The Researcher's Life
Jane Halonen, James Madison University and
Stephen F. Davis, Emporia State University
Research is a mental groping by starlight
towards the daylight of clearer vision.
It begins in the slow laborious search for facts in a narrow field.
As material accumulates, relations appear.
The mass ferments, and finally organizes itself
into the semblance of a new living idea.
--Harry Kirke Wolfe, May 29, 1918
Harry Kirke Wolfe founded his teaching career in psychology on the principle that the training of the mind would be served best by actively involving his students in psychological research. The consummate teacher, Wolfe clearly understood the interrelation between teaching and research, an emphasis we appreciatively emulate in this volume. It is the preparation of those individuals who choose the rewarding path of careers in psychological research (and those who will be teaching them) that we had in mind when we conceived the idea for this book. Therefore, we thought it would be helpful to bring together researchers of distinction to discuss the origin, development, and implementation of their own research ideas in the context of the current status of research in their specialized fields. The stories of their professional lives amply illustrate the process Wolfe described in the opening quotation.
Our primary audience for The Many Faces of Psychological Research in the 21st Century is the psychology student who is considering a career in research. Although both undergraduates and graduates should find this book quite valuable as a course text or a reference work, we think the book's most important value will be to serve as a source of inspiration and guidance in becoming involved in the research process. We carefully selected our chapter authors based on their current contributions to, and knowledge of, their respective specialty areas and their acknowledged expertise as teachers. The teacher-researcher combination resulted in chapters that we think are very readable and representative of contemporary research. As students strive to identify where their own potential can be expressed to maximum impact, we think this volume can assist in refining their choices, concentrating their energies, and enriching their repertoire of research strategies. The chapter authors not only offer advice and inspiration about specific fields of research within psychology, but they also serve as inspiring models in their own right for the contributions they have made to understanding behavior.
This book serves other secondary audiences as well. Our chapter authors provide a substantial resource for current, lecture-enhancing material for teachers of introductory psychology, who want their courses to reflect cutting-edge research. Although it is easy to envision this book becoming a staple in the teaching resources of graduate teaching assistants and neophyte faculty, teachers at all levels of experience can use this text to make their aging lecture notes more contemporary. As psychology continues to fragment and splinter, the need to acquire a general overview of the field becomes apparent; this book serves that function. Professionals who want to achieve an overview of research in the various areas of their discipline can also benefit from the researchers' stories.
Harry Kirke Wolfe's wisdom about the nature of science faithfully captures the excitement of the challenge of research in psychology. Our chapter authors have exhibited this willingness to grapple with mystery, careful observation skills, patience and discipline, creativity, and the insight to recognize a sound conclusion when it ultimately emerges from the chaos. Despite the difference in their areas of specialization, their common struggles to understand human behavior emerge from a complex evolution of psychological research.
A Brief History of Research in Psychology
Historians routinely point to 1879 as the birth of scientific psychology when Wilhelm Wundt began conducting original scientific research on mental processes in Leipzig, Germany (Goodwin, 1999; Schultz & Schultz, 1996). Wundt and his first American student, James McKeen Cattell, purposefully emulated the established natural sciences in their research practices, a pattern that was enthusiastically adopted by the early structural psychologists. However, not everyone understood why adherence to scientific methods was such an important aspect of the emerging science of psychology. Wolfe, Wundt's second American student to receive a PhD in psychology, attempted to clarify the intentions of psychology researchers and the nature of psychological research in a description that he wrote to the Nebraska Board of Regents in 1891. He acknowledged that psychology was having difficulty gaining recognition as a science. He drew attention to the essential role of experimentation in helping to establish psychology as equivalent to any other branch of experimental science. He suggested,
The measurement of the Quality, Quantity, and Time Relations of mental states
is as inspiring and as good discipline as the determination of, say the percent
of sugar in a beet or the variation of an electric current. The exact determination
of mental processes ought to be as good mental discipline as the exact determination
process taking place in matter.
(Benjamin, 1991, p. 43)
Wolfe committed his own research energies to exploring mental processes as psychology in America continued to define its boundaries and its practices. Psychologists were not content to devote themselves solely to human mental processes. There were new and different worlds to conquer. Reports of animal research began to appear in the literature. In 1901, W. S. Small published the initial report of rat maze learning and Norman Triplett described the development of learned helplessness in perch. Within a few decades, the study of animal learning and behavior would become an integral component of the field of psychology, spearheaded by behaviorists Clark Hull, E. C. Tolman, Edwin R. Guthrie, Kenneth Spence, and B. F. Skinner.
