Would you like to become an RA in this lab?
- Research Assistants in the PSU Laboratory for Personality, Psychopathology, and Psychotherapy Research are exposed to a wide range of learning opportunities. Students will have the opportunity to develop a solid background in the areas of developmental psychopathology, attachment theory and research, psychotherapy process and outcome research, and psychoanalytic theories of the mind (particularly object relations).
- In addition, students will have the opportunity to learn how research can be applied as a way of answering critical questions regarding human experience. Students are involved in all aspects of the lab both logistically and conceptually. Research assistants should have a strong interest in learning about both developmental psychopathology and research broadly, as well as learning specific research skills.
- Students should also have sufficient time to invest in the lab (9-15 hours a week). A more detailed description of RA activities can be found below.
Essential/Desirable Background Knowledge and Skills
- Students must be highly responsible, reliable (e.g., timely), highly motivated, and sufficiently mature and committed to careful, accurate, quality work. Good concentration, attention to detail, and the ability to read and summarize complex ideas are also important. Finally, it is important to have the capacity to both work in a team and work independently (and have the good judgment to know when to ask for assistance).
- It is preferred and helpful if students have successfully completed undergraduate or graduate classes in Abnormal Psychology, Statistics, and Experimental Psychology. A background in personality psychology and development psychology is also helpful but not necessary.
- Knowledge of word processing (e.g., MS Word, WordPerfect), statistical software (e.g., SPSS, SAS), spreadsheets (e.g., Excel), and presentation software (e.g., Power Point) as well as basic computer skills and literacy is desirable.
What do RAs do?
There are several ways in which RAs assist in the PSU Laboratory for Personality, Psychopathology, and Psychotherapy Research.
Some studies we conduct in the lab are of clinical populations undergoing treatment for psychological disorders. Other studies we conduct assess various types of information from normal populations. For instance, we use psychological questionnaires to collect self-reported information on emotion regulation, relationship patterns, altruism and greed, jealousy, and more from large numbers of participants from the subject pool. Many weeks we run sessions of these self-report-based studies every day, with up to 20 participants per session.
RAs handle every aspect of these studies: recruiting participants, arranging for a room in which to administer the sessions, making sure all questionnaires and other supplies are in order, introducing the study to the participants, collecting and checking consent forms for each participant, answering questions from subjects while they complete the questionnaires, making sure subject pool participants receive proper credit for their participation, entering the data collected into SPSS (our statistical software package), and filing all questionnaires as directed for safekeeping. Often, RAs will conduct a session one day/week, and it takes several hours of their time to fill all the associated responsibilities. There may also be instances when an RA is needed to come in and act as a confederate.
In the past, we have also conducted neurological assessments using computer-based tests that measure concept formation and capacity to shift attention, ability to sustain attention, and motor skills. RAs may be required to administer these studies to subjects one-on-one, and their responsibilities include recruitment of subjects, scheduling the session, introducing and administering the tests, and entering data.
Transcribing Narrative Interviews
One of the main studies we will be conducting this fall involves looking at attachment and cortisol reactivity in a clinical and non-clinical sample. One way in which we assess an individual’s attachment orientation is to administer the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI). Each interview is audio-taped, and then transcribed into a written document. These transcriptions are then given to graduate research assistants (students in the clinical psychology doctoral program at PSU who are working with Prof. Levy) who are trained in coding the interview, or evaluating it according to very specific criteria, including the determination of the attachment orientation of the subject.
RAs are expected to transcribe the AAI’s administered in our studies. Transcribing each 45- to 90-minute interview usually takes between 6 and 10 hours. (One’s first transcription tends to take longer.) We train new RAs in how to transcribe and have manuals available for reference purposes. In addition, lab managers and grad students are available to answer questions as they inevitably arise during one’s first few transcriptions. Soon, however, most RAs become expert at the process and proceed on their own. Many RAs find transcriptions to be the most interesting part of working in the lab, because they get to listen to in-depth and personal reflections that often arise during the AAI, often in members of a severely disturbed clinical population.
Advanced RAs have the opportunity to code certain types of data in the lab. This includes coding the AAI’s for specific types of information (e.g. resolution of trauma, Bartholomew coding) and coding other data we have collected.
Because we have collected great amounts of data from many subjects and continue to collect more data each semester, we have a great deal of data to be entered into SPSS (our statistical software package) for analysis. RAs enter data as needed in the lab, an essential step in making data available for processing and analysis. This task is generally akin to entering numbers in a spreadsheet.
Organization is key to running a successful, productive lab; therefore research assistants are expected to help organize data files (both hardcopy and digital). Some of our studies will be web-based as opposed to on paper. In these cases, RAs are expected to send emails to the participants, keep track of each participant’s completion of the surveys, send reminder emails when necessary, update credits, and upload the data into SPSS files. Data management is crucial in keeping these studies running smoothly, especially with the large numbers of PSY 002 participants that prefer the convenience of completing their research credits online. As a result, RAs will obtain a great deal of experience in these important elements of managing research.
Conduct Library Research
As new research is published pertaining to attachment, borderline personality disorder, psychotherapy process and outcome research, and many other topics of relevance to the work of the lab, a list of new references is continually being generated and updated by Prof. Levy. RAs are expected to assist in obtaining the articles, book chapters, and other references in the Penn State libraries. More and more of these publications are available online, meaning this work can be completed in the lab and does not involve a trip to the library itself. More obscure references, however, and book chapters require a visit to the library. All RAs are expected to assist with library research as requested.
Provide Editorial Assistance
Sometimes Prof. Levy asks an RA to enter handwritten edits or changes to a paper he’s working on into the document, check to make sure references are accurate and complete, assist in the submission of research proposals to the Internal Review Board, create or update data in a table to be included in a document, and more.
Provide Administrative/Clerical Assistance
All RAs are expected to assist in daily administrative or secretarial tasks in the lab. This might include photocopying as needed, running errands or making deliveries to various places in Penn State, filing data/articles, getting supplies from the Psychology Department, copying DVDs, answering the lab telephone and taking messages, filing, and more.
Individual Research Opportunities
Over time, particularly motivated, committed, and able students may also have the opportunity to develop projects of increasing independence as long as the project is consistent with the goals of the lab.