Psychology Senior Capstone Research

Taylor Earnhart

Every year, senior Psychological Science majors gather during their final spring semester, to discuss their capstone senior research projects. The senior capstone project is a new addition to the degree program that allows seniors to portray what they have learned from these degree programs at LaGrange College by designing and implementing their own research study.

On Thursday February 27, 2020, this year’s seniors gathered in the Callaway Academic Building with other students pursuing a degree in psychology, mostly sophomores and juniors, to summarize their current research projects and give advice to those who will implement their own research studies in the coming months.

There was a wide array of projects this year, from “Perceptions of Lake Use” created by Riley Densmore, to the “Correlation of Higher Education and Different Biases” designed by Taylor Hamm, and 7 other research projects. While many of the studies are still in the data collection stage of research and cannot be discussed at length, two of the studies that are completed include “The Effects of Personality, Procrastination, and Self Efficacy on Academic Success” by Katie Farr and “Expectations of Sexual Education Programs” by Melanie Prater. After the presentation, I was able to sit down with both Katie and Melanie and ask them more about their research studies.

After graduation, Katie plans on pursuing her master’s degree in occupational therapy. She said, “While the topic I chose doesn’t really correlate to my career path, I still think it can come in handy in my professional life. The factors I studied not only could promote academic success but also professional success.”

Farr’s research project, “The Effects of Personality, Procrastination, and Self Efficacy on Academic Success,” focuses on the outside factors that can play a role in academic success. I asked each researcher mostly the same questions, so, while their answers do differ, the questions for both interviews will stay consistent.

Katie Farr mentioned that some of her classes, like behavioral analysis, played an important role in her research study. Farr took a procrastination study from her behavioral studies lessons and incorporated it into her own research project.

When asked “How long did your research project take?” Katie replied, “I started thinking about possible topics in the spring semester of my junior year, so around April or May. I kept thinking over the summer and then, in August of last year, we had to have our topic nailed down. So I would say the planning stage took about five months. Then, after choosing a topic, I had to go through the process of getting my study approved through the IRB and coming up with the methodology for my research which took a couple of months.”

Katie Farr also mentioned that, while she had a relatively short data collection window compared to the other researchers, her data analysis process was much more time consuming. Farr explained, “I think I sat in Dr. Thomas’ office for about two and a half hours just staring at a computer screen trying to determine statistics and stuff.”

Katie also mentioned Dr. Stephanie Thomas, Assistant Professor of Psychology. Katie said that “Dr. Thomas was our class’ capstone professor, but she was also my individual faculty mentor. She was able to help me on a more personal level, and so I would say that she is definitely the professor who helped me the most.”

Farr also provided insight into how her study affects the lives of LaGrange College students. She noted, “The biggest insight I discovered throughout this process is how big of a role self-efficacy [otherwise known as self-confidence] plays in academic success. This study could help people, students in particular, understand that simply believing in yourself has a huge impact on how well you do academically.”

Katie also told me about her favorite and least favorite parts of conducting this study. She said, “My least favorite part was probably the IRB. It was long and just a little boring. It was a lot of paperwork and other forms that weren’t interesting. My favorite part was data analysis. Even though it was really long and a lot of looking at numbers, it’s during this process that you get to actually see the results of your study. It feels good to see the actual results of all the effort I put into this project.”

The second researcher I interviewed was Melanie Prater. Her research study focuses on what different age groups expect from sex education programs. For this study, Melanie looked at a group comprised of college students and another group made up of older adults. After graduating from LaGrange College, Melanie will enter the doctoral program at the University of Southern Mississippi to continue her current study but with a different perspective. At USM, Melanie will study parent and child communication in relation to sex education. She is also hoping to develop a model that could open up communication between parents and their kids in regard to sex education.

The first thing I wanted to ask was what led Melanie to this topic. She replied, “I chose my topic by talking with my peers and learning about the different levels of sexual education that people had and how they learned things, in these classes, that were blatantly wrong. With Troup County, in particular, the level of teen pregnancies and STDs are really high and seeing how this lack of quality sexual education is affecting the community around me, showed me how important it is to teach people how to be healthy.”

Unlike Katie, Melanie had a longer planning process. Prater said, “My research study didn’t even get approved until two days before the fall semester ended which left me with very little time to get data from the college student age group.”

Melanie Prater utilized an online survey to get data from the adult group. The online survey proved to be much more effective, collecting over 156 results. 

Melanie gave credit to Vincent Harper, who graduated in 2018. Melanie continued his research and, upon completing that research, created her own unique study that just looks at the expectations of sex education. Melanie also acknowledged Dr. Christi Hu, Associate Professor of Psychology. Melanie says, “Dr. Hu gave me Vincent Harper’s study and walked me through my junior year and even this year as my academic advisor. She has really walked me through the process and made it easier while still giving me the power to work on my own.”

Since Melanie is one of the few student researchers who has concluded her data collection and has started her data analyzation, I was able to ask her what results she expected from her study, what results she actually collected, and how those results differed. Melanie replied, “For the first one, Vincent’s study that I continued my junior year, we hypothesized that there actually would be a difference. We expected there to be a lower amount of sexual activity among those who experienced abstinence-based programs verses those who experienced comprehensive sex education. That wasn’t the case. We actually found that everyone is just as likely to have sex, despite the type of sex education so the only thing they aren’t having is the information needed to practice safe sex.”

Melanie has not yet finished data analyzation for her second research project but expects the adult group to want a program centered mostly around abstinence, while the college group will want a more comprehensive sex education program.

Finally, I asked Melanie what her favorite and least favorite parts of her research project were. Melanie said, “The best part of any research project, I think, is the conclusion. You finally get to see all of your work coming together, you finally have answered the question you wanted to know, and then you also have the excitement of maybe continuing the project in a different way.” Like Katie, Melanie also agreed that the IRB application process was the most difficult part of her project.

It was great to sit down with both Katie and Melanie and learn more about their research. This event overall was an excellent showcase of each senior’s capstone project and perfect representation of student initiative at LaGrange College.

Taylor Earnhart is a sophomore at LaGrange College majoring in Business. She is from LaGrange, Georgia and is an active member of Alpha Omicron Pi where she serves as secretary of the LaGrange College chapter.

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