The lure of applying psychology to practical human problems began to capture the imagination of other psychologists whose concerns were decidedly pragmatic. Lightner Witmer established the first psychological clinic in Philadelphia in 1896, ushering into being the largest specialty area in psychology, a specialization that continues to flourish. The pioneering work of Walter Dill Scott and Hugo Munsterberg in the early 1900s established the new specialty of industrial/organizational psychology. The development of the Army Alpha and Army Beta tests during World War I created a different kind of beachhead for psychology. The success of those assessment tools created many new opportunities for applying psychology to real world problems.
The Contemporary Landscape of Psychological Research
Subsequent decades have witnessed an explosion of specialized research interests in psychology. The American Psychological Association identified through its divisional affiliation structure at least 50 research communities devoted to unlocking the mysteries that remain unsolved in their chosen areas of inquiry. These areas include such broad-ranging specialties as military psychology, peace psychology, pediatric psychology, psychology and law, teaching of psychology, experimental analysis of behavior, and community psychology, among others.
It isn't just the topic areas that have changed and broadened since Wolfe's passionate defense of psychology as legitimate science. Research technology has undergone impressive changes. Puzzle boxes and brass instruments gave way to electromechanical relay racks, which, in turn, were replaced by a dazzling array of computers and computer-related devices used to create experimental conditions and record responses. The advent of electronic databases for psychological research facilitated faster and more efficient literature reviews contributing to the exponential growth of research across specialized discipline areas and, ironically, compounding the problem of "staying current" in one's own burgeoning research area. At the outset of a new century, we are likely to continue to see changes in technology that will compound the advantages and increase the hazards.
In a more literal sense, the "faces" of psychologists have also changed. Many textbooks have written extensively about scientific psychology as a white, male enterprise. Thanks to the splendid scholarship of historians, such as Laurel Furumoto and Elizabeth Scarborough, psychology has rediscovered the invaluable contributions of psychology's "foremothers." The research contributions of pioneering women, such as Mary Calkins and Christine Ladd-Franklin, provide exciting information not just about research on human behavior but about how human behavior among psychologists influenced the definition and evolution about how people gain acceptance as full-fledged members of the larger research community. Similar issues have challenged other minority constituents of psychology in the wake of the pioneering contributions by individuals such as Mamie and Kenneth Clark.
At the threshold of a new century, we recognize that the composition of faces of those persons who will be our future researchers is also shifting. The majority of students at the undergraduate and graduate levels of education are women. As attracted as women have become to the science and practice of psychology, we still have much work to do in helping psychology attract and retain ethnic minority researchers and practitioners.
We have also witnessed during the last decade some major changes and challenges to the values and ethical practices involved in research. Our growing expertise about the frailties of human observers led to a challenge related to the practice and value of objectivity. Captive in our own cultural constraints, we recognize the ease with which biases can filter even the most careful observations and research designs. Some researchers have begun to mount forceful arguments for revisiting the value of qualitative forms of research.
Most important, psychology has embraced the absolute necessity of enacting ethical safeguards for the protection of research participants. In psychology's earlier zeal for finding answers to behavioral questions, our community has enacted suspect, and in some instances, probably harmful actions to those we were trying to help with our research. Our widely-adopted institutional review practices have helped us choose a wiser and more humane path for answering the many mysteries that remain.
With the enterprise of scientific psychology continually expanding, it becomes increasingly challenging to identify where and how one should invest research energies. We asked for help from individuals who have carved out significant roles in various areas of research in psychology and typified the kind of spirit Harry Kirke Wolfe so eloquently described in the quote we used at the opening of this chapter. Each has a distinctive story to tell that explains their individual journeys in developing their distinctive niches in contemporary research.
Joining in the Research Enterprise
Beginning psychology students often seem mystified by the process of research. Students struggle to learn the rudiments of research processes from articulating an original idea through an elegant analysis of a sound research design. Neophyte researchers sometimes fret that the supply of good research opportunities may be exhausted before they get a chance to make meaningful contributions. Yet, many budding researchers learn to overcome their fears and discover that meeting the challenge is not only very rewarding, but life-defining.
To address how that process unfolds, we asked the authors to tell their individual stories. We prompted them to describe what forces drew them into the area in which they chose to specialize. Why would they choose one area and not another? For some researchers, early life experiences stoked natural curiosity about behavioral phenomena. For others, tutelage of a mentor inspired them to follow in the mentor's path. And for some, happy accidents helped them to identify the content that would give shape to their professional lives.
