Student Notebook

Cracking the Code of Research Experience

Let me tell you something about being a dual major in psychology and writing: it does not instill in anyone with whom you discuss the matter – say, for example, your parents – the utmost confidence for your future. While house hunting in New Jersey, my parents began looking for homes with an extra bedroom, “just in case.” While I deem my future a promising amalgamation of Faulkner and Freud, they see it more along the lines of fast food and “May I please take your order?” Not that I’m in much of a position to argue; after all, despite taking twenty-six classes on motivation, I still need a half hour’s worth of inspirational chants just to get dressed in the morning. Clearly, this situation is dire.

It was with this epiphany in mind, then, that I finally succumbed to Mom’s desperate pleas of “Internship! Internship!” and tentatively approached the campus career center. There I found roughly 37,000 internship opportunities available to economics majors, many of which included dental and a company car. But, as expected, psychology openings were painfully underrepresented, listed just after chimney sweeps. I departed empty-handed, dejection slapping me in the face. It was at this point that I made “the discovery,” as I’ve affectionately dubbed it.

You see, what the school does offer for psych majors is a myriad of corkboards, placed strategically around the psychology building, so that credit card companies have someplace to hang flyers. Occasionally, though, an intrepid student will wade through the canopy of Mastercard and spring break travel ads and find the rip-tab flyers below, such as the one that I, while pawing absent-mindedly at a model on a Cancun beach, noticed: “A semester’s worth of research experience – for credit!” An on-the-spot assessment of my psychological career revealed a crippling lack of either research or experience, and as I ripped off the phone number tab, I thought of how nice it would be if such an enriching opportunity offered time off for spring break.

I called the professor in charge and we had a brief discussion of my responsibilities, which I was told would be ‘coding his research.’ Immediately, and with the professor sitting idly on the line (in gut wrenching anticipation of my answer, I imagine), I envisioned my imminent career in the encrypted world of James Bond, the NSA, hackers, and even the ‘Spy Tech’ toys that I used to drive around the house. “Coding?” I repeated, doing my best Sean Connery, “I must be dreaming.”

Clearly, the world of psychology and I subscribe to different editions of Webster’s. My definition of coding involved Ursula Andress; their’s involved volumes of surveys, each teeming with numbers to be entered into a Victorian-age computer and then double-checked on paper. It was an epic coding connotation conundrum, and my definition lost the duel.

That said, I can now assert, with a high degree of confidence, that all groundbreaking psychological research takes place at two in the morning in a sterile room on the top floor of the nearest psychology building. There the researcher – in this case your very own young Jung – will whittle away at a stack of surveys, each containing somewhere between fifty and thirty-three thousand numerical answers, all of which are crucial for the unfathomably pivotal research that has been entrusted to a jaded undergrad. Meanwhile, said scientist-in-training will also have AOL Instant Messenger running alongside a radio turned to his favorite alternative station, occasionally springing to his feet to feverishly try and win a radio contest. It is this scenario, I now understand, that fosters the absolute pinnacle of psychological discovery.

Originally, my foray into the mysterious world of a ‘research assistant’ was filled with dreams of extravagant studies, high-profile publications, and the hordes of bikini-clad spring break supermodels that surely accompanied successful psychologists everywhere. Four hundred numerically numbing surveys later, I had downgraded my aspirations to “alpha characters.” A brief chat with the professor quickly grounded me from even that lofty goal. “When I know you’re comfortable with numbers, we’ll discuss the rest of the keyboard,” he said. It was on that note that the semester ended, my psychological ambitions, and Cancun expectations, hopelessly deflated.

But I’m proud to say that I’m planning to once against thrust my sword into the arena, this time as a teacher’s assistant for the fall semester’s “Psychology of Sexuality” class. Perhaps I’ve learned my lesson; perhaps research experience isn’t the avenue I should’ve explored. Teaching might suit me better. I know Mom already approves. She feels it’ll add a modicum of distinction and responsibility to a career, and an individual, that lacks much of either. As for me, I like to think that my reason for TA-ing transcends these petty reasons; I’m hoping for something more profound, more involved, and more captivating from a class that focuses on the psychology of sex:

Research experience.


Observer Vol.16, No.11 November, 2003

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