Nearly every degree program in psychology requires students to explore and understand basic concepts used by practitioners in the field.

But the best programs also give undergraduate learners a glimpse into contemporary, cutting-edge research or, in Capella University’s case, the opportunity to examine corners of the field that remain unexplored.

Research is the underlying bedrock of psychology, says Laura Sullivan, PhD, faculty chair for undergraduate psychology at Capella. “Everything in psychology is based somewhere in science, so getting involved in research is a great way to understand how the field works,” she says.

Undergraduates are not typically expected to engage in research—a task more closely aligned with master’s and doctoral programs. But undergraduates who are considering an advanced degree often benefit from getting some research experience, which may enhance their resume when applying for a job or can increase their prospects for getting into graduate school.

What’s more, research experience allows undergraduates to work more closely with faculty members.  “It’s also a great way to delve into a special area of interest that may not be covered in-depth in any particular class,” Sullivan explains.


Take a look at how students are benefiting from this opportunity in U.S. News & World Report’s Consider Research Opportunities as an Online Bachelor’s Student.


Planning and Execution

Three research project opportunities are available to students in the BS in Psychology program at Capella. They include:

  • Working with a faculty member on original research;
  • Assessing and analyzing archival data; or
  • Developing a research project proposal.

The first option gives students a chance to work shoulder to shoulder alongside faculty, experiencing the challenges that come with collecting data and culling the findings, says Kathleen Hughes, PhD, a psychology faculty member at Capella.

The second option introduces students to the challenges of using archival data to perform statistical analyses. And the last option—the most popular—offers students the opportunity to formulate a research project that they might complete later. “They imagine that they’re going to conduct the study. They plan how they might collect data and develop methodologies that they could use to analyze it,” Hughes says.


A Universe of Topics

Students who participate in research projects learn to think like scientists. They bounce ideas off peers to come up with solid and sometimes unique approaches to their project. Faculty serves as mentors for students who wish to engage in research, and there is no additional cost for participating in this extra-curricular activity. Students work at their own pace and develop a presentation that they can share with classmates.

The goal of the projects—which have centered on such diverse topics as epilepsy, autism, and the impact of social media on individuals—is to provide psychology undergraduates with authentic experiences related to research and prepare them for the real world. “There’s no restriction on what the topic area can be,” Sullivan says. “They can investigate any area  they want that involves a question about human behavior.”

Capella undergraduates who choose to engage in psychology research strengthen their creativity, critical thinking, and interpersonal and presentation skills, faculty members say. But it’s also exciting for instructors who have students interested in research. “Personally, it’s very rewarding to see students pull things from research and apply them in the real world,” Hughes says. “It’s gratifying to watch them grow and also to see them expanding the field of psychology.”




Learn more about Capella’s Bachelor of Science in Psychology degree program.