Undergraduate Research Opportunities Flourish in Sociology Department

By Catherine Szilagyi, Student Intern of CHASS College Computing
December 14, 2004
Top row from left: Kerri Fahres, Prof. Peter Burke, Prof. Jan Stets, Arizvel Tinoco
2nd row from left: Bonnie Jenkinson, Karen Kwong, Yvonne Thai

While research at most universities is typically reserved for faculty and graduate students alone, the Sociology Department at UC Riverside has been taking a different approach for nearly three years. At the Social Psychology Research Lab (SPYRL), located in the UCR Highlander Hall, the faculty have been uniting graduate and undergraduate students to pursue various research studies in the field of Social Psychology since 2002.

Professor Jan Stets, Graduate Advisor of the Sociology Department, and Professor Peter Burke, Chair of the Sociology Department, are the lead professors on SPYRL’s research team made up of six graduate students and six undergraduate students. Although work done in the Lab by the undergraduates is not published like that of the graduate students, undergraduates do the same research in the same environment alongside the Lab’s faculty and graduate students.

This opportunity for undergraduate research in Sociology is just as valuable to its participants as it is to the University. All research the undergraduates take part in is hands-on, and their academic superiors advise them as they progress in their studies. It is much like an internship in which one learns the skills necessary for the work by encountering the workplace just as its official personnel do.

“There is never any discrimination between a graduate student versus an undergraduate student—if an undergrad has a good idea for a study we’ll draw on it just as quickly as we would if a graduate student had suggested it,” Professor Stets explains, “In fact, a certain degree of camaraderie has developed between the graduate students and the undergrads, and this atmosphere fosters an involved, higher-education-driven attitude in the undergraduates.” Professors Stets also mentions that about half of the undergraduates that experience the research program move on to graduate school.

The Highlander Hall laboratory, where the research is being done by this team of undergraduate and graduate researchers, sports five video-wired, computer-equipped rooms with one-way mirror observation of individual as well as group interaction. For the undergraduates partaking in the research, being given the ability to work in such a serious professional atmosphere has definitely been beneficial, as it prepares them for success in future professional research endeavors.

Professor Stets further mentions, “The Laboratory ultimately gives them the opportunity to get involved in research early on so they know if it’s something they want to pursue further as a professional career. Many of them are very excited about the opportunity for research, and this serves as a major stepping stone to graduate school and beyond.”

Kerri Fahres, a fourth year undergraduate participating in the research, comments, “The most important thing I have learned from working on this project is the importance of the planning stage when conducting this sort of research.” She graduates this quarter and notes that taking part in the research at the Laboratory has helped her academically by teaching her many new skills valuable to the professional workforce such as interviewing skills, data entry skills, and noting small details in a study as well as analyzing data. The program has also helped her “grow personally because of the role models she has had to look up to in both Dr. Stets and the graduate students.”

Current projects for the graduate/undergraduate research team include: Moral Identity, Identity Control Theory and Emotions Study, Gender and Leadership, Group Polarization, Multiple Identity Leadership, and a study on Impact concerning identity.

Past major projects have included studies on the issue of justice and human emotional responses to it in fair or unfair situations, male responses concerning justice versus female responses, and all other aspects of how people react when treated fairly or unfairly.

For more information on the Social Psychology Research Lab (SPYRL), its personnel, and current studies, please visit The Social Psychology Research Lab website.



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