Research in the Psychology Department

The Department of Psychology has always stressed the importance of scholarly work by its faculty and students. Active research is important not only for its contribution to knowledge about behavior, but also as a vehicle for continued faculty development and for the training of undergraduate and graduate students. In a recent study of the 165 graduate departments of psychology in the country that offer only Master’s degrees, Wake Forest ranked third in the country in terms of faculty research productivity.

Each year, many students become involved in research, through volunteering to work on a faculty member’s ongoing research, participating in independent research, or by becoming involved in the Honors Program. Through their participation in research projects, students develop research and analytic skills, have an opportunity to work directly with faculty, and, often, have the opportunity to coauthor research papers with faculty.

Many students, particularly those whose interests lie in the “helping” aspects of psychology, such as clinical psychology, often ask why we emphasize research so heavily. The most obvious reason is that research is needed to understand behavior. In the 1870s, psychology moved from armchair speculation about why people and animals behave as they do to a research-based science that tests the usefulness of various explanations about the causes of behavior. Many students have no intention of doing research as part of their careers and many of our majors do not plan to become psychologists at all. Even for them, a solid grounding in research can be quite useful because it allows students to understand research that is relevant to their professions. Research is also educational and teaches critical thinking. By learning how researchers test the validity of ideas, we can learn how to evaluate information critically in everyday life. A final reason why psychologists emphasize research is because graduate admission committees around the country weigh research quite heavily when admitting students to graduate school. Admissions decisions are usually based on four criteria: scores on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), undergraduate grades, research experience, and letters of recommendation. Thus, for students who plan to go to graduate school, involvement in research may give them an edge over many other students at admissions time.