NUS Psychology: Opportunities for Research

Hey everyone! I’m back again with yet another article. This time, I’ll be talking about psychology research opportunities at NUS! See, recently I was at my part-time MOE internship, and I was working with some Polytechnic students who are specialising in psychology. And we were talking about psychology, as you do, and I asked them which part of psych they were interested in. To my surprise, they all answered “research”. Now, while I like research as much as the average psych major, I did not think that that would be the first answer, especially after going through my statistics classes.

But it was a pleasant surprise, and for many looking to enter university, research might be a possible area of interest to them. The problem is, I don’t think many students are aware of the opportunities for research in NUS. And so, I decided to write this article to provide some insights for anyone interested in psych research at NUS. Hopefully, it will give you all more understanding of NUS psychology research and can help you decide whether or not you are interested in applying to NUS psychology!

Mandatory Research Modules

First, let us distinguish between mandatory and non-mandatory research modules. At NUS, there are modules you must take to clear graduation requirements, and three of these modules involve research: Research and Statistical Modules I (PL2131), Research and Statistical Modules II (PL2132), and a laboratory module.

PL2131 is your first statistical module, which introduces you to the basic concepts of stats. It also goes through both parametric and non-parametric analyses. I had to submit a shortened version of a research paper — I was given a dataset to analyse, and had three main research questions to answer. So, in my final submission, I did not have to write up an abstract and introduction, and immediately started from stating the hypothesis. Although it wasn’t a full research paper, it still provides a good introduction to research writing and helps you break down the questions to practice your statistical analysis skills. One caveat is that I took the module under Professor Bridget McConnell, a relatively stricter professor. I have heard from other friends that other professors who teach the module do not require this as an assignment, and so you might not have any research to do (although this depends on your professor).

PL2132 is your second statistical module, which introduces more in-depth statistical concepts such as ANOVA and regression. It also introduces the concept of moderation and mediation. In this module, you must submit a research assignment regardless of the professor. You also need to develop your own research topic, conduct your own literature review, create your own materials, conduct the experiment (your participants are likely your tutorial group mates), do the data analysis, and finish up the conclusion and discussion. And although you will be working in a group to set up the experiments, you still have to submit an individual assignment and write up your own paper. This is perhaps your first introduction to research, and it does give you a general (albeit rushed) research experience — rushed because you have to complete all of this in one semester (i.e. four months).

Another mandatory research module is the laboratory research one. In order for NUS psychology majors to graduate, you have to take a laboratory module. There is a wide range of options to choose from (see the NUS psychology courses website), so you can pick based on interest. I cannot say how all the laboratory modules are structured, but I can tell you that all of them involve at least one research project submission. I took the lab in learning sciences under Professor Steven Pan, and I thought it was relatively well-structured. We spent the first few weeks learning about the different learning strategies and research methods employed, before deciding on our research project topic. Afterwards, the next few weeks involve us going through the entire research process from the literature review to the data analysis and interpretation. The final submission is a full research report based on your experiment.

Overall, all three modules provide a strong foundation for future research projects, and equip you with the necessary skills (writing and statistical skills) for research in general. Both PL2131 and PL2132 provide a strong statistical foundation, and you likely do not need much additional statistical knowledge for future data analysis.

Non-Mandatory Research Modules

There are also additional, non-mandatory research modules you can take. These modules are not graduation requirements, but you can take them if you wish to gain greater exposure to research. These modules are: the undergraduate research opportunity (UROP) (PL3551), the independent research project (IRP) (PL3231), the Honours Thesis (PL4401) and Independent Study (PL4660). You can see the brief descriptions of each on the NUS psychology courses website.

I will say that I am more familiar with the first three — I am not too sure about the independent study module, but based on the NUS description it involves an agreement between the student and the lecturer, and is not as data-driven as the Honours Thesis (HT). Unfortunately, I cannot say much more about it, but it is an alternative to the HT.

I am, fortunately, familiar with the distinction between UROP and IRP. Both of these are research modules that are significantly less heavy than an HT for two main reasons: first, both projects last for only a semester, while a HT lasts for a full year. Secondly, UROP and IRP are marked by your supervisor, and the grading for these modules are not as stringent as a HT.

For a UROP, you essentially serve more as a research assistant — you are not really conducting an experiment but, rather, are assisting the professor. The work submitted is likely a literature review, and even if you have additional assignments they will not be extremely heavy — it could be assisting to pilot test experiments, or it could be you assisting to run someone else’s study. However, you will not be coming up with your own study or running your own experiments.

For an IRP, you are doing your own study. It is essentially like the lab module, except you likely do everything on your own. Sometimes, you can work with other people in an IRP, but each person is expected to submit an individual report — depending on your progress of the study, you might not have any data to analyse, in which case you submit the introduction, methods, expected analysis and implications of interpretation. An IRP also has higher demands than the papers submitted for PL2132 and the lab module because you will be conducting the experiment on real-life participants. This means that you need to apply for DERC (a lighter version of the ethics IRB review board). Depending on which professor is supervising you, you may also need to pilot test the study and run it with either NUS or online participants. In essence, it is similar to your PL2132 and lab, except less informal, since your participants are no longer your tutorial groupmates.

Do note that there is also an extension of UROP, called REX (Research Experience Programme). This is a recent addition in NUS, and it gives students the opportunity to learn more about research. Under REX, students attend mandatory research workshops that teach students about formulating good research questions and choosing optimal research methods. What is also different is that students are encouraged to apply for a grant to do independent research, and can present their findings at a conference. REX is an extension of UROP only, and students who are taking UROP can choose to upgrade to REX if they wish.

Finally, we come to the HT. The HT is no longer mandatory for all CHS students (my batch and above, and so technically psych majors no longer have to undertake one. However, a HT does have many advantages, especially if one is interested in research. It is an opportunity to undertake a whole research project, and includes you creating your own materials, doing data collection yourself, and analysing all data collected. It is a year-long project, and has more administrative work than your basic laboratory submission — it involves DERC application, SONA application (SONA is a system that allows first-year undergraduates to sign up for research projects), and actual scheduling and data collection (i.e. you sitting in a room administering your research to participants). It is also a year-long project, and a lot of hard work. If you are not interested in research, I strongly suggest that you choose something else. But if you want to continue with research, a HT is a very good opportunity for you. Not only does it train your research skills, it is also a useful thing to have on your resume — it signals to employers that you have valuable skills involving data analysis and stats, which can be used in a wide variety of fields.

Overall, these are all the potential research opportunities possible at NUS. There is a possibility of becoming a research assistant for one of the labs at NUS, but these are subject to availability (i.e. whether or not the lab is looking for any research assistants).

I have one final note regarding application to the non-mandatory modules. For UROP, there is an application portal where professors open to accepting students will post UROP opportunities. And for HT, an email from the psych department will be sent, and a list of all possible supervisors will be given. However, for all three opportunities, it is best to email the professor you are interested in working with as early as possible to indicate your interest — especially since certain professors are in high demand, and opportunities like the HT are generally in high demand by students. So try to indicate your interest as early as possible. It is also best if you already know the professor from a previous module, and have performed well in the class. That way, you can physically indicate your interest by asking questions, and it is likely that they are willing to naturally follow-up with you.

And that’s all from me! Hope this helped give you more insight into NUS psych research, and looking forward to seeing you next time!

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