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Students rank positive reinforcement from faculty, early involvement and faculty mentoring as top characteristics that spark positive attitudes about research during their training, according to a study in the November 2003 issue of Teaching Psychology (Vol. 30, No. 4).

Researchers surveyed 35 counseling psychology doctoral students from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), using open-ended questions to gauge students' attitudes about research and determine what turns them on and off of research.

"We need to get rid of the myth that students have that research is a lonely experience," says lead researcher Victoria Shivy, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at VCU. "[Faculty] need to help make students feel they can do this."

Also contributing to the study were Everett L. Worthington Jr., PhD, chair of the VCU psychology department, and recent graduates Amy Birtel Wallis, PhD, and Chris Hogan, PhD.

Students in the study said the following faculty attributes contribute to favorable attitudes toward research:

  • Showing interest, passion and excitement in their research.

  • Involving students early in research-maybe on program entry-as well as assigning research tasks that match students' skill levels.

  • Emphasizing a team-based approach to help build student-peer and adviser-student relationships.

Alternatively, students reported becoming disillusioned with research when they had an adviser who seemed to be mainly motivated by the extrinsic rewards of publication or was uninvolved in helping students. In these situations, students said they were less motivated and invested less time in their research.

Regardless, Shivy says it's important for students to overcome aversions to statistics or other parts of the research process and gain research experience during their training-even those students who do not want to pursue research in their careers.

"The skills students learn to do in research go beyond publishing research papers," she notes. Students learn grant-writing, methodological and presentation skills. Furthermore, students who choose a clinical path in their career will still be able to use such research skills to provide empirically supported research of outcomes of their work, she says.

- M. DITTMANN