New psychology course aims to build pathway to graduate school


Portraits of ASU psychology graduate students Jeri Sasser and Marissa Castellana.

Psychology graduate students Jeri Sasser (left) and Marissa Castellana launched a new course for undergraduate students designed to help build a more inclusive and diverse pathway to graduate study in the field. Photo by Robert Ewing/ASU

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This spring, Arizona State University psychology graduate students Marissa Castellana and Jeri Sasser launched a new course for undergraduate students designed to help build a more inclusive and diverse pathway to graduate study in the field.

The course, "Applied Research Methods," aims to provide undergraduate students with hands-on training in conducting, interpreting, writing and reporting independent psychological research. 

Castellana and Sasser are currently graduate mentors in the ENERGIZE program, where they support underrepresented students who are interested in pursuing research in psychology but don’t know where to start. They provide guidance, specific help in preparing students for the lab interview process and connect the undergraduates with labs that can provide hands-on research experience. The course was initially directed toward ENERGIZE students but is open to all students who may benefit from the additional experience. 

“We believe it is crucial to build a diverse and inclusive pathway for students in psychology. Each researcher offers their own perspective and interpretation of previous research and of their own data's findings. It is important to include the perspectives of traditionally underrepresented researchers, as their position of diversity can contribute greatly to science and offer representation for other students interested in research. Hopefully, this course can help to build this pathway of inclusivity and foster diversity,” Castellana said.

Undergraduate students Lizzy Tirado and Jordynn Watson, both seniors majoring in psychology, took the course to expand their understanding of the research environment from the perspectives of graduate student instructors.

“I love how this course is being taught from a student’s experience and perspective. The course also offers advice for labs, how to earn a career in psychology and distinguishes how a PhD differs from a master’s program,” Tirado said.

The PSY 294: Applied Research Methods course aims to provide additional instructions for undergraduate students interested in pursuing research as a career by teaching them how to conduct research and providing them with the research experience and tools needed to demonstrate preparedness for graduate programs.

“Being able to get hands-on training from grad students who have been through the process and are actively doing research gives students an advantage while trying to decide if research is what they want to do or preparing for grad school,” said Watson, who is also currently part of the Arizona Twin Project as a member of the coding team.  

The course extends what students have learned in PSY 290: Research Methods to an applied environment in order to prepare students to conduct independent research, preparing them for graduate programs and for careers in research. The course concludes with a research poster project where students have the option to present at the annual Arizona Psychology Undergraduate Research conference (AZPURC) conference.

“The opportunity to present research will not only help students gain experience and confidence in conducting and presenting their research, but will also bolster their CV, which is a critical component of the graduate school application process,” Sasser said.

“All of the students in this course are equally as excited to be enrolled and conducting independent research as Jeri and I are to teach it. Their excitement and energy provides a great classroom environment, eliciting great conversation and sparking ideas,” Castellana said.

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