To model for beginning researchers how research gets underway, we asked the authors to describe how they get specific ideas for their research. What factors tend to inspire them when they derive testable hypotheses? How might that be process have changed over time? Most authors describe a process quite contrary to the stereotype of the lone scientist slaving away in a laboratory. They discuss the process as highly collaborative, regularly drawing inspiration from the energy of the students who move in and out of their research streams, mutually enriching each others' lives. Some authors describe how they overcame challenging problems in the development of their research. Many also describe how they maintain vitality in developing the research stream that has defined their professional contributions. As the authors dealt with these questions and issues, they also addressed the important issue of how aspiring researchers can learn to develop research questions. Their consistent use of specific, relevant examples brings this process to life in each of the research areas covered in this book.
We also asked our authors to capture the excitement of the fields in which they have become specialized. This background helps to establish the context in which the researcher's own work can be recognized as outstanding. Understanding the past and present also allowed our researchers to speculate about the most exciting directions that their specialized areas may move in the future. We think these speculations offer some of the most fertile suggestions for aspiring researchers who may be looking for just the right field that will give definition to their life's work.
Finally, we asked our authors to talk personally about the characteristics and skills that emerging researchers will need to make contributions in these specialized areas in the future. Their advice includes everything from the kinds of experience that you need to pursue to maximize the undergraduate experience through the qualities of personal discipline that will be necessary for a successful research career. We think their advice offers a well-tailored advising session, which addressed this important question: If this is the future I want, how do I get there?
Common Themes in Preparing for Life in Research
No matter what their specialization, our chapter authors consistently point to a number of general strategies that help them generate research ideas, design viable research strategies, and move ahead in the scientific understanding of behavior forward. We summarize many of those strategies here in the hopes that aspiring researchers can adopt the approaches that offer the greatest promise in getting them started.
- Finding and developing research ideas. No, you will not have only one research idea and then never find another one. Ideas for good research projects are all around you! Here are a few suggestions for where to find them. One excellent place to look is in the psychological journals. After reading a published article ask some of the following questions; trying to answer them can lead to very fruitful research projects. Is there a different way to conduct the research? Will I obtain different results if I do this project on my own campus? What if I use different participants? What does this article suggest is the next step in the research process? Each journal article should be able to provide several potential research ideas. Your textbooks also offer an excellent source of research ideas. Jot down your ideas in the margins as you are reading your assignments. The same thing can be said for class lectures; if you are paying attention to and involved with the material, you should not leave a class session without at least one good research idea.
- Look carefully at life around you. Every day occurrences also offer a wonderful source of research ideas. Here are just a few of the fascinating possibilities we came up with just by observing the world around us. What can restaurant waitstaff do to increase tips? Do store clerks discriminate against certain types of customers? Is student responsibility associated with certain personality types? Whatever the source, your supply of research topics is endless.
- Be realistic about the ingredients of a good research project. In our technological age, it is easy to think that you must have lots of money and fancy equipment in order to conduct meaningful research. In some instances, such as conducting some research projects on the biological bases of behavior, money and equipment may be important. However, you will find that many excellent projects require no fancy equipment and very little financial support. The main ingredient of the good research project has always been, and remains, the good, creative research idea. You can conduct excellent research projects on a shoestring budget.
- Research is not a one-shot endeavor. Be prepared to be hooked into a life-long passion. Once the research bug bites you, you will not be able to stop with one project. The results of your first project will lead to another project, which will prompt another, and so on. If you enjoy the ongoing challenge of solving riddles and answering question, you are going to love research.
- Recognize why you should get an early start. Never has competition to get into graduate school been more fierce. If you are to fulfill your dreams of becoming a researcher in psychology, you must demonstrate your research imagination and skill during your undergraduate years. Good grades, high board scores, and enthusiastic letters of reference help establish your research potential, but having legitimate research experience as a team member, a co-author, or a poster presenter at a psychology conference offer the kind of evidence that admission committees find most useful. The more specifically you can articulate your research interests, the more likely you will have the keys to open the door to graduate school.
- Learn the literature. Research ideas rarely spring fully formed from a simple observation Although you will see a few really great examples of just that process, it is much more likely that research ideas emerge from carefully study of existing literature. Researchers often find their best ideas in the discussion sections of published research that makes explicit suggestions for future refinements.
- Identify the key players. As you read the literature, you will notice that some names begin to appear repeatedly in different sources that you read. This occurrence marks an individual whose research efforts have led to a concentration on a particular topic or issue. You may want to change search strategies from reading about a general concept to reading about the research history of a given individual in that area. Following the publication trail gives you a good sense of what that researcher's unique history has been in helping our understanding about a given concept unfold. Ultimately this strategy may prove helpful because you can define where the most exciting research is occurring. The result may shape your application strategies for graduate school.
