The final post from me is about the Research Project.
Now that I have written my thesis, I can confidently say that this was the most rewarding part of the entire degree. It gave me the opportunity to gain in depth knowledge of one topic. My thesis was on colour perception and the more I read, the more intrigued I became and amazed at all the nuances and details in the topic and ingenuity and precision that researchers apply to demonstrate their theory.
Before you start your thesis, you'll have an opportunity to learn about and meet with lots of potential supervisors (at least that's what I did, I saw it as a chance to chat to everyone about their topics) before allocation. There are some popular choices so some supervisors have their allocations swallowed up instantly, but I would urge you not to go with the first topic on your mind or your favourite lecturer but to read through all the suggested areas and go and speak to as many professors as you like because there's likely something you've never considered before that might spark some excitement, plus you'll be excited finding out the method of the experiment itself. I chose colour because there is nothing more visually exciting, and the method is robust and precisely measurable. My supervisor took me to her lab and showed me the setup which helped me understand what we'd be doing and really sold it to me.
You may have an idea in your head of what you want to do already. That's great, I had loads too. If you've got one and you can find a supervisor who understands your topic and you've thought about how you're going to implement it, then excellent but get started on that immediately because it's likely to be more complicated that you first imagined. I had this crazy idea about creativity, imagination and eye tracking but after speaking to professors about it I realised that it would take me years and I only had months! I'm happy with my decision because seeing the hard work put into setting up a methodologically sound experiment was inspiring.
As part of our thesis, we submitted a research proposal which contained some background reading and our experimental methods and hypotheses. You can start collecting data as soon as you and your supervisor agree on it, for me that was March but most people wait until after exams in May. Once you've collected your data, you can analyse it, interpret the results and integrate with the literature you've read. Analysing the data and interpreting the results is the opportunity to put into practice everything you have learned about statistics but I also found, as this was the most complex design I'd used yet, it was a huge learning process and beneficial in itself. I also suggest reading around the topic as much and as early as possible because the more you understand whilst running the experiment, the more ideas you will generate for your discussion. For me, just observing participants I was considering certain implications and limitations and as I continued to read I saw how it all slotted in with the current theories. So the earlier you start reading the better understanding you will gain of your topic. Having said that I read things in the last week before submitting that I wished I'd known earlier so consider this as wisdom I am imparting on you! The whole process is very challenging and a substantial piece of work (and to your grade, 1/3rd) but now that it's over I can say it was thoroughly worth it.
You can choose between different styles of research, either surveys (correlational studies where you'll look for patterns in individual responses) or experiments. Personally, I would say choose an experiment. Surveys are less demanding and it's easy to collect 100's of responses. Experiments are the opportunity to get involved with real scientific method and make genuine observations about how people behave. The Psychology department is equipped with technology including eye tracking equipment that you have a chance to use so getting in the lab to run your study would be my advice.
My final word – the thesis teaches you to be a scientist! Psychology as a social science is unique in that measuring human behaviour can be challenging, therefore you develop a critical mind as to what is fact and what is 'fiction' (or a poorly designed study). It is hugely beneficial to understand how science is performed. Now you can listen to the news, read the paper or any article or hear from a friend and when you hear something quoted you can think, 'how do they actually know that, DO they actually know that, and if so how was it demonstrated?
Joshua Bugg graduated with an MSc Psychological Studies in 2019