Senior Thesis for Distinction in Psychology Richard Stockton College of New Jersey

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1 Senior Thesis for Distinction in Psychology Richard Stockton College of New Jersey What is a Senior Thesis? A Senior thesis is an original research project that can be done by students in psychology. It is an opportunity for a student to conduct an in-depth research project in an area of interest. Why do a Senior Thesis? A senior thesis is REQUIRED for students eligible for graduation with distinction in PSYC. This requires a PSYC GPA of at least 3.2. Other students who would like advanced research experience can also do a senior thesis. How is it done? The original scholarship that makes up the Senior Thesis takes the form of an empirical or archival investigation that adds to our theoretical knowledge of a particular topic or issue. The Senior Thesis project requires maturity, independence, and autonomy. Students must schedule their own time and must often seek hospitality and/or resources in professional settings. The needs of Thesis work often require students to extend themselves well beyond what is necessary for classroom work. For example, the sophistication of some topics might require a student to conduct a literature review at another library. As opposed to the timed structure of classroom work, with its constant deadlines and frequent evaluation, students must impose evaluative structure on their own work. Thesis candidates will quickly learn that "things take longer than expected." Tasks cannot always be constrained by a schedule. Participants may not show up, equipment might malfunction, or the computer may go down. Researchers are obligated to do things right regardless of the circumstances. The Senior Thesis is a research project, planned and carried out by the student with guidance from a faculty thesis committee. It provides an opportunity to integrate the various components of the psychology courses in a capstone experience. In particular, it is an opportunity to exercise the methodological skills and to synthesize the knowledge gained in course work throughout the student's program. Students are urged to find a Senior Thesis topic that is a natural capstone experience to their own program which might assist them to move towards a career or graduate specialization. The thesis proposal will include: a. Statement of the research problem b. Design of the investigation c. Necessary equipment, facilities, and participants d. Data to be collected* e. Data analysis to be employed f. References 1

2 g. calendar setting projected deadlines for completing each portion of the thesis *With approval of the thesis committee, it is acceptable to use appropriate archival data in place of prospectively collecting new data, provided the archival data were collected using reasonably sound methods. Since shortcomings are inherent to any kind of data collection, potential limitations of using those data (e.g. limited sample, self-selection of subjects, etc.) would be mentioned in the thesis. Senior thesis projects will require review and approval by the IRB. Although review procedures vary some from year to year, the IRB usually imposes a deadline in the fall by which proposals must be submitted for research projects to begin before second semester THE THESIS COMMITTEE: Each Senior Thesis will be carried out under the guidance of a Thesis Committee consisting of three full-time members of the Psychology faculty. The Chairperson of the Thesis Committee will be a faculty member chosen by the student. This Chairperson will bear primary responsibility for the day-to-day supervision of the project. Other members of the committee should be selected by the student and the committee chairperson, and should be faculty who can contribute substantively to the research. It may include someone who also knows the research area, or who is expert in some aspect of the methodology being employed in the project. The primary role of the committee is to review and critique the thesis proposal, but the written and oral defense must be favorably evaluated by the majority of the Psychology faculty to confer distinction FORMAL COURSE CREDIT FOR SENIOR THESIS RESEARCH: Formal course credit is given for the thesis research by enrolling for the course PSYC 4820 Senior Thesis. The grade will be based primarily on the written thesis that is the basis for the oral defense of the thesis. The chair of the thesis committee will assign the grade. The thesis advisor must approve your topic before the student begins a thesis and you must follow the timelines established by your thesis advisor. Failure to follow the appropriate thesis procedures may result in termination of the thesis project. TIME SCHEDULE: Ideally a student will have identified the thesis topic at least by the end of the junior year, and will also have identified a faculty member to serve as the chairperson of the Thesis Committee. Depending upon the nature of the research problem chosen, some preliminary work may be required during the spring or summer term preceding the senior year and intensive work should begin in the fall for a spring defense. Students who desire to complete their Thesis during the fall term may do so if the members of their committee will be available at that time. 2

