Jun 30, 2017
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Pre-Psychology
I intend to apply to PhD programs in Clinical Psych. Reading through SDN, I have learned that research "grunt work" (such as coding) does not look too impressive on an application. But what exactly is valuable and/or impressive research experience? I know that it's important to have publications and poster presentations. But what about the day-to-day responsibilities of a research assistant? Do they matter? Do some types of research experiences look better than others on an application, or are publications and presentations much more important?
 

Neuro727

2+ Year Member
Jul 22, 2016
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Psychology Student
Research where you are somehow developing a translatable skill or working with the population you would like to study in grad school. For example if you're interested in neuropsych, working in a lab where you're administering several neuropsych assessments to participants would be a valuable research experience.
 

psych.meout

2+ Year Member
Oct 5, 2015
1,755
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DO/PhD Student
I intend to apply to PhD programs in Clinical Psych. Reading through SDN, I have learned that research "grunt work" (such as coding) does not look too impressive on an application. But what exactly is valuable and/or impressive research experience? I know that it's important to have publications and poster presentations. But what about the day-to-day responsibilities of a research assistant? Do they matter? Do some types of research experiences look better than others on an application, or are publications and presentations much more important?
What people are talking about are higher level conceptual and organizational tasks, e.g. lit reviews leading to research questions and hypotheses, developing your own study, doing statistical and conceptual analyses, writing manuscripts, etc. Doing grunt work like coding or data entry doesn't show admissions committees and POIs that you can synthesize existing research or develop your own.

Research where you are somehow developing a translatable skill or working with the population you would like to study in grad school. For example if you're interested in neuropsych, working in a lab where you're administering several neuropsych assessments to participants would be a valuable research experience.
Administering neuropsych assessments can be good, but it can only help so much and runs into a similar, albeit smaller, problem of just doing coding and other research grunt work. You just aren't qualified at that level to do the more advanced parts of the neuropsych assessment process, especially interpretation and case conceptualization, which is where the rubber really meets the road. I had lots of neuropsych experience from a clinical perspective, but it only took me so far. I needed experience with other aspects of research to get in.

I could probably teach most high school students to administer and score many neuropsych assessments, but that does not mean they understand why they are doing what they are, what the underlying constructs are, what different results mean, etc.
 
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MamaPhD

Psychologist, Academic Medical Center
7+ Year Member
Aug 2, 2010
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Psychologist
This is a really good question. One of the reasons why faculty want to see a track record (minimum 1-2 years) of research experience is that it gives you an opportunity to show that you can master relatively basic research tasks (entering data, administering simple procedures, etc.) quickly and move on to those that require more problem-solving ability or ingenuity. From my point of view, a "good" RA is someone who is reasonably able to answer his or her own questions, identify potential problems proactively, and show an understanding of the research through feedback, reflection, etc. Being a self-starter (which may mean asking for more challenging opportunities over time), dependable/not flakey, and showing appropriate autonomy are just as important (IMO) as having good ideas about the research itself.
 
Apr 11, 2012
462
294
Status
Psychologist
This is a really good question. One of the reasons why faculty want to see a track record (minimum 1-2 years) of research experience is that it gives you an opportunity to show that you can master relatively basic research tasks (entering data, administering simple procedures, etc.) quickly and move on to those that require more problem-solving ability or ingenuity. From my point of view, a "good" RA is someone who is reasonably able to answer his or her own questions, identify potential problems proactively, and show an understanding of the research through feedback, reflection, etc. Being a self-starter (which may mean asking for more challenging opportunities over time), dependable/not flakey, and showing appropriate autonomy are just as important (IMO) as having good ideas about the research itself.
I agree with this. Doing grunt work is fine if you are ALSO paying attention to what you are doing. I don't have a problem with applicants who haven't been able to do much of their own research if they are asking questions, reading research, asking for opportunities to publish and present, etc. Simply working in a lab and doing what is asked of you does not make for a strong letter of recommendation. Even if you are actually thinking about the research you are helping with, if you never communicate that with your PI, they will never know that you have the "mind" for research. Contribute to the discussion at lab meetings, ask for readings, ask (thoughtful) questions, help the graduate students and/or honors thesis students. Drive and curiosity go a long way.
 
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