the project again when we sought her help, and always seemed able to read our minds. We also thank the 2010–2011 Behavioral Health and Social Psychology research lab members, who devoted so much time to discussing what this book should include: Richie LeDonne, Corinne Innes, Dmitri Alvarado, Kelsey Domann-Scholz, Eli Klemperer, Emilie Sanchez, Amanda Hamilton, Stephanie Schwartz, Claire Beatus, Rachel Ludovise, Azalea Lewis, and Ashley Beck.

    To our other BHS labbies from 2001–2011, this project grew out of your hard work and the time you shared with us: Julia Boehm, Chris Murray, Alexa Reynolds Delbosc, Anisa Goforth, April Lapotré Hein, Lisa Williams, Casia Freitas, Devon D'Ewart, Kim Sackmann, Tom Armstrong, Talia Ullmann, Zoey Cronin, Liesl Beecher-Flad, Elena Welsh, Miya Barnett, Linnaea Schuttner, Shannon Brady, Jessica Johnson, Kerry Balaam, Mihana Diaz, Nicole Garrison, Caitlin Standish, Chelsea Heveran, Melia Tichenor, Laura Gadzik, Tess Gilbert, Amy Baugher, Brooks Fuentes, Katrina Liukko, Lauren Tracy, Maura Walsh, Pat MacDonald, Lauren Haisley, Natalie Chernus, Julie Robertson, Melanie Cohen, Clare Montgomery-Butler, Laurel Anderson, Alex Steahly-Jenkins, Clara Laurence, Hilary Gray, Peaches Baula, Danielle Fagre, Emily Wilson, Hannah Tierney, Allison Sweeney, Kelsey Chapple, and Peter Fisher.

    There are many others who inspired us throughout the writing process. We thank the graduate students who first mentored us when we were undergraduates: Andrew Ward, Tracy Mann, and Ronaldo Mendoza. We thank the undergraduates whom we first mentored when we were graduate students: Mike Shin and Brian Lizotte. We thank our peer mentors: the Null Set and many others who shared the classrooms of Kirkland and offices of SSS at Yale between 1995 and 2001. We thank our colleagues at Lewis & Clark, especially Kelly DelFatti, Jennifer LaBounty, Erik Nilsen, and the biologists across the hall. For sustaining us amidst our work, we thank Homa Bambechi, Sharon and our gym, caffeine, and the “penultimate hotel” where we completed the first draft of this book. And for giving us a life outside of work, we thank the usual suspects (Mark, Brooke, Rachel, Paul, Becko, Greg, Ana, and Peter), the coffeehouses and brewpubs of Portland, and the Oregon coast.

    Finally, we express our deepest gratitude to our family for being the ultimate source of meaning in our lives. Thanks to Mom and Dad Bedell for your unwavering support and unconditional love, along with Harry, Darren, Karen, Derrick, Alexandra, Anthony, Heidi, and Natalie. Thanks to Mom and Dad Detweiler for your support and love as well as your guidance and expertise as a fellow book writer (Mom) and psychology professor (Dad). Thanks to Natasha (who was always there not only for us but also for our kids), and to Carrick, Courtney, and Nola. And most of all, we thank our three precious children, Rory James, Roan Walker, and Coriander Carolyn, for the collective energy and joy you bring to our lives. We are so proud of and amazed by each of you. We can imagine no better product of our collaboration.

    About the Authors

    Jerusha B. Detweiler-Bedell is Associate Professor of Psychology at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. She received her B.A. and M.A. in psychology from Stanford University and her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Yale University. Her program of research brings together investigations of human decision making, health psychology, and clinical psychology, with the goal of promoting health behaviors by understanding why people fail to do “what's best” for their physical and mental well-being. She codirects the Behavioral Health and Social Psychology laboratory, where she conducts research with undergraduate student collaborators. The Detweiler-Bedells were awarded a National Science Foundation Course, Curriculum, & Laboratory Improvement (CCLI) grant in 2008 to further develop and disseminate their methods of mentoring undergraduates in research. Jerusha has coauthored a number of journal articles and the book Treatment Planning in Psychotherapy: Taking the Guesswork Out of Clinical Care. In 2008 she was named the United States Professor of the Year for Baccalaureate Colleges by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

    Brian Detweiler-Bedell is Associate Professor and Chair of Psychology at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. He received his B.A. and M.A. in psychology from Stanford University and his Ph.D. in social psychology from Yale University. His research examines the influence of emotion on social judgment and decision making. Together with Jerusha, Brian codirects the Behavioral Health and Social Psychology laboratory, which provides an immersive research experience to more than a dozen undergraduate student collaborators each year. In 2008 the Detweiler-Bedells were awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation for their project, Using Laddered Teams to Promote a Research Supportive Curriculum. Brian has authored a number of journal articles on emotion and decision making, and he recently served as director of Lewis & Clark College's Howard Hughes Medical Institute–funded undergraduate science education program, Collaborative Approaches to Undergraduate Science Education (CAUSE).

  • Appendix: Researcher's Toolbox


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