The PRSDS (Psychology Research Skills Development Scheme)
I wanted to take one of my last few posts to talk about what you could take away from taking part in the PRSDS (Psychology Research Skills Development Scheme).
The PRSDS enables undergraduate psychology students to directly contribute to research conducted by academics and doctoral students in the department.
If you’re a student in the department, any vacancies are emailed to us by our Placements Teaching Fellow, Dr Gitit Kadar-Satat. They can also be found under the research section in the ‘current students’ tab on the department’s webpage. This year, students have had the opportunity to support studies investigating chronic pain, gesture production in children (and non-human primates!), mental health, eating disorders; SEN just to name a few.
If you’ve been thinking about applying for one – Do it! It’s a great opportunity and I’ve found it really valuable. As undergrads, we’re often limited on the groups of people we can work with and the types of studies we can conduct. Being able to directly follow the process and contribute to such large scale and often long-term studies enables you to see psychological research from a different perspective than the smaller scale research we conduct during the course.
As someone who’s into developmental psychology and the language side of the degree, I had been looking out for a PRSDS project that would better prepare me for my dissertation. I hadn’t conducted research with or based on children or language development during my degree. I can’t remember if there were nay but my course friends very much disliked both developmental and linguistics so it would have been immediately crossed off as an option! When the opportunity came up to work on a developmental language project, I jumped the chance to. Funny enough, it was also the same study that a student demonstrated to me in the Baby Lab during the offer holder day!
The study I was lucky enough to get insight into is known as the Language Experience and Development (LEaD) Project and is carried out by researchers at Warwick and Edinburgh. It’s conducted as part of the Warwick Research with Kids (WaRKs) Group and is led by Dr Kate Messenger. The aim of this study is to investigate syntactic priming; whether the sentence structures produced by children would be influenced by the responses produced by the researcher. Since being re-designed online the study has also begun to look at how the manipulation of other variables may affect syntactic priming.
My main job was to watch video recordings of the experiment and transcribe responses and note any errors made in the scripts through an excel sheet. I’ve always been cautious of working with qualitative data (that doesn’t include the use to Likert scales!) so avoided that for my dissertation. However, this gave me a really good idea of how spoken responses can be clearly organised and coded concisely as well as how important it is to note down even the most minor details. Had I gotten this experience before planning my dissertation, it would have given me more confidence to maybe have conducted a study with some qualitative element. I’d imagine that it would also be super useful to see how complex sets of quantitative data can be handled too.
Overcoming Challenges During Experiments:
There can also be challenges when working with certain populations. We all know that young children can have quite short-attention spans, some are extremely chatty, some take a while to warm up, whilst others really don’t like talking to stranger at all! You’ll also find that some parents may head into the issue of demand characteristics. Even though I didn’t conduct any experiments myself, I was able to watch how the researcher handled these situations, kept participants engaged, and how they appropriately acted on signs of distress or boredom. It’s great to be aware of the challenges that may occur when working with certain population and how they can be effectively handled.
Taking part in the PRSDS will also give you a greater insight into recruitment. Recruitment is tough but especially when we don’t have the social resources. Finding the appropriate sources has been something I’ve struggled with in all aspects, including recruitment for studies. Without the experience or knowledge it can be tough figuring out where to find different groups of participants we may need. Having that guidance and is super helpful. I also got upset many many times over recruitment for my dissertation but after being more informed, it made creating a recruitment list and exploring places to recruit from that little bit easier. Speaking to the researcher about recruitment, it also made me realise that I shouldn’t have been so harsh with myself because even these very large scale studies can struggle to recruit at times, especially during lockdowns! Having breakdowns over recruitment is all part of the recruitment process!
It’s amazing how you can look into questions that seem so complex using such neatly planned studies. It always goes over my head but that’s one of the amazing things about psychological research – You have to take complex theories and find a straightforward way of investigating them. Reading the process on paper vs. seeing it unfold in front of you will give you an appreciation in just how much attention to detail researchers have to pay. How many of us have gotten to the end of our projects and realised that there’s so much that we could have changed that would have improved the quality of our projects?… 🙋🏻
It was also interesting to see how researchers turned a bad situation into a good one by revising different version of the initial (in-person) study to dig a little deeper not the variables affecting the research question. It showed how even if things go wrong, you can be innovative and turn things around.
A bonus: I’ve missed volunteering with people, especially children so much. Even though I wasn’t directly communicating with them, children say the most hilarious things! It was a joy to watch and listen to some of the stories they made up!
Three reasons to take up a PRSDS: It can inspire you final year project, build confidence and skills in research (and beyond), and it’s an opportunity to explore an area that you are intrigued about that you may not necessarily cover in great detail in your modules or have the chance to explore practically.
If you’ve been thinking about it, go for it the next time an appropriate vacancy comes up 😊 .