3 THE SENIOR THESIS PROPOSAL: The thesis proposal is a critical component of the thesis project. It will be the basis for the initial review of the research by the Thesis Committee, and is a contract of sorts in that, if the research is approved and then carried out as it is described in the proposal, the Committee is agreeing that the Thesis will be satisfactory. Students who begin their data collection before the Thesis Proposal is approved should be forewarned that changes proposed by the committee when the proposal is reviewed might require that data be discarded and that data collection be begun anew. Efforts expended in writing the proposal will be rewarded at the time of writing the thesis. A good proposal should be a substantial part of the thesis, minus the actual results. When the results become available they can be added to the proposal, the discussion expanded to include any findings not anticipated at the outset of the research, and the thesis will be virtually complete. The thesis should begin with an abstract, a brief (approximately one page) overview of the thesis. It should include a concise presentation of the hypotheses to be tested and the means by which they will be tested. The thesis proposal should provide, in an introduction, the background and rationale for the thesis research. In addition it should describe the general approach to be taken in the research. It should include a serious review of the background literature that sets the stage for the present research. It should be broad enough to provide a comprehensive context for the research that you are proposing to do, including more than a report of the immediately preceding research on which your project might be based. The methods section of the proposal should provide a detailed description of the procedures, materials, and apparatus to be used in the research. The general guideline is that everything that another investigator would need to know to replicate the research should be described in this section. The results section of the proposal should describe the form that the data will take, and the ways in which the results will be analyzed. If pilot data have already been gathered they may be included as well. A discussion section of the proposal should describe the plausible outcomes of the research, and how each possible outcome will be interpreted. If competing theories have been described in the introduction, for example, the predictions of each should be developed and the ways in which the data would permit deciding between them described. In some areas a conclusion section, following the discussion, may be appropriate. If there is a conclusion section, it usually highlights the primary, take-home message of the thesis. A list of references referred to in the text should be included at the end of the proposal. 3

4 ORAL DEFENSE OF THE THESIS PROPOSAL: The student should provide written copies of the proposal to the committee members at least one week before the scheduled oral defense. The Thesis Committee Chairperson should chair the meeting, and arrange a suitable format. The student will be asked to give a brief (usually 5-10 minutes) presentation of the proposal, and then the members of the Committee will question the student. The purpose of the oral defense of the Thesis Proposal is to make the research plan be as good as it can be. It is, essentially, a working session in which the committee works as colleagues with the student to be sure that nothing has been overlooked in the planning and design of the research. The primary purpose is not evaluative. After the proposal defense the thesis committee chairperson will distribute the revised proposal to the full program faculty. Program faculty should read the proposal and give comments and other feedback to the thesis committee chairperson. The thesis committee chairperson is responsible for getting this feedback to the other committee members and to the student. If the feedback includes aspects of the proposal that faculty deem unacceptable, the committee chairperson should respond to the faculty who provided the feedback to let them know how the committee will deal with the issues raised. In the event that a faculty committee member is unable to attend the defense, they could provide their comments in writing so as not to delay the student's progress. If the faculty member is ill or somehow incapable of serving their function, the student may opt to ask another faculty member to replace the other. FORMAT OF THE PROPOSAL AND THESIS: The proposal must be formatted according to the recommendations in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. THE SENIOR THESIS: The senior thesis should include all of the sections described under The Senior Thesis Proposal. Of course the data will have been collected, the analyses completed, etc., so they should be described appropriately. Because it is rare that any research is carried out without the assistance of others, it is usually appropriate to include an Acknowledgments section (between the Abstract and the Introduction) in which you identify the contributions that others made to your research. ORAL DEFENSE OF THE SENIOR THESIS FOR DISTINCTION: At the end of the semester the student and the thesis committee will present the completed work to the psychology program faculty for an oral defense of the senior thesis. The program members should receive the thesis about a week in advance of the Oral Defense. Typically the student gives a brief (10-15 minute) overview and then the program members ask questions based on the written thesis. Unlike the proposal meeting, there is a significant evaluative component to this oral component. Among other things, the program members will be deciding whether or not revisions should be made before granting program distinction. The conferral of program distinction is based primarily on the written document distributed before the oral exam. For that reason, students should be comfortable that the document they are distributing represents their best effort. At the end of the oral defense the committee will ask the student to leave the room, 4

5 and program members will discuss possible revisions. That discussion usually involves two decisions. The first is whether the thesis is acceptable for program distinction. If it is, then the program faculty considers whether any revisions are required. The committee members pass those suggestions on to the student as the basis for making changes, and only the thesis adviser has to see the changes to approve them. The thesis committee will be advised by the comments and suggestions of the program members but the final decision on the outcome of the thesis rests with the thesis committee. 5

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