The Importance of Practical Experience in Research or in Professional Placements

This page describes Research Opportunities for Psychology Majors, Field Experience in Psychology, and Peer Tutors.

The Department of Psychology strongly advises that psychology majors seek out and take advantage of the many opportunities to be involved in research and/or placements in service settings. Through these types of experiences, students can learn if this is something they would like to spend a lot of time—or even dedicate their life—to doing. For example, many students have learned that doing research in a lab is a good way to discover that they really don’t enjoy research, or vice versa. Or someone who thinks they want to spend their career working with children and adolescents might discover that they do not like working with this population, but rather much prefer working with geriatric populations.

Another big advantage of doing research with a faculty member or of obtaining practical experience with a supervisor (or both) is that he or she can write you a good letter of recommendation. A letter from someone who knows that you are hardworking, show up on time, and contribute effectively to the research projects or work being conducted will be an invaluable component of any application package. 

Research Opportunities for Psychology Majors

For anyone considering applying to a Ph.D. program in psychology, research experience is very important. Research is heavily emphasized in these programs, and admissions committees want to know that research is something the applicant has done. By doing research, you can much more easily convince them that research is something you enjoy, have an aptitude for and interest in, and want to continue doing. Also, many doctoral programs in counseling and clinical psychology (including at Marquette University) admit students to work specifically with certain faculty members. These potential faculty mentors will want to be assured that you have experience doing their type of research.

Majors can satisfy up to 6 credits (of the 35 required) through research experiences in a faculty member’s lab. Note that individual research experience in faculty labs can be 1-3 credits per semester.

Majors who are interested in research should review faculty members’ web pages, where faculty describe their research interests and may post recent and past research publications. If interested in the research a faculty member is conducting, majors can send an email of introduction expressing interest and requesting a meeting to discuss the possibility of joining the research lab. Majors must get direct permission (i.e., permission numbers) from faculty members to be part of their lab and to register for any of the following research opportunities.

  • PSYC 4956. Advanced Undergraduate Research (variable: 1-3 credits)
  • PSYC 4960. Advanced Undergraduate Seminar (3 credits)
  • PSYC 4995. Independent Study in Psychology (variable: 1-3 credits)
  • PSYC 4999. Senior Thesis (3 credits)

Please note that many faculty members do not require that a student enroll in one of these research courses in order to participate in their lab.

It is recommended that students who have at least a 3.5 GPA and who are doing research with a faculty member consider signing up for the Honors in Psychology program (see Honors in Psychology section). To describe requirements briefly, to be in the honors program, a student is encouraged to take PSYC 2001H (Honors Statistics) and is required to take PSYC 2050H (Honors Research methods). Honors students take both a research seminar and advanced undergraduate research (4956H), as shown here:

  • PSYC 4954H. Honors Psychology Research Seminar (1 credit each semester, 2 credits total)
  • PSYC 4956H. Honors Advanced Undergraduate Research (variable: 1-3 credits, 4 credits total)

Field Experience (a.k.a. “internships”) in Psychology

Many psychology majors get practical, real-life experience outside the university. These experiences can help them determine their interests. This is important both for students who will seek employment immediately after graduation and for students who will try to obtain admission to a graduate program. Real-world experience help you write a convincing self-reflection or a good cover letter, describing what you have done during your undergraduate career, what you have learned about yourself doing those things, and how those experiences have informed your career path.

For students intending to apply to graduate programs to become a mental health professional, working in settings related to mental health can help them determine with what population (children and adolescents, adults, persons with a substance use disorder, persons with PTSD, etc.) or in what setting (hospital, clinic, school, agency, etc.) they might be interested. Such experiences might include working as a counselor at a camp, volunteering with a women’s shelter, working at the Milwaukee Center for Independence as part of service learning in a class, and many others.

Both internships and field experience entail practical, organized experiences with various agencies in the Milwaukee area.

The college has an internship office that “advises and supports students through the internship search process so they are equipped to find positions that fit their educational and professional goals and prepare them for successful future careers.”

The Department of Psychology offers PSYC 4964. Field Experience in Psychology. Students can take it for up to 6 credits, which count towards the 9 credits for psychology elective courses for the major and up to 3 credits toward the 18 credits required for the psychology minor. Field experience places students at community sites where they obtain actual experience and participate in—under close supervision—the actual implementation of psychological knowledge, skills, and values by teachers, mental health professionals, and community social justice workers. In addition to the practical experience involved, the course includes a seminar with readings, journals and reflections, presentations, a term paper and demonstrated knowledge of appropriate ethical principles. Interested students should contact the instructor for permission to take the course.

Peer Tutors

Psychology majors can earn 3 credits towards their degree by being a “peer tutor” for an undergraduate course, most typically General Psychology (PSYC 1001) but perhaps other courses as well. The requirements are:

  1. senior status;
  2. at least a 3.35 GPA in psychology; and
  3. earned an A or A- in General Psychology.

Permission must be obtained from the department chairperson.

Peer tutors are assigned to an undergraduate course. They are expected to attend lectures and take notes, to meet with the director of the program and other tutors to review material and concepts, to be available to both the instructor and the TA(s) for the class, to hold “office hours” for students, and to hold preview sessions before exams. Other expectations vary from instructor to instructor.

The peer tutoring experience can be very positive and meaningful. In addition to working closely with a faculty instructor and TA, tutoring helps improve interpersonal, communication, teaching, and leadership skills, as well as their awareness of differences between individuals in regard to needs, problem-solving strategies, and learning styles. Of course, being a tutor is a great way to understand and learn course content more clearly and deeply. Overall, tutors improve their understanding of themselves and other students. In the course of helping others, many tutors teach themselves better study habits.

Tutors gain credit for the experience by registering for PSYC 4964 Field Experience in Psychology (3 credits), after obtaining permission from the chairperson of the department.