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Honors Program in Psychological Science

The Honors Program offers students the opportunity to gain intensive experience conducting scientific research with a faculty mentor. Not only is participation challenging and intellectually engaging, it offers training that is of considerable value in preparation for graduate school and/or a broad variety of career trajectories. Students typically apply to participate in this program at the end of their Sophomore year. In addition to working extensively in a research laboratory throughout their Junior and Senior years, students also participate in the Honors Seminar for at least 3 semesters. The program culminates in the completion of a written Honors Thesis, a poster presentation of the research conducted as part of Psychology Day, as well as an oral presentation and defense of the project. Students who successfully complete the Honors Program and maintain an overall GPA of at least 3.3 will graduate with the special designation of either “Honors” or “High Honors” in their related major.

 

Eligibility & Application Procedures

Students majoring in Psychology, Child Development, Cognitive Studies, or Child Studies who have a 3.3 GPA, both overall and in their psychology-related major are eligible to apply to the program at the end of their Sophomore year or Fall term of their Junior year. In order to do so, it is the responsibility of interested students to first find a faculty mentor who agrees to supervise their honors research (see below). Ideally, a general research and supervisorial plan should be negotiated with the faculty mentor, and the application to the program should be submitted here by the last day of Spring classes. The co-directors will review applications to determine admission into the program, and will contact you shortly with their determination. Please note that in some circumstances students who meet the minimum GPA requirements may not be accepted if the student’s transcript or application otherwise raises concerns about his/her ability to complete an honors project.

 

Faculty Mentors

The faculty mentor is the person who is primarily responsible for supervising the student’s progress through the Honors Program. This entails 1) helping students prepare their applications 2) exposing students to the full range of activities and skills associated with conducting research and 3) guiding students in appropriately applying these skills to the successful execution of their own honors project from idea generation, to data collection and analysis, through completion of the written thesis. For training and didactic purposes, mentors will typically ask students to perform a variety of research-related tasks, some of which might not have direct bearing on their specific honors project. These activities can range from the mundane (e.g., photocopying, scheduling subjects, data entry), to the more interesting and exotic (e.g., data collection, data analysis, or the performance of highly technical laboratory procedures). Mentors should strive to make students’ research experiences as educational as possible, and to ensure that students contributions to general lab activities do not interfere with their ability to complete their honors project in the required time frame. Although graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and lab staff may assist in the training process on a day-to-day basis, the faculty mentor cannot transfer their core mentoring responsibility to someone else who is otherwise ineligible to serve in this role. Thus, the faculty mentor must directly monitor the student’s progress, and is expected to meet with them on a regular basis (individually and/or in group research meetings) to discuss issues related to the project as they arise.

Students can work with a faculty mentor from either Psychology Department (i.e., Peabody or A&S), a list of whom can be found here. Under some circumstances, faculty conducting psychological research in other departments may also be considered as mentors. These special arrangements, however, must be approved by a Director of the Honors Program before the student submits their application. Read this to learn more about finding a mentor.

 

Course Requirements

Although it is recommended that students register for all four semesters of the Honors Seminar (described below), we recognize that some students may be able to complete the Honors Program in three semesters. This 3-semester option accommodates students with plans to study abroad or who have other academic requirements that conflict with the program. All students are required to register for the Honors Seminar in the Spring term of their senior year. However, the other two semesters of the seminar may be any two of the three remaining terms of the junior and senior year. Students who wish to choose the 3-semester option must obtain permission from their faculty mentor, before they apply to the Honors Program. In some cases, students will be required to arrange to work with their faculty mentor over the summer of their Junior year to make the necessary progress on the Honors Project.

In the Fall of their Junior year, students should enroll in PSY3980 (A&S) or PSY-PC 3980 (Peabody). During this term, students will focus on information literacy, particularly literature searches and literature review. By the end of the semester, students will write a brief summary of the research problem they wish to address with their honors project.

In the Spring semester of the Junior year, students should enroll in PSY (or PSY-PC) 3981. During this term, students will focus on responsible conduct of research, navigating the IRB, and preparing a research proposal that outlines in detail the research that the student will undertake. Although supported by activities in the Honors Seminar, this research plan will derive primarily from regular collaboration between the student and the research mentor.

In the Fall of their Senior year, students should register for PSY (or PSY-PC) 4998. During this term, students will engage in career development activities, learn how to manage their data, and work on revising their proposals into the introduction and methods section of their thesis.

In the Spring of their Senior year, students should register for PSY (or PSY-PC) 4999. During this final semester, students will focus on research communication in a variety of forms, including data tables and figures, posters, oral presentations, as well as the written thesis itself, which is due in the middle of March. Students will defend their thesis in front of a committee of three persons–their research advisor, another member of the Psychological Science faculty, and a graduate student who is knowledgeable about the area of research. In April, students also present the final research project in the form of a poster at Psychology Day. Students will have opportunities in class to practice their presentations and defense in front of their peers.

The Directors of the Honors Program (see below) and the student’s faculty mentor will jointly determine student grades each semester based on both laboratory- and classroom-based activities.

 

Directors

Please note that although students must register each semester for the section of the Honors Seminar that aligns with their college (PSY prefix for A&S; PSY-PC for Peabody), the Honors Program is jointly administered by:

Adriane Seiffert, 534 Wilson Hall, a.seiffert@vanderbilt.edu
Amy E. Booth, 215A Hobbs Hall, amy.booth@vanderbilt.edu

Students spend their Junior year under the direction of Dr. Seiffert, regardless of whether they are A&S or Peabody majors. Students spend their Senior year under the direction of Dr. Booth. Students may contact either faculty member with questions about the program.

All Juniors meet together and all Seniors meet together, regardless of major.

 

The Honors Project

It is anticipated that the honors project will almost always be derived in some way from the faculty mentor’s ongoing research program. For example, the project might be a distinct facet of a much larger research project, or it might be a new experiment that follows directly from some earlier findings that have emerged from the mentor’s research laboratory. However, as much as possible, the mentor should encourage the student to take intellectual ownership of his or her honors project. At minimum, the student must have a clear and deep understanding of what the research project involves and why; that is, the nature and significance of the research questions being asked, how the study’s methods and data map onto these questions, how the data analyses address these questions, the implications of the observed results, and so on. Ideally, to the extent feasible, the student should make substantive contributions to the design, conceptualization, analysis, and/or interpretation of the aspects of the study comprising his or her project. Except in very rare instances, however, the student should not expect to engage in research activities entirely of his or her design that have little or no direct connection to the mentor’s research program. Importantly, the student and faculty mentor should work together to ensure that the honors project is feasible, and that it can be successfully completed within the constraints of the students’ planned participation in the honors program. That said, because research is, by definition, an exploration into the unknown, surprises often arise that slow progress or even force a radical change in research plans. Students should not be overly concerned if this should happen. However, any changes to the originally proposed research project must be discussed by the student and mentor and consensually agreed upon.

 

Commitment

Students and mentors should realize that participation in the Honors Program represents a substantial commitment of time and effort. Students should expect to spend an average of 10-15 hours a week on their honors-related work. Therefore, potential participants must carefully consider whether they are able to, and want to, devote the required time and energy to this program. Upon admission, however, the student is not committed to participate for the full program. If, after one or more semesters, the student decides that the Honors Program is not consistent with his/her academic goals, they have the option of withdrawing without penalty. In that case, full course credit for the hours taken in the Honors Seminar is given as elective credit for the major.