- Start small. As you begin to conceptualize new research avenues, you may fare best if you think in terms of small research ideas. Beginning researchers are sometimes tempted to want to solve enormous problems for which they have neither the time nor skill. Good research mentors will help you see how even small scale projects fit the overall growth of knowledge about human behavior.
- Read beyond the boundaries. Read voraciously, not just in the psychology literature but other sources as well. Current events, research in other disciplines, and even good literature may provide just the inspiration you may need to develop a new twist.
- Prepare for a full range of emotions in your chosen life. Research in psychology offer exquisitely exciting moments. For example, it is hard to characterize the thrill when an idea breaks out of the chaos or a statistical analysis confirms just the prediction you were seeking. However, some aspects of research are not only unexciting, they are downright tedious. Being successful in a research career means that you are willing to exercise self-discipline to weather the nonthrilling aspects of generating research.
- Identify faculty whose interests match your own. Many of our authors spoke to the critical importance of finding a mentor in their chosen area. That connection routinely starts in advanced courses in which faculty members have the opportunity to explain research processes that have fueled their individual interests. You may be surprised to discover that material that you thought initially was not very appealing takes on much greater significance through the eyes of researchers genuinely excited about their work. In many cases, these faculty members may have research programs that would benefit from having a new team member. If you do secure a place on a research team, remember there is usually a clear hierarchy for the tasks that must be shared. Most researches expect that people new to the research enterprise need to start out with smaller responsibilities. Brand new members often face the work that requires the most drudgery. As you prove yourself to be a reliable assistant, you will be granted more independence and more exciting things to do.
- Ask for help in finding a faculty mentor. If your faculty members are not actively engaged in research, they may be able to connect with others in the community who are doing research. If you haven't had the good fortune of identifying such an individual from class experience, visit your department's website. Typically departments will list faculty research interests. Some departments post research opportunities on the web or in the department newsletter.
- Prepare to present yourself to potential mentors. Many researchers have an overfull agenda and will be very pleased at the prospect of a new team member. Others may initially respond to your request as though it is a burden. Either way, you should strive to create the most positive first impression possible. Be prepared to explain clearly why you wish to join a specific team. It will help if you are familiar with a researcher's accomplishments before you schedule your interview. Explain how refining your research skills fits into your future plans. If you reveal that you "have to do research for your requirements," chances are good the prospective mentor will not be terribly impressed with your personal motivation.
Our hope is that this text will contribute to keeping the science of psychology a vital research enterprise as we move into the 21st Century We thank the authors for their generosity and patience in developing this distinctive volume. We are also indebted to a hard-working corps of reviewers and editors to help us develop the right voice. We dedicate this book to the spirit of Harry Kirke Wolfe and all those reseacher/teachers who followed him by choosing to "grope by starlight towards the daylight of a clearer vision."
Notes on the E-Book Format
This electronic book represents an interesting experiment for the Society of Teachers of Psychology and the e-book editors. We wanted to bring you some fresh and personal perspectives primarily to assist people on the front end of their research journey as well as those teachers and researchers committed to helping them realize their dreams. Working in an e-book format can be a bit challenging. For example, you will note uniformity in the appearance of all the chapters but one. One set of authors (Woods and Krantz) delivered their chapter ina coherent HTML package so we chose to retain their original design choices. The other chapters have a more uniform and standard appearance. Because of some current peculiarities of HTML in dealing with italics, our references depart from APA format requirement in each chapter.
Despite those minor difficulties, we are very excited about the advantages of e-publishing. At the conclusion of each chapter, you will find a picture and biography of the authors of that chapter. We also provide a direct feedback capacity in which you can talk to the editors or the authors about your opinions of our work. You can also suggest other topics or authors that you think would make a good addition. And if the cyber-gods are willing, you should be able to download and keep copies of the chapters to help you at no cost to you. We intend to make the e-book available for three years from the date of launching the e-book website.
We also want to thank Vinny Hevern, STP Webmaster, and Dave Johnson and Bill Hill, who are currently sharing presidential responsibilities for STP. Their support has been outstanding in helping this project see daylight. We owean unpayable deb to Brian Halonen for long hours in helping us resolve endless problems with web site publishing.
Benjamin, L. T., Jr. (1991). Harry Kirke Wolfe: Pioneer in psychology. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
Goodwin, C. J. (1999). A history of modern psychology. New York: Wiley.
Schultz, D., & Schultz, S. E. (1996). A history of modern psychology (6th ed.). New York: Harcourt Brace.
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