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elemosynarical

undergrad- which lab to join in 4th year?

9 posts in this topic

Posted (edited)

Hey yall, so I'm obviously a senior undergrad student at the University of Toronto (in Canada), there's something called a 4th year independent project course for psychology, where you have to secure a supervisor and then you get to conduct a bit of your own research in this 4th year course

I wanna apply to clinical psych for grad school once I've graduated
If I don't get into clinical psych, I want to apply to social psych

4th year projects definitely look good on my resume and are great preparation for grad school (gives undergrad students a sense of what to expect in grad school)
However, in my school, it gets a little complicated:

-->4th year psychology projects can only be done within the department of psychology
--> the clinical psychology labs are technically not part of the department of psychology, they are part of a department called OISE, which is relevant to educational psychology and stuff
--> Consequently, if I wanted to do a 4th year project, it wouldn't be with a clinical psychology lab,
it would have to be with a social, cognitive, developmental, or neuropsychology lab, and i don't think any of these labs conduct research on clinical topics
-> besides clinical psychology, I seem to be mostly only interested in social psychology, so if I were to do a 4th year psych independent project, it would probably have to do with social psychology

Is this a problem? Because I want to apply to clinical psychology, and I know that 4th year independent projects are awesome preparation for grad school

So does that mean I should just do a 4th year project with a social psychology lab? and hope that the clinical psychology graduate program admissions committee will still look favourably upon a 4th year social psychology independent project course, even though it's not related to clinical psych?

Edited by elemosynarical

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I wouldn't worry about the specifics of the study too much. My senior thesis was in a neurobio lab with mice and I'm starting a clinical phd this year. The senior project is really just to show the admissions committee you have research skills (data collection/analysis and if you can, present at a conference or publish).

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Doing your fourth year project in a social psych lab should be fine. The quality of your experience is much more important than the topic. If possible, try to join a lab where undergrads often get the chance to publish or present at conferences.

Also, since you're in Toronto, it might be a good idea to look into joining a more clinically focused lab at one of the major hospitals or one of the other U of T campuses/other universities. The honours thesis is kind of the bare minimum for Canadian schools, and most successful applicants I know were involved in more than one lab.

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Posted (edited)

38 minutes ago, hsnl said:

Doing your fourth year project in a social psych lab should be fine. The quality of your experience is much more important than the topic. If possible, try to join a lab where undergrads often get the chance to publish or present at conferences.

Also, since you're in Toronto, it might be a good idea to look into joining a more clinically focused lab at one of the major hospitals or one of the other U of T campuses/other universities. The honours thesis is kind of the bare minimum for Canadian schools, and most successful applicants I know were involved in more than one lab.

at a major hospital?

There are no 4th year research courses that UofT students can do with a hospital
It has to be within the UofT campus building itself

same goes with Ryerson or York university, if you're a UofT student, you can't do a 4th year research course with other universities

if I were to be part of a clinical lab at a hospital or at another university, it would HAVE to be volunteering, and volunteering
doesn't look as good as a research course or a work-study opportunity

UofT missisauga I don't believe has any clinical labs, only UofT scarborough has a clinical lab, and I don't think St George students can do 4th year research courses at UofT Scarborough

to make things more complicated, there are hundreds and HUNDREDS of psych students at UofT, only 2-3% of them have the chance to do a thesis, because it's restricted to research specialists, only around 15-20 students are in the research specialist program, and I'm not in it

it's funny how psych students at other Canadian universities can easily obtain the chance to do a thesis, at UofT, it's super restricted to only around 20 students, and the psych department has a couple HUNDRED of students

Edited by elemosynarical

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Posted (edited)

12 hours ago, elemosynarical said:

at a major hospital?

There are no 4th year research courses that UofT students can do with a hospital
It has to be within the UofT campus building itself

same goes with Ryerson or York university, if you're a UofT student, you can't do a 4th year research course with other universities

if I were to be part of a clinical lab at a hospital or at another university, it would HAVE to be volunteering, and volunteering
doesn't look as good as a research course or a work-study opportunity

UofT missisauga I don't believe has any clinical labs, only UofT scarborough has a clinical lab, and I don't think St George students can do 4th year research courses at UofT Scarborough

to make things more complicated, there are hundreds and HUNDREDS of psych students at UofT, only 2-3% of them have the chance to do a thesis, because it's restricted to research specialists, only around 15-20 students are in the research specialist program, and I'm not in it

it's funny how psych students at other Canadian universities can easily obtain the chance to do a thesis, at UofT, it's super restricted to only around 20 students, and the psych department has a couple HUNDRED of students

Sorry if that was unclear- I meant volunteering in addition to your research project.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with volunteering, and the vast majority of people I know volunteered in labs to gain additional experience on top of their honours/research courses. Speaking from experience, I spent a year volunteering in a lab after finishing my undergrad, and I would not have gotten into clinical without the experience I gained there. 

It sucks that you can't do a thesis, but your fourth year research project should be just as good. Many schools don't offer research courses other than an honours thesis, which is probably why the thesis is less restricted at those schools. 

Edited by hsnl

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Hi, I actually think you can apply to  work with one of the UTSC or UHN hospital faculty members. The main thing is that you may need a co-supervisor that can support your work at the St. George campus. Look into that a bit more carefully, but I do think the campus allows for cross-fertilization. Perhaps you can look into these researching hospitals or departments, and see if there are any projects that allow you to work at more than one location.

Also, a clinically relevant project is not necessary to get into clinical psychology grad school. It's the other skills and experiences you have that can help demonstrate that! FYI, volunteering is never a bad thing either. All of these experiences point to your diligence in being involved in psychological research settings, and gaining the skills that are necessary to demonstrate your abilities as a future graduate student. As well, If you end up doing a social psychology thesis/independent research project that will be fine!

Hope this helps! Let me know if you have other questions.

Good luck!

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Posted (edited)

@elemosynarical, which college in the Faculty of Arts and Science are you in? As far as I'm aware, all the colleges also have an independent study course. For instance, St. Michael's College has SMC 481Y1 which is a full-year independent study course whose only limitations are that no other types of courses are available (which you can make an easy case for given the restrictions of the PSY405/406 courses) and that either the faculty member or the student is affiliated with the college. If you're not in SMC, there should be something equivalent in the other colleges.

Depending on your clinical interests, you could also do an independent research project within the department with people whose interests align with yours despite not being Clinical Psychologists.

With regards to this concern:

to make things more complicated, there are hundreds and HUNDREDS of psych students at UofT, only 2-3% of them have the chance to do a thesis, because it's restricted to research specialists, only around 15-20 students are in the research specialist program, and I'm not in it

That is an unfortunate situation that a lot of people find themselves in; other equivalently large universities manage to accommodate more thesis students (but have noticed that these students take advantage of independent projects less).

That aside, looking into independent research projects can mitigate this. Depending on who you work with, you may actually do more meaningful work as an independent project student than other professor's thesis students (and thesis students from other schools). At the end of the day, you still graduate with a 4-year Honours Bachelor's degree. If you can talk confidently about your research experience in your LOI's, they won't even notice you didn't do a thesis (I've had a POI ask me to talk about my thesis during an interview when I didn't do one and I had more research experience than some people who did a 4th year thesis in my grad cohort).

And regarding volunteering:

if I were to be part of a clinical lab at a hospital or at another university, it would HAVE to be volunteering, and volunteering
doesn't look as good as a research course or a work-study opportunity

I actually learned more from one of my volunteer RA gigs than my actual independent projects. With that said, volunteering opens doors. These profs aren't going to hire a random undergrad when they've had reliable volunteers nor will they necessarily take on new project students when they have volunteers who want to do one as well. My initial volunteer experience resulted in two different independent projects (one in the same lab, and another in another lab) and helped me secure another RA position (the one that taught me way more things) because faculty and grad students talk to each other. If you're a good student who works hard, other faculty members and grad students you've never worked with will be more willing to work with you if they can go across the hall and ask their colleague "Oh is so and so a good student? Should I hire them? Okay."

EDIT:

So I looked at your post history and I want to address this comment:

What I'm suggesting isn't "kissing ass". I literally just worked hard and (inadvertently) built a reputation for being reliable...so when I asked about an independent project or volunteering with other people, things just snowballed and I was given more responsibilities because I could show that I can do the work.

Edited by Oshawott

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Posted (edited)

On 2017-6-19 at 5:04 AM, Oshawott said:

@elemosynarical, which college in the Faculty of Arts and Science are you in? As far as I'm aware, all the colleges also have an independent study course. For instance, St. Michael's College has SMC 481Y1 which is a full-year independent study course whose only limitations are that no other types of courses are available (which you can make an easy case for given the restrictions of the PSY405/406 courses) and that either the faculty member or the student is affiliated with the college. If you're not in SMC, there should be something equivalent in the other colleges.

Depending on your clinical interests, you could also do an independent research project within the department with people whose interests align with yours despite not being Clinical Psychologists.

With regards to this concern:

to make things more complicated, there are hundreds and HUNDREDS of psych students at UofT, only 2-3% of them have the chance to do a thesis, because it's restricted to research specialists, only around 15-20 students are in the research specialist program, and I'm not in it

That is an unfortunate situation that a lot of people find themselves in; other equivalently large universities manage to accommodate more thesis students (but have noticed that these students take advantage of independent projects less).

That aside, looking into independent research projects can mitigate this. Depending on who you work with, you may actually do more meaningful work as an independent project student than other professor's thesis students (and thesis students from other schools). At the end of the day, you still graduate with a 4-year Honours Bachelor's degree. If you can talk confidently about your research experience in your LOI's, they won't even notice you didn't do a thesis (I've had a POI ask me to talk about my thesis during an interview when I didn't do one and I had more research experience than some people who did a 4th year thesis in my grad cohort).

And regarding volunteering:

if I were to be part of a clinical lab at a hospital or at another university, it would HAVE to be volunteering, and volunteering
doesn't look as good as a research course or a work-study opportunity

I actually learned more from one of my volunteer RA gigs than my actual independent projects. With that said, volunteering opens doors. These profs aren't going to hire a random undergrad when they've had reliable volunteers nor will they necessarily take on new project students when they have volunteers who want to do one as well. My initial volunteer experience resulted in two different independent projects (one in the same lab, and another in another lab) and helped me secure another RA position (the one that taught me way more things) because faculty and grad students talk to each other. If you're a good student who works hard, other faculty members and grad students you've never worked with will be more willing to work with you if they can go across the hall and ask their colleague "Oh is so and so a good student? Should I hire them? Okay."

EDIT:

So I looked at your post history and I want to address this comment:

What I'm suggesting isn't "kissing ass". I literally just worked hard and (inadvertently) built a reputation for being reliable...so when I asked about an independent project or volunteering with other people, things just snowballed and I was given more responsibilities because I could show that I can do the work.

Hey Oshawott, how good does an "Individual Project" PSY405 look on a resume?
I can't believe it they don't rename the course as being an "Independent Research Project" because that would sound a lot more professional than "Individual Project"

I feel like if I put "Individual Project Student" on my resume, grad school committees won't think much of it, and they would think "oh yeah whatever it's just another one of those lab courses"

How does the Individual Project (Course code is PSY405/406) compare to the honours thesis? 
Does the Individual Project prepare psychology students well for grad school? Will grad school admissions committee look favourably 
upon a student who does an individual project PSY405/406 at UofT?


My second question-> With regards to the PSY405 individual project, I know I have to fill out a proposal form and submit it to the undergrad coordinator. With respect to filling out the project proposal form, am I supposed to come up with my own novel hypothesis and research ideas BEFORE I meet with my potential supervisor? Or is it better if I and my supervisor BOTH go through and write out the proposal form TOGETHER while discussing ideas with each other?

Thank you so much!

Edited by elemosynarical

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@elemosynarical

Hey Oshawott, how good does an "Individual Project" PSY405 look on a resume?

Different schools call them different things. If you're listing your position in your CV, calling yourself an "Independent Project Student" is fine. Alternatively, if you produced a manuscript (which most projects would as part of the credit) you can have it as a line under research contributions in your CV the same way people would have unpublished dissertations:

Author, A. A. (Year). Title of dissertation/thesis (Unpublished Undergraduate Independent Project). Academic Institution, City, State [OR] Country. [link to project page]*

*I would suggest seeing how open your supervisors are to pre-registering things on the OSF/making materials open access. I know a person at my current institution has their undergrads pre-register projects, and the benefits of this is that you can link to the project page on your unpublished research. I would only do this if your supervisor is okay with this because some people are not up for pre-registration/open-access.

You can also submit to the CPA convention to get a more "credible" CV line. I say "credible" in that later in your grad career, you probably won't bother listing your unpublished undergrad projects in your CV, while you'll still want to list posters from major conferences.


How does the Individual Project (Course code is PSY405/406) compare to the honours thesis? 

As far as I can tell, the honours thesis (PSY400) has a class component so its more structured in terms of when things need to be handed in. Students also have to take a theories course (I think its PSY401?) but I don't think anyone who I knew in the programs thought it was helpful.

Does the Individual Project prepare psychology students well for grad school? Will grad school admissions committee look favourably 
upon a student who does an individual project PSY405/406 at UofT?

Like the honours thesis, it depends on what you do. I've seen undergrad theses from smaller Canadian universities, and they weren't up to the level of rigor and immersion that some of the independent projects at UofT (again, because the school has the resources for it). The reason people say an honours thesis is "better" is because of general heuristics–people assume its more involved. In my independent projects, I've been involved in ethics applications, experiment programming, running participants, and analysis. Some professors let students create their own PSY405/406 projects rather than starting on an existing one, which basically puts it on the level of an honours thesis in terms of immersion.

Don't get stuck on the labels. Talk about what you did in your letters of interest. I'm fairly certain the vast majority of people I interviewed with didn't realize I hadn't done a conventional honours thesis, since I recall explaining UofT's ridiculous thesis system.**

**As a side note, I'd just avoid doing that and if they asked what you did your thesis on just say "oh for my senior project I did [insert description]" in case it gives the wrong impression. Given that it's a 400-level course code you're taking in your final year, calling it a "senior project" isn't lying.

My second question-> With regards to the PSY405 individual project, I know I have to fill out a proposal form and submit it to the undergrad coordinator. With respect to filling out the project proposal form, am I supposed to come up with my own novel hypothesis and research ideas BEFORE I meet with my potential supervisor? Or is it better if I and my supervisor BOTH go through and write out the proposal form TOGETHER while discussing ideas with each other?

It has been forever since I've done this, but I'd talk to the supervisor first and outline your interests in working with them. From that, depending on who they are and their needs, they'll either sign you up for an existing project, or be open to you developing your own project. I would ask them sooner than later as well as PI's start getting their projects in line for the following year around this time.

Additionally, a PSY405/406 isn't a guarantee. You should ideally have been volunteering with people you were interested in already; there are always more volunteer spots than there are independent project spots in labs, and the limited spots goes to those who have been there first. Since PSY405/406 can be full or half year projects, you could volunteer in a lab that has a high project turnover for the first semester and do a project in the second semester.

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